How to audition for music school – advice from the pros

We asked 27 different college double bass professors for their advice on nine important questions.

With Jason Heath · San Francisco, CA

Let’s face it: auditioning for music school is tough.

With your future riding on the outcome of a few moments of playing, your long-term college audition prep is critical.

We asked 27 different college music professors for their advice on nine important questions.

A big shout-out to Baylee Brown, who supplied the questions, and to UT-Arlington double bass professor Jack Unzicker for the idea for this project!

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1. What are the advantages and disadvantages to attending a conservatory vs. a university?

Some of the distinctions between studying at a conservatory versus a university, in the United States anyway, are less evident now than in the past. Most conservatories have some affiliation with a nearby university to enable students to take some academic coursework, and some universities have as rich a performing experience for their students as any conservatory. See which specific environment, and above all, teacher and studio, suit you best.

James VanDemark – Eastman School of Music

If you’re attracted to a conservatory, such as Juilliard, you should plan on spending a lot of time practicing, and also spending your time maximizing your contact time with notable faculty. You’ll have amazing peers, and they’ll provide an incredible resource throughout your whole career. Having the name of a prestige institution on your resume can be a lifelong career boost.

However, you may find that there’s a lot of competition for leadership positions and for experiences in various forms of music and in various groups. If you thrive on competition, this is a good place to go.
If you find that a bit daunting or stifling, then you might have to consider some other things, because it’s not always the most nurturing environment. The key word is competition.

In a university, there is more opportunity for cooperation and creativity. However, you’ll have a lot of coursework, and it’s great for broadening your horizons intellectually, but it may also limit your practice time. While you’re at the university, you may have more leadership opportunities and diversity of playing experiences, because you may be one of the more outstanding students. While you’re at the university, maximize your achievements, both musically and intellectually. The you can use your summer time to really hone in on practicing, either individually or at a festival program.

There are schools that are more of a combination, like the University of Michigan or Indiana University. You may consider a school like this if you have some talents intellectually also. You could do a double degree program, and a lot of people find that very advantageous, both career-wise and personally.

There’s also a “mix-and-match” option, especially if money is limited. Think about going to a very affordable undergraduate school, like a university that may have a good teacher that you really like. Then do your “crazy achievement” there, get a lot of playing experience in different groups and genres, and then select summer programs that will expose you to potential graduate programs that have a high profile. Very often, if you go to a more expensive graduate school, they may also give you a lot of financial help if that’s a consideration.

Diana Gannett – University of Michigan (emeritus)

I think you have to really ask yourself what you really want for your college experience. Some people are going to be more comfortable with a university setting, something that’s perhaps a little bit more well-rounded in experiences. You’ll have your football games and that kind of thing going on, with more of a “campus life” idea.

With a conservatory, you might be in a downtown landscape with a very intense schedule and very intense expectations. I think you just need to think about those two options and what’s going to work better for your long-term goals.

If you’re going to go to a university, do a lot of research and make sure the standards are high. I was very lucky to go to the University of Michigan for undergrad, which had a beautiful campus environment and a real “Big Ten” feeling. I met all kinds of people from all kinds of places, but it also had a music school with really high standards and demanding expectations, which is crucial if you want to do [music] professionally.

If you’re going to think about a conservatory, it’s important that alongside that you make sure that it’s a healthy and supportive environment. Do some research and get to know some folks that are in the studio, and find out what it’s really like.

The brochure will not always reflect what it’s really like. It’s important to get on the campus and meet people that have done it. With the conservatory, you really want to make sure that you’re up for that kind of intensity and that kind of challenge, because it can be a stressful place. It’s a really good thing, but you just need to make sure that that’s what you want.

Kieran Hanlon – State University of New York at Fredonia

I had my training in conservatories in Ankara, Turkey, followed by The Hartt School in Connecticut. I came to the United States for grad work in Connecticut. I have to say, there’s definitely an advantage of being with many high-level players, to be always motivating.

Then again, I have been teaching at the University of Iowa for about 16 years, and being in the university setting has been very helpful. My students are exposed to many fields other than music, for their intellectual and general growth as an individual.

