Preparing for Graduate School Part 2: Adequate Preparation

Without a doubt, the best way to ensure a great audition and application experience for graduate school is adequate preparation. As I see it, there are two big ways to do this: organizational/application prep, and audition/mental prep. One thing I was I had done a little better would be organizing my materials and pre-screening requirements long before the applications were due (Dec. 1 in many cases). I recall checking one school’s website a few days before the deadline to find differing information on pre-screening requirements than the previous time I had looked. That being said, here are my suggestions for your best preparation:

Organizational/Application

Narrow down your schools (maybe 1 safety, 2 attainable, and 1-2 reach). Of course this is just a suggestion allowing the most open of options after the audition.

Lessons and emails with professors- contact early on, ask questions, ask for possible lesson and be understanding if they can’t do it.

List of requirements. What I suggest you do here is to get the app Evernote or some sort of file that you can have on paper and on a mobile device, this way it’s accessible in lessons and practice rooms, etc.

  • Does the school have prescreening? If so, what are the requirements and what is the date? Get the exact materials and formats for uploading (sound file, pdf, video).
  • Audition date(s)?
  • How many letters of recommendation does the school request? Email your professors at least a month out for this.
  • Do they need a resumé or a repertoire list? Save your programs! (Sample Rep List)
  • Do they require essays? PDF format?
  • Fees? Consider fees for sending transcripts as well.
  • Do they require the GRE?
  • Is there a separate Teaching Assistant application or a separate application for the graduate school and school of music?

Travel plans

  • Drive or fly?
  • Arrive at least a day before your audition to relax and get some good sleep.
  • Money can be a big factor in where you apply as you will need to find a way to get there.
  • Email your university professors a month ahead of time asking to be absent from class if need be. Send a reminder email a week out.
  • Figure out a place to play your instrument before. (I played in my car outside of a hotel in Michigan… until someone told me they couldn’t sleep because of it)

Audition/Mental

Prepare material you can play well, even if it seems easy. Any panel would prefer to hear a solid performance where they can hear your musical voice rather than a battle for notes.

Understand that the panel wants you to succeed and have a great performance. Nobody is rooting for you to stumble, they want to hear you play well.

Practice the way you want to perform.

Have fun, what’s the point if playing music isn’t enjoyable and rewarding.

The next post will be discussing the audition and how not to psych yourself out! Stay tuned for more to come and some suggestions on reading for audition success.

Preparing for Graduate School Part 1: Why and Where?

Recently, I have finished auditioning for graduate schools pursuing a degree in music performance. After the exhausting process I reflected on what I did right, what I wish I knew, and how others could be more prepared and know what to expect.

The process of applying and auditioning for a Master’s program can be extensive, but with the right preparation the audition process can be a simplified and encouraging experience. The first of the four posts I will write on graduate auditions will focus on what you want to get out of a graduate degree, whether or not it is right for you, and where you should apply and focus your energy.

Why?

  • Do you hope to land a job with an orchestra, a service band, as an educator, entrepreneur, etc.?
  • If so, which degree will help you achieve these goals?
  • Where should you apply and why?

Generally, a performance degree will prepare you for the world of orchestras, service bands, chamber groups, and equip you to be competitive in professional auditions. For this reason, I chose to apply for a Master’s in Music Performance in order to pursue a career in a service band, and also to continue my education in hopes of becoming a college professor.

When choosing which degree you want to pursue, ask yourself this: “What do I want to get out of these two years, rather than “What can this degree do for me?” You will have a much more proactive experience in your college career if you seek out and make your own opportunities rather than waiting for employment to come your way.

Now, where?

This requires careful consideration but most of all, requires that you learn about the main professor of study and if possible meet/take a lesson with that person. Always ask even if you may not get the answer you want. Things to consider when choosing where to apply:

  • Who is the professor? What is their performance and teaching experience like? Is it similar to what you hope to attain?
  • Do you see your relationship with your professor being professional and encouraging?
  • What are the performance opportunities like in the city/town?
  • How are the ensembles?
  • Is there a Teaching Assistant or Fellowship position? Scholarships?
  • What is the studio like? Size?
  • Does the school specialize in orchestral music, band, performance, education, etc?
  • Who is on faculty? Do they match up with your ideals for a career and music education?
  • How are the facilities? Practice rooms?
  • Finally… is this a place I’m gonna dig? There might be a school with great faculty, professor, facilities, but if you don’t see an enriching environment with students and faculty members sharing positive attitudes, take that into consideration. After all, this is a time of development and refining of skills and attitudes.

All of these questions are meant to aid in successful preparation for your audition and help make the graduate process much smoother. Check out part two which covers questions and considerations on musical, mental, and application preparation in the months prior to your audition!

inTONEation

Playing in tune is simple. Not necessarily easy, but simple.

Often, I see the “I sound out of tune, thus my slides must move” approach. While that is a part of the equation, the most important things you must focus on are not whether your slide is at 3/8″ or 5/16″. Your best tone and air will give you the best indication of where the pitch is. If you play with poor sound, you could be pinching the note sharp, and blowing it flat, and there is where the slide pulling is really ineffective.

Rely on your ears, they are usually more reliable than what is in between them. As far as inconsistency goes, make sure to simplify: stop, listen and digest the pitch, then play the note relaxed and with your best sound.

Tone is as much a vital part of pitch as slide length is. Once you play with your best sound, then you can play with good inTONEation.

As Anthony Maiello says “Intonation is like body odor: everyone has it, most people do something about it.”