Music is a tremendously exciting field. It’s also highly competitive. And so is admission to music school. Every year we strive to assure that the students we admit to the School of Music are the best prepared and have the potential to succeed in a life in music. The measures we use to make this judgment are varied and flexible. Some students will succeed with a very strong academic background and relatively little performance experience. Others will already be very skilled in the practice of music but have a sketchy understanding of music theory. Still others will be able to communicate to us a mature and passionate vision about career goals in music that is so persuasive as to compensate for shortcomings in other areas.
The School of Music knows that there are many ways of being a musician and tries to reflect that fact in its admission procedures. The best music educator will have a different skill set from the budding composer; certain other skills will mark a conductor that are different from those that equip a music researcher; and a performer will need to display a range of accomplishment that is different again from a musician who might work in new media. Each year as we select a new entering class to the School of Music we try to balance the skill requirements of various music careers against the skill sets of our applicants. Our judgments aren’t always perfect, but we look for strong achievement in a variety of areas as the best indicator of success potential.
Entry is very competitive. In recent years the School has accepted fewer than half the candidates who have applied; in some performance media the acceptance rate is one in four or one in five. Because of the restricted number of places we cannot always offer admission to every qualified student. Therefore, to be sure of admission you need to demonstrate a high level of accomplishment in several of the following areas.
Musicians make music, and no matter what sort of musical life you envisage for yourself, you need to be proficient in making music. A lot of our most formative and enriching experiences in making music come from group performance: singing in a choir, playing in the band, piano duets, chamber music, working with an accompanist – there are dozens of ways to make music together that we all can enjoy and profit from hugely. But if you have aspirations to become a professional musician of any sort, you’ll need to have taken it to a higher level. Normally, students admitted to the music degree program have studied an instrument or voice with a professional musician/teacher for several years before applying. The level of mastery – and thus the amount of pre-university study – will vary depending on the performance medium. Typically string players and pianists will have studied and played for a good many years prior to entry to music school. Because of the nature of their instruments, wind players and singers may have only studied for a few years. If you have not been studying music privately, you will need to find a well-qualified teacher immediately. For admission to the program, you will need to demonstrate an appropriate level of technical and musical achievement. The realities of regional differences mean that well-qualified teachers are not necessarily available in every community. If you have concerns about the quality of private music instruction available to you, contact the School of Music. We can try to put you in touch with teachers who have experience in successfully preparing students for university-level music studies. In some instances, this may involve travel or the use of communications technologies.
Because there is such a high degree of variance between different conservatory and preparatory music programs, the School does not set a particular “grade level” as a benchmark for admission. Refer to the specific audition requirements for your instrument found at this link. Discuss them with your teacher and plan a program of study that will lead you to this level with security and understanding.
We often think of music as a means of expression. Like every means of expression – every language – it has conventions and structure, grammar and vocabulary. The complete musician must be a literate musician and thus, we want to see a strong demonstration of basic music literacy in our ideal candidate. A lot of music theory is information you already know simply by your ability to read music, but you may not have the identifying labels. A couple of years of formal music theory study will equip you with a reflexive knowledge of musical rudiments and prepare you well for entry to the School.
You should be able to demonstrate your knowledge of music theory in written and aural forms. As a general guideline, it will be important to have the whole range of keys, scales, intervals, triads and chords at instant and accurate recall. Ideally you will be able to identify qualities of scales, intervals and triads by ear and to sing simple tonal melodies accurately at sight. You’ll need to be able to demonstrate secure rhythmic reading and recall as well.
Hands on! Your knowledge of music theory must also be at your fingertips. If your principal instrument is not piano, you will need to demonstrate basic keyboard skills. Check the requirements for the piano proficiency test. If you cannot play the required pieces, or if your sight reading at the piano is poor, it would be a good idea to take piano lessons before entry to the School. The School of Music does not offer remedial instruction in piano. Passing the piano proficiency test is an exit requirement, not an entry requirement. But smart money is on the student who has this skills well in hand.
Music literacy is most effectively developed if it is cultivated hand in hand with your performance instruction. Make sure that your instrument teacher dedicates a little lesson time each week to explaining the theory that underlies what you practice. Do some drill work with your teacher. Test yourself regularly.
Here are a few other ways you can develop your music literacy skills
- If you are following a conservatory program, such as the Royal Conservatory of Toronto, Trinity College or Conservatory Canada, be sure to complete the rudiments courses and fulfill the aural skills requirements in the syllabus.
- If courses in music theory are offered in your high school, take them. Students who complete the Advanced Placement (AP) course in music theory with a grade of 4 or better are eligible for university credit in music theory. Check with the School of Music or the Registrar's Office for details.