Volkan Orhon – University of Iowa

The Oberlin experience combines elements of both conservatory and university worlds. The [Oberlin] Conservatory is separate from the College, but the two can combine for lots of options. You can choose to completely focus on music in the Conservatory, or add non-music electives in the College. There’s also a great five-year double-degree program.

A college differs from a university in that there are no graduate students. Therefore, there are many leadership positions for undergraduate students on campus, such as principal positions which might have otherwise gone to a grad student.

Tracy Rowell – Oberlin College

2. How many schools should I audition for?

I recommend not necessarily doing it by the number, but by which schools you’re interested in the most. I myself only auditioned for one school for my undergrad degree–The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire–and only one school for my graduate degree–The Manhattan School of Music–because those were, at the time, the only schools to which I was really interested in attending.

However, this was during a time when the efficiency and the efficacy of auditioning by video recording was not what it is today. Auditioning live is always better, for it allows to you personally experience the school environment, get a feel for the city, get a lesson with the teacher or teachers, meet other students, and more. But it is also much more expensive, especially if you are bringing your own instrument.

The wiser approach might be to figure out which are your top 2-4 schools, what your budget is for auditioning and traveling, and then determine how many you can attend live. If attending all of them is not feasible, look into auditioning by video or attending a remote audition at schools that are lower on your priority list.

I know the San Francisco Conservatory travels to various locations around the United States and Asia for such remote locations, and I’m sure other schools do as well.

Scott Pingel – San Francisco Conservatory of Music

I think you should audition for as many schools as you possibly can. Then you have more options. Also, the art of auditioning is tough, and it become easier the more you do.

Leigh Mesh – Bard College

I would suggest that you talk with, above all else, your teacher about this and get their advice. Make a list of all the schools that pique your interest, and make a list of the places that really excite you, where you’d really like to end up. With the help of your teacher and your parents, that will help you winnow down exactly how many schools you want to apply to.

Andrew Raciti – Northwestern University

We always tell people a minimum of three: one that would be your absolute dream school, one that might not be your dream school but is still a really great place that you believe that you can prosper and thrive at, and then another that would be sort of a back-up school. Hopefully something that you would be pleased with, but something maybe with a little bit easier admissions rate.

I say no more than maybe seven. That’s an awful lot to try and prepare during an audition season, even if the material overlaps.

Donovan Stokes – Shenandoah Conservatory

I typically give the advice of no less than three and no more than five. Definitely put your dream schools in there. Don’t discount the state schools, because there are lots of fine instructors you can find at state schools, and more cost-effective.

Sometimes these schools carry a lot of audition entrance fees and things like that, and you have to spend a lot of time making videos for some of these places, so you don’t want to overdo it. I know that you’re trying to get done with high school and you have a lot of other things on your plate.

Adam Booker – Appalachian State University

Know what you’re aiming at. You should know what your goal is so that you can select institutions where people have done what you’re wanting to do. How many colleges should you apply to? You should apply to at least the top three or four in the field that you’re wanting to do.

You should choose schools that have faculty that you respect, admire, or at least get along with, which you won’t know unless you go take a lesson with them, which I definitely think you should. The right way to do that is usually by email, or if you can get their phone number you can call them and leave a message asking for [a lesson].

Andrew Anderson – Roosevelt University

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The short answer is somewhere between three and six. At least three, but more if you have time. The audition season is pretty limited, and there are only so many places you can get to on the weekends you have free.

The real question is, depending on whether you’re a performance major, an education major, a classical major, or a jazz major, you should be looking for the combination of the school and the teacher that fit your needs.

I teach at three different schools with three different profiles. Northern Illinois University is an isolated school out in DeKalb, Illinois, although it is about an hour drive into [Chicago]. It’s very different than the feeling at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Roosevelt University, which are right in the heart of Chicago.

There’s a certain amount of excitement in the city, but there’s also a certain amount of expense. Also, each of these schools are very different in what needs they address best in terms of education or performance.
These are the sort of things that you want to see about the school as well as the teacher. The state schools are cheaper, and Illinois schools are now offering in-state tuition to out-of-state students, so that’s something to consider.

John Floeter – Northern Illinois University, University of Illinois at Chicago, Roosevelt University

3. What are some common preparation mistakes that you see auditioning students making?

Rather than citing any common thread of mistake, I think I would answer the question by saying [that] for me, I’m looking for potential as well as ability. I think most teachers would agree to some extent.

