This text is for you who are determined to enter a music college, and it is also for you who are wondering if you should enter a music college.
POTUS or opus? Booking or Bruckner? Corporations or compositions? Being admitted to a college music program is a path chosen by many people who dream of pursuing a musician’s career and are looking for ways to develop the necessary training for that purpose. These college courses offer a broad curriculum and a high level of musical training that will expand the possibilities of musical growth and future entry into the music market. However, to be accepted in a college music program, you are expected to possess a specific set of skills, which are usually evaluated through some kind of test that assess the candidate’s level of musical knowledge. This text will give you tips to be prepared for this task and also enjoy this journey.
In my experience as a music teacher, whether preparing candidates for the college acceptance exam or teaching at music colleges, I was able to identify the most common characteristics of candidates and first-year students, especially the deficiencies that make the student’s academic life very difficult, or even worse, which would cause them to be rejected in the entrance exam.
Brutal truth disclosure: making good music demands a lot of effort and countless hours of study. Talent is an extra feature no one can decide having or not. So you shall choose to strive.
Next, you will read ten tips to properly prepare yourself for both the specific college entrance exam and for the enjoyment of the dreamed college time. They will also help you to reflect if this course is for you or not.
1. Choose the right college degree for you.
There are not one but several undergraduate music courses due to different specializations, such as Performance (Singing, Instruments), Composition, Conducting, Music Teaching, Music and Technology, Music Production, or Pop Music.
Each course has a different curriculum, designed to train professionals who will have different skills and jobs.
Take your time to think about what you really want to do professionally as a musician and choose the course and specialization that fits your choices and abilities.
In other words, the right degree is one that will provide you with the appropriate training for the professional activity you fancy, thus decreasing the chances of feeling frustrated during your undergraduate studies.
It is worth mentioning that the entrance exam is varies according to the music program and music school. For instance, you will have to play a solo repertoire with a certain (usually high) level of difficulty to succeed in the skills test for a music performance course.
2. Create a study routine.
College Music program entrance tests assess a set of theoretical and practical knowledge, which requires a lot of study time to be adequately assimilated.
Finding a good teacher and (or) a good school will help you to sediment a study routine, but this will not be enough if you do not create your home study routine.
It is necessary to dedicate a few hours per day to prepare for the music exam and/or interview and to divide this time among the different musical contents (see below).
Attention: it is necessary to establish an adequate balance between music and the regular knowledge (such as Math, History and others) that are expected from an undergraduate student. Lastly, it is also important that you take some time to rest and have fun, because weariness reduces learning capacity.
3. Learn to read and write musical notation.
Although it is not a compulsory condition for making music in general, being able to read and write music notation is considered mandatory knowledge to be accepted in a music undergraduate program.
If this ability is not well-developed, not only is your approval in an admission process unlikely, but your time during college can become very unpleasant.
Learning the rudiments takes a few hours and this knowledge will bring enormous benefits to your future, even if one day you give up on being a professional musician.
Once you have overcome this initial phase, gradually expand your knowledge of the basic elements of Musical Theory — the ones who are the basis of any specific admission exams to most undergraduate music programs — such as time signatures, key signatures, intervals, chords, scales, and clefs.
Also, practice writing music notation, since clarity and accuracy in writing are evaluated in the admission exams and required during college.
Teachers, schools, the internet, books, apps… The sources are endless, and many are free.
Presto designed a music theory book first published by Berklee College of Music, and there are also countless music books.
4. Practice sight-reading and sight-singing.
It is not enough to know note names and rhythmic figures, it is necessary to have a minimum degree of fluency in reading music.
This aptitude is developed by two complementary paths:
- Practice sight-reading and sight-singing (yes, every student of Music must know how to sing in tune), as this will be expected of you in your life as a music student and as a professional musician;
- Practice reading music regularly on your musical instrument.
Helpful tip: learn to read and to sight-singing in both G-clef and F-clef, in addition to the clefs specific of your instrument, as this is mandatory knowledge in every Music course.
Another essential knowledge, especially for those who will work with popular music, is to read and play chords — summed up by letters, numbers, and other symbols (e.g.: B#m7) — and maybe even tablature.
(Presto published in Brazilian Portuguese a methodology of notating chords in popular music. Look, it’s free.)
5. Study music perception (ear training).
Usually, the most difficult part of the college entrance exam (or during your first year) is music perception. To acquire this skill, the student must be able to audibly recognize intervals, scales, chords consisting of three or four notes, and other musical elements.
Although some people have some intuitive ease with this skill, the daily study habit is commonly essential if you want to develop a good level of music perception.