- If you are already attending Memorial University, and have not passed the theory placement test, register for Music 1120 (Rudiments of Music) and 1116 (Basic Musicianship). These courses will help you prepare for Music 1107 (Materials and Techniques of Music) and Music 1117 (Aural Skills I), which are required for the bachelor of music degree. If you have already passed the placement test, you may register for Music 1107 and Music 1117. All courses in music theory are available to any university student who meets the prerequisites, regardless of major, as long as space is available in the class.
- Take advantage of some of the resources for self-instruction available through the web and elsewhere. Click here for a list of web-sites which will assist you in developing speed and accuracy in theory skills.
However you do it, you’ll need to make sure you’ve got a mastery of basic music literacy skills. These are an important measure for admission to the School, because they indicate the likelihood of success in the program.
There’s an astonishingly high correlation between overall academic achievement and success in music studies. Although other predictors of music potential are sometimes unreliable, students entering the program with strong academic records almost always do really well in music. In part, your previous academic success shows how dedicated you are to your studies. In part, it’s a guarantee that you’re well suited to the kind of discipline and commitment that a music program will require. We look very favourably at applications that show consistent and high academic achievement. Bright, well-read, intellectually engaged and curious musicians are our target market.
That isn’t to say that we don’t also recognize that some musicians may have academic blind spots. Especially in the case of students coming directly from high schools where the curriculum mandates a great many courses in a wide range of subjects, we recognize that everyone will not excel in every subject. And we don’t want to penalize you for trying courses that didn’t work out. But generally strong academic performance in high school and previous post-secondary studies will improve your chances for admission.
Set your goals... Know what you’re getting into
One clear index of music-school-readiness is how clearly you can articulate your own goals. In our application procedure we ask you for a summary of your musical experiences. We want to know how deeply immersed you are in music . . . how central a part of your life it is. We also try to measure how mature your understanding of music and musical careers might be. So tell us about what you’ve done: how long you’ve studied, what instruments you play, important performances in your musical life to date, awards/honours/accomplishments, jobs you might already have held as a musician, compositions you’ve written, teaching you’ve done. Feel free to send along evidence of your achievements: concert programs in which you played a special role, works you’ve written, etc.
Tell us what experiences or individuals led you to aspire to the life of a musician. Was it a relative or friend? A special teacher? A performance you heard live or through the media? Who are your mentors / your models?
And tell us about what you hope to do with music. What are your goals? What do you want to be doing five years from now? Ten years? How do you feel studying music at Memorial will help you to get there? We won’t hold you to your predictions. A lot can – and should – happen between now and then that might alter your perspective entirely. But we’d like to see how much thought you’ve given to what’s ahead.
Covering all the bases... The “complete musician”
Take every opportunity that comes your way to hear and play music. And don’t forget that you’ll be the better musician yourself the more you hear the work of other musicians. If you’re in an urban centre, attending concerts should be a regular part of your life. If you’re not in an urban centre, make sure you get to the cities from time to time to hear professional musicians perform. And when hearing professional musicians live is difficult, CBC radio is an excellent alternative. If you’ve got Radio Two reception in your region, glue your dial there. If not, you can pick it up via the Internet at www.cbc.ca/audio.html.
Play and listen to music in a variety of styles: classical, jazz, world music, traditional music, pop, rock . . . the whole gamut. Our program is oriented toward classical music, and so we’re hoping that you will arrive with a good general knowledge of Western art music from the earliest ages to the present. But we hope that you will have had exposure to many other, different kinds of music as well.
Develop your general knowledge of music and musicians. Don’t let an opportunity pass. If your high school offers music courses, take them. If you have other opportunities to take part in musical activities in your school or community, get involved, especially if these activities are led by experienced and qualified people and you can fit them into your schedule without sacrificing your academic work. Singing in choirs, playing in bands and orchestras, and learning about music in the classroom can help you prepare for the music degree program.
Talk with all kinds of professional musicians and music educators about their lives. The truth is there are easier ways to lead a life than as a musician. But most musicians will tell you the rewards are substantial. It’s important for you to know realistically what the expectations are. If your only model of a musician is your school music teacher, you probably have one very good model. But don’t assume that every kind of musician leads the same sort of life. Your experience in your church choir or your high school band is not the experience you’ll have as a composer, professional musician, media artist, etc. So get out there and meet some musicians. Ask them about their lives, how they prepared for it and the tell-all question: “If you had it to do over...”
If you are currently attending Memorial University, and have not passed the theory placement test, consider registering for Music 2011 (North American Popular Music) and Music 2012 (Music Appreciation). If you have passed the theory placement test, you may register for Music 1002 (Music History I), which is a required course for the bachelor of music degree program. All courses in music history are available to students who meet the prerequisites, regardless of major. Students attending Memorial University may also participate in the following ensembles without being admitted to the School of Music, subject to audition and the approval of the ensemble director: Festival Choir, Chamber Choir, Chamber Orchestra, Concert Band, Jazz Ensemble and Opera Workshop. You may even register for these ensembles and receive one credit hour per semester. Contact the School of Music to arrange an ensemble audition.