Therefore, intonation, rhythm, good tone. Of course, it’s always amazing to hear a student with an awesome [and] incredibly high level of technique. It’s equally impressive just to hear a fine Koussevitzky Concerto or some other standard piece with really good intonation, and very solid rhythm, and good musical feel. I would practice toward those ends.

The same with your Bach. It doesn’t have to be the most difficult piece in the repertoire, but it should be very well in tune and show good, diligent practice.

I do see quite a wacky variety of presentation in [audition] tapes. Not so much live, but you see anything from workout clothes to a nice, serious, professional presentation, and I would highly recommend the latter. If you take a minute to look nice, and I’m saying this to all students, look professional, look serious, check your tapes to make sure you’re no too close to the mic, and that the sound quality is going to be nice to listen to.

Timothy Cobb – Juilliard School of Music

The best advice I can give about college auditions is this: it’s not what you play that counts, it’s how you play. When Eugene Levinson and I were co-chairs of the Juilliard bass department, we decided that the best choice for a solo for a freshman would be two contrasting movements from a baroque sonata.

This would be a good way to show your ability to play in tune, rhythmically, with good tone quality, and in an appropriate musical style. Most freshmen have not studied long enough to be comfortable with one of our concerti.

Other schools sometimes ask for a concerto, but unless a bassist has studied with a good teacher from the age of 10, the chances are that it will not be played adequately.

Concentrate on simple repertoire played well. Choose an etude you like, and listen to an excellent recording of your chosen orchestral excerpt, or attend a live concert so you can see how the bass section is performing your excerpt.

Most teachers I know are shocked when a student attempts to play an excerpt without having ever listened to the complete piece.

Orin O’Brien – Manhattan School of Music

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The most common preparation mistake that I see with students that are auditioning revolves around how quickly they try to go from zero to 100 mph on the material that they’re preparing.

The most important thing that you can do in terms of your preparation is making sure that you first go over everything very slowly. You’ve got to give the muscle memory a chance to kick in. You’ve got to memorize where your left hand needs to be on the neck and how that coordinates with the right hand. You’ve got to make sure that the coordination between the left and right hand is absolutely clean and sure, and that comes with slow, methodical repetitions. You’ve got to go slow to go fast.

If that leads to issues, like if a passage you’re working on is all spiccato, at a slow tempo your spiccato stroke is not going to be the same as when you take a passage up to tempo. Nevertheless, you try to go through all of your material slowly, slowly, slowly first and gradually move up the tempo.

It’s also important that at the slow tempo you’re not just thinking about technique, but you’re also incorporating those elements that you’re going to use at the brighter tempo: dynamics, phrasing. All of that you should be incorporating at a slow tempo. Really, really important.

Once you establish all of that and get your coordination between your left and right hand worked out at a slow tempo, then you can gradually increase the tempo to your performance to whatever your performance tempo is going to be, and you should be in good shape doing that.

Chris Hanulik – University of California, Los Angeles

I think what typically happens is students want to play pieces that are far too new to them. If they’re learning something going into senior year, unless they’ve had a chance to really get it out and perform it quite a bit, it tends to be something that maybe they just haven’t had enough experience with, so when nerves creep in, things can happen.

I would tend to err on the side of preparing early, getting as many performances in ahead of time as you can, and also choosing repertoire that maybe if you’ve played it 10 times, giving it that extra go for the college auditions might be the best route, simply because it’s familiar to you and not something super-new. That would hopefully give you the most confidence in your auditions.

Brian Perry – Southern Methodist University

One of the most common mistakes that I see when preparing for an audition is choosing repertoire that is too difficult for the current level. I would rather hear something not too difficult but played well with all the details, than very difficult pieces that are done poorly.

DaXun Zhang – University of Texas at Austin

Don’t try to put in your mouth more than you can chew. I don’t expect you to play Brahms Piano Concerto on bass. Whatever you choose to play, make sure it represents yourself, it shows off the best hat you have to offer at this moment.

I personally prefer if you play something easier, but do it very well, especially [in terms of] intonation and rhythm. Of course, show your dedication and motivation to become a professional.

Catalin Rotaru – Arizona State University

The two most common mistakes [are] people aren’t ready early enough. They’re still working on the material in the final weeks coming up to the audition season.

