Taking practice / preview lessons before applying to conservatories

<p>Since there has been a lot of talk on different threads about taking “practice lessons” with instrumental teachers before applying to conservatories, I thought I’d start a new thread to share experiences and put the information in one place.
Some conversation starters from DD’s experience:</p>

<li><p>Arranging the lessons: DD arranged the lessons mostly by email correspondence with the teachers, although some involved follow-up phone calls. We planned our visits to the campuses around the availability of the teachers. In two cases, her high school instrumental teacher contacted the teachers first, since they had been her teachers for undergrad and grad school, so DD benefitted from a nice pre-contact note that introduced her as a “very promising student that I think you will enjoy meeting”. Some suggestions about which teacher to contact came from the high school teacher, others from summer music camp teacher / conductors, and others were just from the faculty lists on the conservatory website.</p></li>
<li><p>cost/time: teachers charged between $0 and $125 for the trial lessons, which lasted between 20 minutes and 1 hour or a little more. I gather from other posters that the cost could be higher.</p></li>
<li><p>Feedback: Our experience was that the feedback was helpful and honest. One teacher that DD played for in the spring of junior year effectively discouraged her from applying, suggesting that she just send a tape (“there’s no need to come back in person, since you’ve already seen the campus”). This was a clear indication that she wasn’t really ready, and after a very intense summer experience (advanced intrumental study in several succesive programs and a lot of practicing) she had much more positive feedback from the teachers she played for in the fall. Postitive feedback generally means that there is some chance of being admitted, but it is usually not a guarantee unless the teacher actually offers you a spot. </p></li>

<p>One teacher who raved about her playing in the practice lesson (“You are just the kind of student we are looking for at X and your playing is beautiful”) did not remember her during the actual audition. However, we never felt that this was a case of deception, just a case of too many applicants. She was ultimately waitlisted at that school. Another teacher actually did offer spots at two of the less competitive schools were he teaches, a nice “safety net” although DD did have other choices following the auditions.</p>

<p>Hope this helps start a conversation, especially since for us this process of “trial lessons” came as a complete surprise.</p>

<p>Our experience was similar: we took a trip to three schools after arranging for lessons at all of them, by e-mail; initial contact for two of the schools was directly by my kid, for the other it was by the teacher. In one case, after the teacher's contact, the professor failed to respond to any further emails after saying he would give a lesson, so no visit. None of the 5 teachers on the visit charged anything for the lessons, which lasted about an hour each and were lesson-like. It seemed helpful to the overall audition process, as the teachers remembered the lessons and in commented afterwards about improvement that impressed them (maybe they took credit for the improvement...).
What I thought was most valuable of all was actually seeing the schools -- one can have all sorts of illusions based on reputations, brochures, anecdote. Seeing what the practice rooms, hallways, performance spaces look like, the physical ambience, the liveliness of the place made a tremendous difference in deciding where to apply. One school was crossed off the list entirely; another moved into first place. For the remaining schools, we waited for the audition to visit or didn't visit at all after deciding that they were not "in the running."</p>

<p>After visiting schools this past week, I completely agree with Mamenyu. Nothing at all can replace seeing a school, seeing and playing in the practice rooms (which differ pretty radically), meeting other students, listening to ensembles, and even playing with a small group (my son did this at one school, which he enjoyed very much). </p>

<p>Oh yes, and having lessons. We asked fees and did pay for lessons, but did not pay for "meetings" (we met with a couple of people, with whom S didn't have a lesson). All meetings/lessons had been arranged in advance (S emailed all; I stayed out of it), and every single person showed up, and greeted my son by name. I was actually amazed.</p>

<p>I would never even had known that we should do private lessons, had I not found this website, so I am quite grateful for that important advice. The lessons were a great experience for my son, whether or not the professors remember him at audition or not.</p>

