Department of Music
Preparing to Enter a University as a Music Major
An Advisory from the National Association of Schools of Music
Acceptance to an undergraduate program in music is based on many considerations. These vary widely among institutions. For example, some have stringent audition requirements prior to admission while others have open admission policies followed by thorough examinations at some point in the program to determine whether the student may continue as a music major.
The suggestions below indicate how you can best prepare during the high school years, not necessarily what you must achieve to apply or be accepted. The advice provided describes two things: first, an ideal set of knowledge and skills goals for college-level applicants; second, competencies needed by musicians as they practice the various aspects of the profession in college and beyond. In brief, to ensure maximum success in the university program, it is to your advantage to learn as much as you can as early as you can.
Take responsibility for your own development
Each musician brings a unique set of talents, aspirations, and abilities to the musical scene. Although you are in school and possibly studying with a private teacher, it is important to take increasing responsibility for developing your particular abilities toward your specific goals. Begin by obtaining the admission re-quirements of schools you may wish to attend, the earlier the better. Ultimately, you are responsible for choices about how you use your time to prepare for your future. For most musicians, that future involves music at the center, supported by many other capabilities.
Practice, practice, practice
Whatever you do or intend to do in music, try to practice it as much as possible. This applies not only to your instrument and/or voice, but also to other types of musical work. For example, composers should practice composing, prospective teachers should try to observe and gain teaching experiences under appro-priate supervision, those interested in music scholarship or criticism should practice writing and speaking on musical topics. No level of knowledge or skill that you can attain will be too high.
Perform alone and with others
Performance ability is important for all musicians. You should be a competent performer on at least one instrument or as a vocalist whether or not you intend to have a performance career. Keyboard ability is important for the life work of most musicians. It is strongly advised that you study piano privately in preparation for your university studies. Students with keyboard skills have a head start as music majors. Ensemble experiences of all kinds are helpful in developing different kinds of musical skills.
Master the basics
It is desirable that you read both treble and bass clefs, that you know key signatures, the major and minor scales, and how to write basic notation. You will be a step ahead if you have knowledge of musical terms and usage and the abil-ity to recognize intervals and basic chord types.
Develop your ear
If you have the opportunity to train your ear by taking courses or studies in musicianship that include sight-singing, ear-training, sight-reading, rhythmic and harmonic dictation, and so forth, take advantage of it! Developing the ear is a lifetime job. The earlier work is started, the better. We strongly encourage you to check out the following music theory web sites:
Additionally, there is self-help theory literature available at Miller Music in Fresno and other music stores in your area. Examples:
Keith Snell: "Fundamentals of Piano Theory" Bk 1-10, Kjos
Julie McIntosh Johnson: "Basics of Keyboard Theory"
Alfred: "Essentials of Music Theory" (complete)
Hear as much music as you can
As a well-rounded musician you will want to be familiar with far more music than that which you perform. Try to hear as much music from as many historical periods and cultural sources as possible. Check your local newspaper for concert performances (symphony, opera, chamber music, solo, etc.) Ask your teachers to recommend a listening list for you that includes various solo, small, and large ensemble repertory in your performance area.
Learn how music works
Developing your knowledge of musical structure (form, harmony, counterpoint, composition, and improvisation) will be a life-time goal. Those who are able to get started early have an advantage. Work with your music teachers, enroll in an AP music course if it is available in your high school, take classes at your community music school, and otherwise explore opportunities to gain initial acquaintance with this mate-rial.
Become fluent and effective in speaking and writing English
As a musician, you will communicate with your music, but you will also rely heavily on your ability to communi-cate with words. Everything from rehearsals to teaching, to writing grant proposals, to negotiating, to pro-moting your musical interests relies on fluent English skills. Focus attention on learning to speak and write effectively.
Study one or more foreign languages
Musicians practice their art internationally. If you are a vocalist, you are likely to perform music with texts in foreign lan-guages. If you seek advanced degrees in music, reading fluency in one or more foreign languages is often required. Since foreign languages are difficult for many people, you should begin acquiring knowledge and skills in at least one foreign language as early as possible. Consult with your music teacher about which languages are best for you.
Get a comprehensive high school education
Music both influences and is influenced by other fields of study: the humanities, mathematics, the sciences, the social sciences, and the other arts-architecture, dance, film, literature, theatre, and the visual arts. Most professionals who work with music comprehensively develop a particular sensibility about the connections between music, history, and the other arts.
Think of all your studies as helping you to become a better musician
As we have already said, the best musicians continue to learn throughout their lives. They are always studying and thinking, always connecting what they know about music with their knowledge of other fields. Since you never know the direction your career will take, it is wise to spend your high school years gaining the basic ability to understand and work in a variety of fields beyond music. Keep music at the center of your efforts, but accept and enjoy the challenge of gaining the kind of knowledge and skills in other areas that will support both formal studies at the college level and your music career beyond.