The second is that they choose material that may be actually too hard for them technically, and they think that it will be impressive. It’s much more impressive to play something well and in your technical skill level than it is to play something moderately poorly that’s is beyond you. If you are not ready for a Paganini Caprice, don’t attempt one for audition season.

Donovan Stokes – Shenandoah Conservatory

In my experience, I notice that students often over program. They choose repertoire above their technical and musical abilities, hoping to impress rather than playing really well what shows off their best qualities. In auditions, professors hope to get an idea of how good a student you will be, and displaying good decision-making brings in lots of “extra points.”

Another common occurrence is actually not in the musical preparations. Oftentimes, students fail to contact the professor for whom they are auditioning for a consultation lesson, or they fail to research the university, the community, and what campus life would be like.

You’ve got to remember that you are also auditioning each school.

George Amorim – University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

4. Besides the private teacher, what other factors should I consider when comparing schools?

You should go to the school and see what it’s like when classes are in session, when the energy is popping and everyone is doing their thing. You should hang out with the students. Have lunch with them. Sit in on another lesson. Watch how they talk and how they interact, and get a sense of how it feels to be there.

It’s kind of like online dating versus real-life dating. Somebody’s online profile can say all kinds of things, but it really comes down to how does it feel to be in the room with that person.

You might be surprised. The schools that “should” be the right fit, you might not feel like they get you and that’s where you belong. Another school might feel like, “Hey, this is the place for me. I can be me and they can be they, and we fit perfectly together.”

I always feel like when it works its best, it’s not about choices and comparisons and tables. It’s just the right fit on both sides of the equation: for the school, for the teacher, for the application, for the rest of the studio, and it all just feels right. Then the question is how can it happen financially, logistically, and all of the other little things.

Get yourself there and open up and ask questions and make connections.

Nicholas Walker – Ithaca College

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When my students are comparing schools, I ask them two things: will it support your dream, and can you afford to go there?

The first question requires taking the time to identify your personal passions and dreams, which may differ from those that your teacher or your parents have outlined for you. Do you want to play in an orchestra or do you want to play jazz, or maybe you want to do both like Rob Kassinger (Chicago Symphony) does. Maybe you want to play a variety of different genres and write your own music like Sebastian Dube does. Your job is to identify the dream, and it will be your teacher’s job to help you gain the skill sets to attempt to reach that dream.

Can you afford to go there is the second question. My students in Trinidad quite often don’t realize how expensive it is to study abroad. While their family might have enough to pay tuition, they haven’t realized how much it costs to live or how much transport will cost. After investing all that time learning your craft, you don’t want an enormous debt that will keep you from realizing your dream.

My dreams have always been multifaceted, and I was really lucky to have teachers that supported that.

Caitlyn Kamminga – University of Trinidad and Tobago

I guess that you’re going to hear this from everybody, but the quality of the program in general. How good the orchestra program is. Everything. All the music classes you’re going to take.

Also, take in account the environment, and also perhaps the opportunities to gig. As you keep growing and developing, that’s going to be more and more important.

But in the end, perhaps the teacher the deciding factor. That’s what I would do, at least.

Catalin Rotaru – Arizona State University

The [private] teacher is one of the most important decisions. It’s a one-on-one dynamic, and it’s very atypical of anything else that’s going to happen to you in your college career. It’s really important that that’s a good fit.

Something that goes along with that that people don’t often think about is what else happens with that dynamic. Will the [private] teacher help you line up gigs in town? Will the tea here encourage you [to] do extra gigs, or will they discourage you if you’ve taken on too much?

Another big thing that people don’t often think about: can the teacher help you fill in any gaps that either you come into the school with, or that or that the school isn’t quite helping you with? For instance, ear training is a big one that I run into a lot. Will the teacher help really get your ear training grounded?

I think those are some things to consider just about the teacher. After that, I think what’s important is to make a list of other learning learning goals for yourself aside from your studio work.

After you’ve made that list, then you can figure out whether the school is a better fit. It’s hard to know if the school fits your objectives if you don’t know what your objectives are.

For instance, does the school permit experimentation in the degree easily? Can you easily take a philosophy course, or a math course if that’s what you’re interested in?

