Choosing a Music School That’s Right For You

If you’ve read through Should I Go To Music School, and after some serious thought have arrived at the notion that you’d like to go to music school, the next step is finding one that’s right for you.

Depending on your level of commitment, current level of musicianship, other areas of interest, personal goals, and budget, there are a vast number of options to choose from.

College versus exclusive music school

A primary decision to make is whether you want to attend a program that is part of a larger university, or whether you’d prefer a program that’s at a school solely dedicated to music. They both have their benefits and visiting a program at both will give you a better idea about what you like.

A large part of attending college is to grow and mature as an individual. You hear people ambiguously call this the “college experience.” When I was looking at places for my undergrad, I wanted to attend a place that could offer me such an experience.

Not to say that you couldn’t potentially gain this experience at a small exclusive music school, however, a program that’s part of a general university will offer you much more in terms of extra curricular activities, thereby promoting a wider variety of experience. There’s often weekly campus events, dozens of clubs and organizations to get involved in, and diverse people from all over the world to interact with.

Moreover, a general university will provide you with many chances to pursue other interests in tandem with music. You’ll have opportunities to take courses outside the music school and broaden your view if you so desire. Although difficult at most schools, you could take this as far as tackling a double major, or minoring in something outside of music.

On the other hand, some people may prefer an exclusive music school over a general college. You’re surrounded by people that are doing what you’re doing, (playing music) all the time. Perhaps the only thing you want to do is music and you’d gladly skip out on any courses having to do with anything else. You’ll probably still have to take the basics, but most of your classes would most likely be music focused.

The only way to determine which format works for you is to visit. And it’s difficult to generalize too. Each school, whether it’s a program that’s part of a university, or an exclusive music school, is it’s own entity.

Faculty matters the most

The number one thing that matters is the faculty that you will be spending time with. In my experience, the more members of the faculty you click with, the better your experience will be.

Some questions to ask yourself about the faculty:

  • Who will I be studying privately with?
  • Do I like his/her playing?
  • Do I click with them on a personal level?
  • How much time do I get with them?
  • How many different people can I study with?
  • If I’m not studying with someone, will I have a chance to still learn from them?

Who you’re studying privately with makes all the difference. If you’re not into their playing, or don’t get along with them well, it will be a long four years. Finding someone who can be a mentor to you, someone that you can continually count on to help guide you is vital.

Asking up-front how much time you get with professors is very important. Many schools now have famous faculty members that help draw admission to their schools. But the problem is that they are constantly on tour, or worse yet, some schools only offer a few lessons with a particular faculty member.

If you just want a lesson with someone, you don’t need to go to music school; just ask them and typically, for some cash, they’ll gladly give you some time. Attending music school should be about a lot more than a few lessons. You want to cultivate relationships with these people that you continue to have throughout your entire life.

Curriculum

Knowing what your course work will consist of before you attend a music program will give you a better idea about whether it’s right for you. Think about these questions:

  • What kind of theory, ear training, and composing classes do they offer?
  • What kind of jazz specific classes are offered and who are they taught by?
  • What ensembles do they have and who are they coached by?
  • How much time do the ensemble coaches spend with you and how active are they?
  • What classes are required and are they useful?
  • Are jazz majors intermixed with other music majors for most courses?

Through these questions, try to get a good idea about the landscape of the learning environment.

Student body

You’ll be spending the bulk of your time at school with the other students. Get a feel for how the students interact with one another and what the general level of musicianship is. If it’s not on par with your ability, you’ll just be frustrated, and if it’s way above you, you feel discouraged.

How do the students treat each other? Is there a competitive attitude, or is it more collaborative and supportive?

The other students at your school will not only turn into lifelong friends, but band mates as well. Find a school with a student body that matches your ability and outlook to ensure the onset of such relationships.

Visiting a school

Visiting a school is the most important thing to do before deciding to go there. You can read about it all you want, or talk to people who went there, but until you go see it for yourself, you won’t know if it’s for you.

Call or email way in advance to set up appointments to meet everyone:

  • Get a lesson with the faculty member you’ll be studying with (refer to ‘Faculty’ section)
  • Get a tour of the campus, dorms, and facilities
  • Stay with current students in the dorms while you’re there
  • Sit in on an academic class (refer to ‘Curriculum’ section)
  • Watch a rehearsal and note the interaction between students and faculty (refer to ‘Student body’ section)
  • Meet professors in other departments if it’s a program at a  university

During your visit, think about everything laid out in each section about faculty, curriculum, and student body. Think critically about this information while you’re there and observe it in detail. Make mental or written notes about everything, constantly asking yourself, “Do I genuinely see myself here?”

It’s your education. It’s up to you to make the most of it and by thinking about all this stuff before you commit to going, you’ll set yourself up for having a great experience.