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How to get into a music conservatory

Trial lessons are a great way to get helpful advice on your audition repertoire and technique to improve before you audition for your selected universities.

My name is Tristan McMichael, and I am currently in my second year at University of the Pacific working toward my Bachelor of Music in Music Education. As someone who has recently applied to music colleges, I’m here to provide you with tips to help you get through the admissions process and ultimately, get into a music conservatory. 

I come from the small town of Quincy, California, where I did not have easy access to private lessons or music colleges, so I understand the struggle of navigating the process of applying for a music college or conservatory. From what to know about admission requirements to how to choose which university to attend, I hope these tips help demystify the application process and give you confidence as you start to apply to music conservatories. 

Tip #1: Know your admission requirements

Applying to college as a music major is like applying to the same college twice because you have your general university application that every student fills out, but then you also have your audition and interviews for the music department separately.

When I applied to school, I applied to three CSUs, the University of Nevada, Reno, and University of the Pacific. The audition requirements for each were completely different, which meant I needed to learn more repertoire and scale patterns for my auditions on saxophone. 

 Tip #2: Have trial lessons with professors

While I was applying to schools, my high school band director recommended that I reach out to the applied professor (the professor who teaches private lessons for a specific instrument) of saxophone at each school and schedule a trial lesson with them. This advice is the best tip I can offer any incoming music major because the applied professor is the one professor a music student will work with closely for their entire collegiate experience. I am incredibly thankful that I knew to do this because it informed my college decision. 

After I had a trial lesson with each professor, I was able to narrow my choices down to three colleges. I ended up choosing Pacific because I really enjoyed the trial lesson I had with Professor Ricardo Martinez, the applied saxophone professor at the Conservatory of Music (and because of the financial aid offer and the amazing music education program led by Professor Ruth Brittin here). Trial lessons are not only a great way to see what professor fits best for you, but they are also a great way to get helpful advice on your audition repertoire and technique to improve before you ultimately audition for your selected universities!

 Tip #3: Practice efficiently for auditions 

Something that I wish I knew when I was preparing for my auditions is how to effectively practice and prepare repertoire. A common misconception is that “practice makes perfect.” This is only true if the repertoire is practiced perfectly. Practice makes permanent, which means that the final product may still contain mistakes. 

In a master class last year, I was told that it takes three repetitions to make something semi-permanent. This stuck with me because if I were to practice something incorrectly several times in a row, it would become a habit, which is hard to break. After this master class, I adjusted how I practice so that I now prioritize accuracy, even if that meant playing passages at very slow tempos. Though this may seem obnoxious at first, it saves time in the long run because I no longer have to go back and try to break bad habits after they are formed. 

A practice journal is a great way to efficiently practice because it helps you to track your progress and plan your practice sessions before they happen. In my experience, going into a practice session without a goal or a specific passage to work on was a waste of time because I always ended up just practicing what I knew already. When I applied to college, I had two pieces of repertoire, two etudes, and 12 different scales to learn between the five schools I applied to. In order to efficiently practice, I would have goals with what I wanted to achieve with the materials and by what date. After each practice session, I would write down a reflection on how I did, along with what I wanted to improve on in the next practice session. This was both a great way to track my progress and to be able to recall what I needed to practice in the following sessions. 

If you would like to learn more about applying to Pacific as a music major, visit our Conservatory of Music admissions page

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