One of the other big things to consider is how the other students in the studio align with your objectives, or how do they complement it if it’s not an exact alignment? For instance, is it all orchestra players but you’re only really interested in soloing, or is it all orchestra players but you want to learn more about playing in the orchestra because you’ve only done solos? That’s another important thing to discover.

Another thing is what are the graduates doing, and do you see yourself doing that?

A last thing that a lot of students don’t think about a school aside from the teacher is are there any big changes coming to the curriculum or to the focus of the school. That’s a little bit harder to find out, but you can kind of dig around, especially if you really quiz the admissions director. You can kind of get an idea of some things that might be coming that may fit you better or may fit you not as well.

Susan Cahill – University of Denver

5. Other than Performance, Music Ed, and Jazz, what other options are available for undergrads?

One of the things we do at Nazareth College really well that I think not a lot of people consider is music therapy. That’s a degree and a job where you go out and you work in a therapeutic environment. An occupational therapist will work with people who have physical limitations that they’re trying to overcome, or rehab that they’re trying to do.

You’re working in a social work type of way. You’re using music as the tool. You’re still in the conservatory program—you’re still working in orchestra, you’re taking lessons. And you’re working through the creative arts therapy program.

It’s a really great fit for somebody who wants to do therapeutic work, who has that kind of angle in their life where they want to do that. A book that I recommend to a lot of people who are thinking about going in that direction is called Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks. It covers a lot of different and really interesting things that can go wrong with our brains when it comes to art and music.

There are a few chapters in there on music therapy in particular that are really enlightening about the ways that music can reawaken our brains after a stroke and after certain diseases hit, like Parkinson’s. I’ve found it really inspiring. I’ve had several students come through this program, and they’re making a tremendous difference in the world.

Gaelen McCormick – Nazareth College

Most younger musicians fall into three large categories:

  1. classical, by playing in their high school orchestra, wind ensemble, concert band, or marching band, or youth orchestra
  2. jazz, by playing in studio band, jazz band, or studio orchestra
  3. rock or popular music

The traditional programs that support these at the college level are classical persomance, jazz performance, and music education.

There are a number of other courses of study that students sometimes only find out about once they arrive on campus or after doing a little bit of research.

Many school now offer some of the following courses of study, either separately or as parts of larger degree programs:

  • theory
  • composition
  • commercial music
  • music business
  • music technology
  • music therapy

This last option is currently a growth field, with more jobs than applicants. It also encompasses much more than what most of us think of when we think of music therapy.

Douglas Mapp – Rowan University

Beyond traditional degrees such as performance, there are some really cool options. Berlin’s historical performance program is among the best, and many bassists have played in the baroque orchestra or even learned to play viola da gamba.

The PI program, or performance and improvisation, exists in the space between classical and jazz.

Every January we have Winter Term, an independent study term where it’s possible to dig deep into a subject, study, travel—the sky’s the limit.

Tracy Rowell – Oberlin Conservatory

Certainly, there’s composition, but there’s also music business, which could be either administrative or retail. We offer a Bachelor of Arts in Music with the emphasis being in pre-law, or a Bachelor of Arts in Music with the emphasis being in pre-med, or a Bachelor of Arts in Music with the emphasis being in pre-engineering. You’d be a music major but take your electives in those areas.

Some schools even offer a music therapy degree, where you would work with either special needs students, or retirees, or people in hospitals. There are lots of opportunities for you to continue your music career.

John Schimek – Oklahoma City University

We have a couple of very strong degree programs in composition and music therapy, which are one of the top-ranked programs in the country.

Although it’s not a degree, we have a very exciting chamber music program here at the University of Iowa that started about four years ago. It is the University of Iowa String Quartet Residency Program.

This unique residency program brings in internationally recognized string quartets for seven to ten day residencies each year. During this time, the quartets work the student chamber groups, do public performances and master classes, and offer advice on how to build a career with entrepreneurial ideas.

The students get to work closely with these quartets in master classes, coachings, and even sometimes in individual lessons. It is a very exciting program, and we are really proud of it.

Volkan Orhon – University of Iowa

Here at Fredonia, we have a number of other programs. We have two different Bachelor of Science degrees. One of those is Sound Recording Technology, which includes many things: studio work, live streaming, live sound, running the sound board, and all kinds of training along those lines.

