How to Get a Music Scholarship
As a full-time music professor of 18 years, I have served on scholarship committees at three different universities in three different regions of the country. I was also fortunate to win full scholarships or assistantships at all four universities I attended. Here are a few insights I have gleaned that may be helpful in landing a great music scholarship.
One of the best things you can do to help your playing and your chances of getting a music scholarship is to take private lessons on your instrument. Get with a university professor or symphony player if possible. If well-established teachers are unavailable or too expensive, check into studying with a university student.
Put in the time! There’s absolutely no substitute for playing your instrument well!
Solidify your fundamentals. At a minimum, make sure you have the three non-negotiables of music performance—tone, intonation, and time/rhythm—in excellent shape. If you come in for your audition and play a super-showy solo that is blazing fast and covers the whole range of the instrument, but it’s with poor tone or poor intonation or uneven technique, you won’t impress the audition committee. Be musical and play challenging music, absolutely, but make sure your fundamentals are as solid as possible.
Specialize on one instrument. It’s not as impressive as you might think to include on your application that you play 11 different instruments. It does not help your cause to play mediocre auditions on several different instruments. Students (and parents) often don't realize that scholarships normally come from just one studio/instrument, not the music department as a whole, and the teacher in that one area is not particularly interested in how many other instruments you can play. Personal fulfillment is one thing, but in terms of scholarships, it generally makes the most sense to focus your time and efforts on one instrument.
Audition on a Sought-After Instrument
Scholarships on the more common/popular instruments like flute, trumpet, and violin are generally more competitive and difficult to get. For some highly sought-after instruments like bassoon, oboe, and double bass, it can sometimes be easier to land a scholarship, simply because solid players on those instruments are not as numerous (although at the top music schools it will be competitive on every instrument). That said, you still have to be a great player, so don't assume you'll get a scholarship just because you play a certain instrument. Also, it's important to pursue the instrument you really love, even if it ends up being more competitive.
Audition for All-State
Many college music faculty use all-state lists as a starting point for recruiting. You can still get a scholarship without making all-state, of course, but all-state status can help your case and bring attention to your playing.
Attend Workshops and Camps
Attend summer workshops/camps at the school(s) you’d like to attend. Many universities have summer music workshops or camps for which the music faculty serve as instructors. In addition to benefiting your playing, attendance can help bring your playing to the faculty’s attention.
Audition in Person
It’s not always financially possible to audition in person, but it often helps your chances for admission and scholarships. Audition committees who have to judge playing from a recording sometimes run into difficulties because some of the most basic musical elements like tone and dynamic contrast vary dramatically according to the sophistication of the recording equipment, placement of the microphone, and acoustics of the room. It's simply more challenging to make judgments based on recordings, so audition committees tend to be more careful when evaluating recordings. Some audition committees also appreciate being able to chat briefly with the potential student during the audition to get a feel for the candidate's personality. In other words, faculty are generally more comfortable giving scholarship awards to live applicants.
Good luck! Now go practice!
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