This list, like the last one, is drawn directly from my experience. This is hopfully going to be the emphasis of my next book, tentatively entitled something like, “Ignore This Book if You Want to Go to Your 9th Choice Music School”.

You get my drift.

Some things to do when you are certain you want to go to music school:

1) practice better.
Don’t just throw yourself at the instrument for an hour or two a day. Have a look through your lesson books from past years and see what habits haunt you. Then do some serious woodshedding on those things. Do it now, or wait until later. You know, when you’re surrounded by people who have killer technique and you can’t quite hit that note…

2) Take some lessons from a name brand teacher.
Doors will open for you. These people tend to be connected to colleges anyway, and if you have your heart set on a particular school, it would do you good to take some lessons with a prospective teacher. This may involve hopping on a plane for a master class, or going to a summer music festival (like Fairbanks, Idyllwild, Aspen, or Interlochen) for the sole purpose of taking a few weeks worth of lessons. At the very least, seek out the big gun closest to you. It makes a huge difference, even if your current, small town/lower profile teacher has instilled flawless technique and artistry in you. Feel free to contact me if you don’t know who these people are!

3) Listen to a lot of classical music.
Listen to things that you don’t gravitate towards, because the less surprised you are when first semester orchestra throws Verklarte Nacht at you, the better. Summer festivals and local orchestras are a great way to be exposed to more literature.

4) Visit colleges. Early. Like Sophomore year.
And visit the schools you want to go to. Parents sometimes hesitate at the expenditure, but if you see a school, get excited by what you see, make connections there, and then work your ass off for the 3 years leading up to college, you are much, MUCH more likely to get a meaningful scholarship. Which, as it turns out, makes a few grand in airfare look like a pretty good deal.

5. Compete.
ASTA competitions (and those like it) are really important. They offer you the chance to screw up a few times at the local level with minimal embarrassment, and they reward you with the potential to compete against some extremely talented individuals if you make it to regional or beyond. Being comfortable in a competitive environment can be the difference between enjoying college or dreading every audition, jury, and sectional in misery.

6.Keep your nose clean.
Don’t be any of the following:

-a gossip.
-a meanie, especially to make yourself feel better.
-a butt kisser.
-the guy or girl who has dated *everyone*.
-afraid to admit a mistake.
-disparaging of people who might not yet be as advanced as you are.
-the last person to show up.
-offended or ungrateful if you believe you have been seated inappropriately.
-unprepared to play, well.
-a whiner.


-quietly help people who need it. Write in fingerings, and commiserate with them: “This passage is so hard!” etc etc.
-if you need help, ask your section leader at an *appropriate* time.
-practice your butt off.
-remember people’s faces and names.
-take lessons every week.
-(when you get your license) offer to pick people up and carpool. Lifelong bonds are made this way.
-participate. Offer to be orchestra librarian, run for president, or distribute flyers for the next concert.
-form extracurricular ensembles and do lots of playing around town.
-be inspired and focused. Live, breathe, eat and sleep music.

I hope my lists are helpful and not too preachy. As the song goes,

I wish that I knew what I know now
When I was younger…

and I’m here to help.

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9 Responses

  1. Great post Emily. If I had time, I would correlate your guidelines back to Fulghum’s “All I Really Need to Know I Learned In Kindergarten”. Most of the guidelines you listed are applicable regardless of age 🙂

  2. Ya know, I never read that. Today is my birthday (whooie!) and maybe I’ll go to the bookstore and get that for myself 🙂

  3. Happy Birthday Emily! Wish I was that age again (school age with all those things and choices in front of me! : ) mind you I didn’t play the cello then but the violin! Hope you eat cake and have a fab day 😉

  4. Happy Birthday, Emily!

    May you always find the inspiration to continue to entertain and inform us (your loyal blog readers); as well as to excel in your career as a cellist.

  5. Thanks everyone! I had a great birthday, and you know how exciting it is to get a bunch of comments…it was like getting little presents all day!

  6. Well, I’m not planning on going to music school, but I certainly found this post to be helpful. (and certainly not preachy)

    Thanks and Happy (though belated)BD.

  7. Happy belated birthday! I really enjoy your posts. This was very helpful, even for those of us who aren’t planning to go to music school.

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