We also have Music Therapy, which is a really wonderful degree program working with people, that have disabilities, using music to improve the quality of their lives or help them make adjustments and progress in their healing.

We have a Bachelor of Arts degree in Applied Music, which is an interesting degree. It’s very well-rounded. It has a lot of what we call college core curriculum (CCC) credits—basically, your humanities—in addition to the the core music curriculum. That’s a good degree if you’re interested in music but also have other academic interests.

We also have a Bachelor of Music degree in Composition.

Kieran Hanlon – State University of New York at Fredonia

6. How early should students start preparing for their college auditions?

I think that it really depends on the learning speed of the student. In general, if I were to learn something new, I would give enough time so that I can intensively learn and work on the piece until I get tired of practicing it or even hearing it.

Then I would leave it and not touch it for some time, and work on something else. Then I would come back to it again with a fresh mind and ears, and practice intensively until the performance.

DaXun Zhang – University of Texas at Austin

7. I am interested in auditioning at six schools; is there any flexibility in audition requirements that could help lessen the amount of combined repertoire for all of the schools?

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My advice is always that you should play what you do best. I realize that some school have very specific requirements and repertoire. Regarding Bach, some schools require Bach, and you have to do the very best you can with it, but as an undergraduate especially I would advise you not to play Bach unless you can absolutely play it at the absolute highest level.

You’re usually playing for the cello professors and the viola professors and the violin professors, who have all studied Bach, and what I hear—the common problem in bass players when they play Bach in their college auditions—is that they actually play wrong notes. They play the chords in ways that the cellists and the violists and the violinists would never dream of playing chords.

The immediate response from the people listening to you audition is “this person hasn’t studied at all, they don’t know what they’re doing.” It’s a real negative. Unless you have really perfected the Bach, then I would leave it out if you have the choice.

Jeff Bradetich – University of North Texas

There can be some flexibility in audition requirements at individual schools, although it’s usually recommend that the applicant adhere fairly closely to the published guidelines. Nonetheless, if the student is looking for some flexibility in the audition repertoire, I’d check in with the individual teacher at the school in question far in advance of the actual audition date. As you can imagine, it’s not in an applicant’s best interest to announce repertoire changes at the actual audition.

James VanDemark – Eastman School of Music

My advice, if you can’t fulfill all the requirements, would be to try to find repertories that has the most contrast that you can. For instance, a romantic concerto and a baroque sonata for your solos, If you can put together that kind of thing.

When it comes to a few excerpts, that also can show some contrast. If you can put togheter three contrasting excerpts, generally that will keep you fairly covered. An example of that would be a Beethoven excerpt and a Mozart excerpt and then a lyrical excerpt.

You want to try to show as much of a command of style and different articulations. That’s the biggest goal.

Brian Perry – Southern Methodist University

It’s wonderful when there’s a lot of crossover between schools, but that is not always the case. Sometimes a school will be flexible on some of the repertoire requirements, so don’t hesitate to ask the teacher for whom you intend to audition. I get questions from students about that frequently, and I ask them what their repertoire would be, and I can either make suggestions or say that that’s fine.

For instance, if the requirement is a romantic concerto but the student has a romantic sonata of similar difficulty, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to substitute them. However, what is most important is that the school gets a representation of your technical and musical abilities. that would also include different styles.

Scott Pingel – San Francisco Conservatory of Music

8. How can I keep from getting overwhelmed by the audition repertoire requirements from the different schools for which I’m auditioning?

As often as you can, try to overlap the requirements. If one school specifies excerpts and another one says [to] pick three excerpts, try to overlap those lists. Most importantly, I would suggest you keep a practice journal, so that you never go too long without practicing any one thing.

It would be a good idea to set up a two or three day rotation and treat the list of requirements kind of like a buffet. Make numerous small trips to the buffet. Don’t try to eat the whole thing every day.

Andrew Raciti – Northwestern University

Always have fun. Have fun learning and playing this music and practicing this music, and then it’s not a chore. Remember why you play [your instrument]—it’s for fun.

I also tell my high school students who are preparing auditions that during this practice time, which becomes very intense, take some time out just to play something for fun. Maybe even improvise something.

