By Shane Griffin

The next part of the series is designed to give some insight into the application process. Many people who have experienced the process may speak to you as if you know what all of these elements and deadlines mean, and know how to prioritize, when in fact, you have no idea.

First let’s cover some basic elements of application. Applications will require basic information about yourself. This is the simplest of all steps, as they are all concrete answers. I am talking super-basic, stuff that does not change: name, address, contact information, grade point average, etc. To make this process easier, have your academic history handy, know your GPA, your major GPA, scholarships you have received, etc. Depending on the detail of the application, this part can actually take some time, but the good news is that it is quite easy.

The second part I want to touch on is your resumé. I find the professional music resumé to be a strange and elusive beast. In general, keep it to one page. At competitive music schools, teachers are reviewing many resumés, so it is important that they can get the information they need quickly. For a musician, your one-page resumé should include your education (including formal education and any notable private study), performance experience, related work experience, and any awards or honors you have received. Think of your resumé as a snapshot of you, an outlet for you to tactfully brag about your accomplishments. The related work experience is a great opportunity to show that you are already professionally involved. Do you teach privately? Do you coach any high school percussion programs? Have you given any masterclasses? These types of activities can actually be important when deciding which individuals receive TA positions.

In addition to a resumé, many applications will also ask for a Repertoire List. This is exactly as it sounds. List all solo works, advanced method books, chamber works, and in some cases orchestral excerpts studied. This helps the university understand your focus areas, how well rounded you are, and the next steps in your curriculum development. Make sure you do not sell yourself short. Often times, people do not realize how much music they have learned. Don’t forget pieces you know, but haven’t yet had the opportunity to perform publicly.

My least favorite part of the application process was the Personal Statement. Many non-music majors fret over the personal statement. I have talked to friends who went through dozens of drafts, and spent countless hours developing their personal statements. I can honestly say I spent about an hour, maybe less, on mine. Then for each application, I spent a few minutes tailoring it to that institution. This is just another opportunity to show the interested parties who you are. Tell them your professional goals, why that school is a perfect fit for you (if it’s not, then why are you applying there–see part I), and perhaps a small insight into your personality. I would love some feedback from current professors in the Chattr Section, as I am curious how much they value the Personal Statement when looking at performance majors.

The next part will be letters of recommendation. This is relatively self-explanatory. The school you are applying to wants to hear about you from people other than yourself. Find people you respect, who know how to write well, who have letter-writing experience, and who know you professionally. Professors are probably the best source, and most of the time, schools will require that a certain number of letters be from professors. Logistically speaking, this is an easy step to unintentionally put off. Don’t! It is unfair and unprofessional to your letter-writers to wait until the last minute. It is your responsibility to get them an addressed envelope, send them the link to the submission page, and in the long run, to get your letters to the schools on time. You should contact your letter-writers well in advance, and get them their materials/links far ahead of time. Some schools have an evaluation form for them to fill out, others just want a letter. Some want a hard copy, some just an online submission. All of this is on you to keep track of, and follow-up on. Remember that your letter-writers are probably writing for several other students, so they may not remember all of the dues dates or processes involved. Above all, make it easy for these individuals. After all they are doing you a favor that could impact the course of your career!

The final, and what I think may be the most important element of your application package, is the prescreen CD or DVD. The prescreen is designed to benefit both you and the schools at which you are applying. It saves time, money, and energy for you and the professors by making sure you are in the ballpark before traveling for an audition. For schools that require you to submit a prescreen, you will have to find the list of requirements on their website. Generally, they include a snare drum solo, timpani solo, marimba solo, and several orchestral instruments. In addition, they may ask for some drum set and world percussion demonstrations. Remember, when you are preparing your prescreen, that this your opportunity to make a great first impression.
Preparing a prescreen DVD or CD may seem straightforward, after all it’s just another day in the rehearsal room right? Wrong. Often times, students are surprised by the nerves that a rolling camera or tape can generate. In addition to nerves, you have to remember you are managing some technological devices, usually adding to your frustration levels. Quality, especially audio quality, is important when preparing your prescreens. After all, you want to be judged by the quality of your playing, not by the technology you used to produce your prescreen. I tried a couple of setups before purchasing a Zoom Q3 (no I’m not being paid), and loved it. The video quality is not perfect (it’s designed for web), but the audio is great, and the video basically exists to show that it’s you playing, and that you look like you know what you are doing. Using this handy device eliminated recording separate audio and video, then syncing them up later.

A common pitfall while recording prescreens is attempting too many takes while recording your prescreen. Once you have a take that accurately shows how well you play, move on. This may take several tries, or it may take one. You want to look your best, but if you can’t play a piece perfectly in the practice room, there is no sense wasting your time trying to “get lucky” with the tape rolling. Prepare well enough in advance so that you don’t have to play each excerpt 100 times. If you do, shouldn’t you have just spent that time practicing, so you could get it right the first time?

This process should help you get through this process efficiently:

1. Once you have your list (see Part I), study the websites of the schools where you are applying. Just browsing deadlines, processes, and FAQs can save many headaches later.
2. Figure out how you actually apply. Usually, it is an online process, but sometimes, there are certain things that must be mailed. This often varies greatly from school to school.
3. Make a calendar with all of the due dates, and set deadlines for yourself well in advance of the schools’ deadlines. This allows for technical complications and any other curve balls that come your way. For anything that is mailed, make sure it will arrive on time. Don’t be a qualified candidate that is not heard to a logistical flaw! Due dates to look for include application, prescreen, letters of recommendation, and audition dates.
4. Make a list of all required repertoire for both your prescreens and auditions. Use as much overlapping repertoire as possible; do not make a difficult task even harder on yourself.
5. Get your letter-writers the information and materials they need.
6. Complete all basic information on the applications.
7. Draft your resumé, CV, Repertoire List and Personal Statement and have an experienced professor review them.
8. Record your prescreen.
9. Finalize all documents and follow up with letter-writers.
10. Submit final applications!

If you plan this out so that this entire process is completed 1 1/2 to 2 weeks before the due dates then you will be one step ahead of many colleagues and the application process will be much less stressful.

What tips do you have for people filling out graduate applications? What did I leave out? What stories do you have from when you were applying to schools? Talk about it in the comments.

Originally posted on DrumChattr on October 6, 2010 by Shane Griffin.


The photo in this post is used under the Creative Commons License: Attribution – NonCommercial – No Derivs 2.0 by Laura Sheflier on

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