Gaining an education in music at the collegiate level is a completely unique experience vs. attending a school for a traditional non-music based academic major.
If you are going to attend college for music performance major as an undergraduate student, you will be likely studying with the same private college music teacher, otherwise known as your studio professor, for four years straight.
This is especially true for students studying classical music – aspiring opera vocalists, concert violinists, and orchestral percussionists obligatorily gravitate towards a single professional private mentor at a music school. Jazz & contemporary music students often study with the same core group of faculty throughout four years as well.
True, your music history, music theory, and regular academic classes will still be – usually – taught by a different professor every semester.
But your core private lesson and studio performance class – where you perform for the other students in your studio – will be possibly the most integral part of your music education.
So why is this different than not attending school for music?
To illustrate this, let’s imagine you wish to become a mechanical engineer. First, you apply & go to the best college you can find for mechanical engineering, which is where you have to start.
Second, you begin to take classes with professors who are experts in the field of mechanical engineering. Everything sounds good so far.
So what happens if you end up not being cool with the professor you are working with? Well, after the current semester, you will likely have a different professor for a different mechanical engineering class.
The possibility of one semester of one class in which you aren’t congruent with your teacher – especially one in a traditional large lecture hall – isn’t such a bad risk to take.
However, with music, you are with one studio teacher all four years of your undergraduate education!
Do you know what that means? You better pick correctly.
My goal as an author and as an independent college consultant is to assist students find the right-fit school their first time around so as to completely minimize or erase the chances of needing to transfer colleges later down the line.
You don’t simply want to attend a highly-ranked music school. You want to attend the music school that fits you best.
So how do you choose that right-fit teacher for you personally? I understand that this process can certainly feel daunting, especially in the eyes of a parent who is not familiar or versed with the music world.
It is indeed a challenging & complex process with many layers of subtlety.
That said, here are my top 10 tips to finding the right-fit music teacher/professor in college.
10. Zone In On the Type of Music School You Want
Generally speaking, there are three types of music schools – conservatories, liberal arts colleges, and universities. There is a fourth type, online degrees, but for the purposes of this article, as well as most of the content on this website, we are talking about the first three types.
Think about what your long-term goals are; if you wish to double major, or go to a college offering an extensive array of traditional academics, than an independent-standalone conservatory may not be the best option for you.
Don’t be tempted to apply to Juilliard or Colburn just because of the name-brand recognition if what the school offers is not true to what you want achieve in college.
On the other hand, if your desire is to eat, breath, sleep music and be in an environment where everyone is like-minded, then a conservatory may be the right fit for you personally.
9. Listen, Listen, and Listen
What if you have heard marvelous things about a professor at a given school, but you turn on his or her music on your Spotify and realize that you don’t emotionally connect to that person’s music-making?
That’s right – you probably shouldn’t aim to study with that teacher.
Diving into the recordings or other material (like workshops posted on youtube) your teacher has produced will give you a sense of who they are as artists.
You must remember two integral things during the “Listen” phase of all of this:
First, you are not going to music school to study a vocational trade. You are going to become an independent, unique, and individualized artist. Finding your right-fit teacher who music-making you personally connect with is critical to helping you realize this level of artistic integrity.
Secondly, remember this – don’t go into the college application process with a desperate “I just want anyone who will pick me” attitude. Rather, pick teachers based on your interest in them.