When I mean something for fun, I mean maybe a pop tune that you’re just going to play by ear, or sometimes a Christmas tune. Just something for fun. Maybe even a piece that you learned a long time ago, that you can play really well. That will break this intense practicing and worrying about how you’re doing. Just have fun!

John Schimek – Oklahoma City University

If you have a large repertoire load between different schools, I recommend perhaps making an A, B, and C list of your repertoire. The A list would be the material that you need to do every day, the B list is maybe every couple days, and the C list is maybe a couple of times a week, like stuff that’s maybe not as technically challenging.

This is how I used to approach taking professional orchestra auditions that had very large repertoire requirements, and it kept everything on the front burner at some point over the courses of the week. Consistency is much more important than trying to cram.

Scott Pingel – San Francisco Conservatory of Music

Hopefully, some of it overlaps. That’s what I would try to do as much as possible. Otherwise, you need to prepare early. If your audition is in February, I’d start working on it in September or earlier, so that you have as much of the audition material ready during that fall semester as possible.

But again, I’d look for overlaps. If someone is not specific, if they say “two contrasting pieces,” but somebody wants specifically the first movement of a the Vanhal [Concerto] and a Bottesini salon piece, then I would use that at multiple places.

Donovan Stokes – Shenandoah Conservatory

9. How do I ask for a lesson with the teacher for whom I’m auditioning? Do I pay them/ask about payment?

I believe it is really important to get a lesson with the teacher before you decide on the school. If your intent is to become a performance major, your primary teacher will be one of the most important parts of your training.

As for paying for the lesson, that will be different for every teacher, but it might be prudent to at least offer to do so. It’s my policy to always give a free trial lesson to a student interested in studying at the school.

Scott Pingel – San Francisco Conservatory of Music

Email, email, email—always the best way. A lot of teachers check their email incessantly. I know I’m one of them.

You can also find thre teacher’s information on the school website. Don’t be afraid to make a phone call. Most of us are pretty darn cool and really willing to talk to you and work with you. Email’s a great way to do it. Just say “Hey, I’m an interested student, and I’d like to come and audition for your school, and I’d like to come up for a lesson.”

I don’t think anybody minds getting asked about payment, and I think it’s polite to ask, but I would have some serious red flags raised if a teacher at a university was demanding payment for an on-campus visit. I don’t think that’s kosher, personally.

If it happens on campus, I haven’t met a single colleague of mine yet on any instrument that wouldn’t mind saying “Come on in, my door’s always open. We can do a lesson, we can chat, we can hang out. I’ll show you around campus.”

I know I’m willing to roll out the red carpet for any prospective student, and pretty much every other teacher I know is as well.

Also, a lot of schools offer Student for a Day programs. I know that here at Appalachian State University, we offer a Student for a Day program where you can check in with the office, and their office will actually set your up throughout the day, meeting with teachers, going to classes, observing lessons and ensemble rehearsals, and also hanging out with students. We actually have that as part of the schedule—you go to lunch with students.

A lot of schools offer things like that—a Student for a Day program.

Any teacher worth his or her salt is going to have their door wide open and welcome you with open arms.

Take a lesson—don’t go to school with anybody that you haven’t taken a lesson from.

Adam Booker – Appalachian State University

I always ask if they want compensation for a lesson. It’s always just a good ideas to ask that.

Andrew Anderson – Roosevelt University

I would ask [for a lesson] early on by email. Try and set up a time. Sometimes they will do it on the day of the audition. Other times it’s too busy, and you’ll have to have a separate trip, maybe when you’re visiting.

I would ask about payment, because some people do not charge for that sort of thing and other people do. You don’t want to be surprised when you get there.

Donovan Stokes – Shenandoah Conservatory

I would say absolutely [ask for a lesson]. You want to know what kind of teacher this is before you go down that road and spend four years studying with them.

Should you ask them about payment? Yes, you should. they may say “no, don’t worry about that.”

At Northern Illinois University, we offer a free lesson to anyone who is applying there, so you wouldn’t need to ask there. But anyone else, I would certainly ask if they want payment for the lesson, and even if it seems like it’s a bit expensive, consider the cost that you’ll be paying over four years or more studying with someone. Really, that’s not a big deal in the scope of things.

John Floeter – Northern Illinois University, University of Illinois at Chicago, Roosevelt University

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