<p>I must agree one of the the most important things we did to prepare for this March's success at conservatory auditions was arranging lessons with conservatory teachers in advance. My son had decided that he wanted to go the conservatory route and had narrowed his geographic region of interest to the Northeastern US. I arranged the family schedule for a 2 week vacation/school visit trip in the end of June (we live in Florida so a trip was required of ~ 1000 miles for the visits). My son then looked up music conservatories in the states of interest and he researched about a number of schools. With the internet and great school websites - there is a world of information at your fingertips. </p>

<p>My son then read about Viola teachers at each school and e-mailed literally every viola teacher at 8 different schools, requesting a lesson during our summer vacation time frame. It was very interesting and educational connecting with these professors, and on the basis of some of the e-mails - my son started to piece together a schedule. Some never e-mailed us back, and some were kind of strange in their response, but most were enthusiastic and welcoming to my son's e-mail initiative. Some were not available and gave us leads on connecting with colleagues. LOng story short - it soon became clear that we couldn't go everywhere my son had sent e-mails to - so we narrowed down to NYC, Philadelphia, and Baltimore with several lessons in each City over a two week period. We also scheduled school tours at the prospective conservatories. </p>

<p>The lessons and tours were great and my son narrowed his schools of interest to 2 in NYC. (A couple of the teachers rubbed my son the wrong way and basically turned him off to auditioning at Peabody. I thought the teachers seemed fine and the facilities great - but my son decided not to pursue Peabody at all after the lessons there. ) I really liked meeting each of the teachers and sitting in on each of the lessons. After the lessons and school tours, my son and I had long talks about pros and cons of each school. </p>

<p>My son's favorite lessons were at MSM and after the one of the MSM lessons my son said, "that is the sound I want!" One of the MSM teachers liked my son's playing and invited him to send him an e-mail alerting him when he would audition so he could support my son.</p>

<p>Consequently, at his MSM audition - my son knew 2 of the 3 judges on his audition panel - and both remembered him by name. This really put my son at ease - and he played really well. End result was good and he got his first choice teacher at MSM and a nice scholarship to boot!!</p>

<p>Having been at MSM for practice lessons and being in the environment and around the great teachers there - we as parents are much more comfortable sending our oldest and first child away to college to the big city.</p>

<p>I can't imagine doing this conservatory thing without the pre-lessons and visits. We highly recommend it!!!</p>

<p>I've been through it twice now. Funny, after the first time, I was glad because I thought I'd never have to go through it again. </p>

<p>With S, he contacted most of the teachers via email. This was awhile ago (he's a junior now), so my memory is a bit foggy. It seems that there was at least one we had to contact by phone because he doesn't use his email much, and two whom we were never successful at contacting at all. (One of those is his teacher now!) He ended up having 3 lessons. The lessons were great for all the reasons stated above. He got to see campuses, meet teachers, get a feel for teaching styles, get feedback concerning the likelihood of admittance, etc. One teacher didn't charge, the other two did - one was $75 and one was $150.</p>

<p>D comes along, and we are not expecting auditions at all. She is not interested in conservatories. But she knows she wants to continue playing violin, and determines that a good teacher is going to be necessary. So we make trial lessons part of our tours. A bit reversed from S's experience, because D is not selling herself to them - she is asking them to sell themselves to her! She had 6 trial lessons --None of those teachers charged. As we got into it, she was invited at a couple schools to either audition as a music major, or for music scholarships. So suddenly last fall we realize that we will be going through the audition process all over.</p>

<p>Having the trial lessons was a great experience for her, in much the same way as others have mentioned. She was familiar with the people and places she was auditioning for, so there was a level of comfort there. She also had less pressure on her, because she only had a couple eggs in this particular basket. </p>

<p>Both kids dropped one school each from their list due to the teacher not clicking with them. Two kids, two instruments, two different goals -- both benefitted from trial lessons!</p>

<p>Great thread nycm! Each post provides invaluable "inside" information. </p>

<p>In what HS grade did the students posted here do these private lessons? Jr. or Sr.?</p>

<p>Summer between Jr and Sr year here</p>

<p>The best lessons came during fall of senior year, but summer between junior and senior year would have been easier. Junior year was too early, but that might not always be true.</p>