This includes being able to perform the most feared exercises of the college entrance examination: writing down rhythmic and melodic segments.
The time invested in this task will make your listening skill more efficient and precise; also, everyone feels great pleasure in being able to hear musical structures.
There are several websites and apps that offer free exercises for ear training.
6. Listen to lots of music, including classical music.
Listening to music on a regular basis and with your full attention is essential for anyone who wants to become a professional musician.
Also, a quiet place is essential to proper listening to music. Leave your gadgets aside.
And don’t confine yourself to your personal taste. Add to your listening routine compositions of different styles, and include classical music too.
Incidentally, going to concert halls is likewise a great choice for expanding your repertoire and the sort of brain-improving leisure you can go even alone.
Be advised: it is a smart, good date choice to which is easy and fun to dress up for.
Remember that the college music evaluators are looking at your general musical knowledge.
Often you will be required to recognize the name of a composition and (or) composer just by listening to small excerpts.
7. Study Western Music History.
Relax! You don’t need to know everything about Western Music History, but a piece of basic, general knowledge is very useful to get you to a music college.
By studying this beautiful subject, you will learn about the stylistic characteristics of the major historical periods.
This knowledge will make your ability to listen to music much more enjoyable and instructive, and it will be useful for admission exams, as most of them includes questions about the style of a certain historical period and (or) composer.
Another tip: if your chosen course is popular music, you should study jazz history and the history of the traditional music of the country where the chosen college is located (e.g.: USA, India, Italy, Brazil…). It is worth to highlight that studying music history strengthen and supplement general history knowledge and the fine arts and literature knowledge.
8. Read and talk about music.
To be a good musician, it is not enough to just listen to a lot of music; it is also necessary to learn to understand it intimately.
So, do not judge the songs based just on your personal taste. Learn to talk about your opinions based on the elements and characteristics of the composition under judgment.
Good sources of general musical knowledge are books, newspapers, magazines, websites, and profiles dedicated to music history and music aesthetics.
Keep in mind: nothing replaces the rich exchange of experiences you get from a good talk about music, either with your friends or with your teacher. Because music is a subject that you like so much to consider as a profession, talking about it with educated friends, teachers and other musicians will be a pleasure and you will learn a lot from their personal perspectives.
9. Learn to play a musical instrument.
It sounds like an obvious tip, but studying an instrument is essential for anyone aspiring to join a college music program.
Look for a good teacher (or a good school) to help you understand how different musical skills work together for anyone to play music with quality.
This tip is also valid for singers since the study of an instrument makes easier to understand some musical elements (such as chords and intervals). It also provides instrumental accompaniment for your singing studies.
Keep in mind that some of the music programs specialized in Composition and (or) Conducting may require the performance of some composition or musical extract at the piano for applicants.
If possible, look for alternatives to practice music together (bands; duos, trios, quartets, etc; orchestras; choirs, etc): besides being a pleasurable experience due to social interaction, it is essential in shaping any professional musician.
(Last but not least — perhaps even more importantly: playing a musical instrument is sexy.)
10. Be resilient and patient.
Never forget that learning music takes a long time: you cannot learn everything overnight, not even in a few months. Music demands years of constant practice.
Each person has his or her own speed to assimilate this vast knowledge that music encompasses. So, you must be resilient and patient. With regular, proper and dedicated study, you will get there.
If you are not accepted on your first try, don’t be discouraged. Try again!
Keep studying to overcome your difficulties, and seek information to solve any of your doubt. This will make be better prepared for your next try.
If you wish, there are medium and short duration course specifically aimed at preparing for the admission exams in music colleges.
Even the most recognized musicians keep studying throughout their whole life: they do it to keep their musical technique sharp, to learn new things and new compositions. In short, for the pleasure of continuously living the gift that is music.
And you shall know from now on that music is all about the journey, for learning music has no end!
I obtained my Bachelor’s degree in Music (Composition and Conducting), my Master’s degree and my Ph.D. in Music at the Arts Institute of UNESP (São Paulo, Brazil). I have compositions for many formations, which have been performed in distinguished locations and events, such as Campos do Jordão’s Winter Festival, FUNARTE’s Biennial of Contemporary Brazilian Music (Rio de Janeiro), the New Music Festival (Ribeirão Preto), the New Music Series at the Theatro Municipal de São Paulo, the International Symposium of New Music (Curitiba) and the Sala São Paulo. I have been awarded the first prize at the I National Composition Contest for Brazilian Percussion Instruments — Hildegard Soboll Martins — UFPR (for the composition Septet) and the FUNARTE’s Classical Music Prize (for the composition Three Songs on Poems by Lorca).You can know more about me and my works on my site.