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Finding the Ideal Music Program: A 3-Step Guide

Updated: Nov 17, 2023

So, you have decided you want to study music? Congratulations! As someone who has studied, taught, and traveled across 3 continents, I’d like to offer a bit of advice. Things to remember:

1. Diverse Mentorship Needs: Know that everyone has different needs from a mentor. Some folks are comfortable with a person boasting an insane solo career who barely responds to email. Others might seek someone who is committed to creating opportunities for underprivileged communities, but does not know how to help students navigate competitions and auditions. Others may want to study with someone who commissions a ton of new music and runs their own ensemble, but does not keep up with students after they graduate.

The same goes for a program. Do you want to have a new music ensemble, a steel band, or a film scoring orchestra? A big band open to people who just started out? Each school has a unique offering. Make sure to check in about all those things that matter to you. List what is important to you to have in your mentor/college program. No professor or program is perfect, and no studio is a great place for every person. Perfection is not the goal – finding the best match is.

2. Google, google, google. If you only audition for programs you have already heard of or other people recommend, you are a victim of your circumstances. This is your future – it deserves a serious consideration. There is no rewind button in life. When auditioning for schools, I meticulously researched all (read again; aaaall) DMA programs in Percussion Performance across North America. It took a whole summer, but the effort paid off. Be diligent and strategic; it's worth it.

The most common thing I hear from students is that they attend a Big-Name School only to find out during the first week that they do not get to study with the Fancy Professor, but with the graduate assistants. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing bad about big programs or graduate students teaching - in fact, that might be the best environment for a lot of people. However, it is bad if you had no idea what you were in for. That probably could have been avoided by – you guessed it – doing research.

3. Connect with professors early.

Write them an email. Observe their response time and how engaged they are. This will likely be how they will communicate with you while you are their student. Ask for a trial lesson, even if it must be on Zoom (it’s always better to do in person, if possible). Is the conversation they have with you about music stimulating? Do they care about your career plans?

Speak to current students. Ask the professor to put you in touch with a couple of studio members. Book phone calls and ask as many questions as you can. Find out about the best and worst aspects of being part of the studio. Inquire about the studio vibe if it matters to you (find out if the studio members hang out, if the vibe is laid back, supportive, competitive, or cutthroat – you probably know which of these you prefer.) Ask if the professors are available, around, and whether the students feel supported. Do a campus visit. There is nothing like experiencing a place yourself. Sit it on a chamber music coaching, on an orchestra/band rehearsal, see a concert. Meet as many people as you can. Finally, remember – YOU HAVE OPTIONS. Your life is yours to create. May the Audition Gods be on your side this season and may you land in a program of your choosing - one that stimulates your growth, provides support, appreciates and challenges you! 🙂


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