<p>actually, we had hoped to take another lesson or 2 during the fall of Sr year - but it was just too busy. The summer thing worked out pretty easy for us - and it seemed most faculty had free time</p>

<p>Our trip was in October, during a week off of school for seniors (the school sets aside that week for college visits). In our case, the emails were written and sent by our kid (with our review) and at the schools, he met with the teachers on his own. We went on the campus tours, though, and asked questions at a session for prospective applicants and two of the schools.</p>

<p>Just remember that many faculty have summer teaching/performing/festival committments that take them away from their affiliated institutions for extended periods in the summer. Try and arrange lessons well enough in advance if shooting for summers, and try and avoid admittance audition weeks as well during the fall and early winter. Many will not even entertain lessons during that time frame.</p>

<p>Also realize that festivals are another good time to have a sample lesson with the teachers who are there. The down side is that you still may have to make a separate visit to the school.</p>

<p>DD and I visited 3 schools over Spring Break - her junior year. We are so glad we got a bit of an early start. She sat in on voice lessons and was able to tell a lot from those. There were definitely some teachers she liked better than others. One in particular really inspired her. She wrote a note to that teacher when she got home telling her she hoped to schedule a lesson with her. We will try to do that this summer and early fall, along with others. The main thing she got from the Spring Break visits was a huge confidence boost. She handled meeting with the teachers and administrators - and one department head - very well and her confidence grew with each visit.</p>

<p>S visited Juilliard during spring break Jr year, and was unable to contact the teacher. The other lessons were had during summer between Jr and Sr year. One lesson (with CCM) was at a festival. The other two (NEC and CIM) were arranged individually. One NEC teacher was not available during the summer, unless we went to California!</p>

<p>D did all of her lessons fall of senior year. Teachers were very accomodating - meeting her on Saturdays mostly. She saw one teacher on election day (which she had off, but the college was in session). She had several lessons Thanksgiving week (Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday prior - we pulled her out of school), and one teacher made a special trip to campus to meet her. It should be noted that my S auditioned at all very selective schools, and my D auditioned at schools who's music departments were no where near elite, resulting in a significant difference in approach.</p>

<p>After our experience, I wouldn't ever use the words "practice" or "preview" to refer to these visits, it trivializes their importance. We called them "The Interviews." And, in my opinion, these were the most important factor in my D's conservatory choice.</p>

Be sure these might be the right teachers for you. Some issues that may be important to your musician are: do they still (or did they ever) play with an orchestra, where do their students end up?</p>

my D and I visited Oberlin, Rice, and NEC in October of her senior year- because we live in NYC area, MSM, Juilliard & Curtis were much easier. On the phone she would ask the teacher if she could attend their studio class and schedule the lesson around that. Studio classes are usually once a week, so they were the determining factor in the lesson scheduling. Then we booked hotels, planes, etc. All lessons but one were scheduled by telephone-many teachers did not respond to emails, and others would email back "call me." Oftentimes, these phone conversations were lengthy; the teachers were usually interested in talking to her, before meeting her. In the meanwhile, her teacher from NYC had called to mention his student was coming to campus to have a lesson. When my D spoke to the teachers at the schools, they would connect the dots and ask about what schools she was interested in, even going so far as to give opinions on other teachers (just teaching styles & studios, of course) and offering additional schools to consider.</p>

Timing was ESSENTIAL. Summer between junior & senior was too early-she felt as if she didn't have a handle on the repertoire for her auditions. Too late (December & later) and there isn't enough time to incorporate what they tell you into your audition. We were always surprised by people that visit the teacher the week of their audition. How do they show imporvement? How do they incorporate the suggestions flawlessly into their audition? At that point, they would be better off not having a lesson at all!</p>

Prepare as if it is the audition. Know what will be played in the spring and play it now as if it were the audition. My D had a selection of things in preparation for her senior recital - they did't want to hear any of it-only the audition pieces. Be sure your child knows what each school requires. They only get one chance to leave a first impression.</p>

<p>On the other hand, however, it could be the least stressed audition ever! If they play well, great, good impression! If they don't, they get another chance- don't sweat it. That's not really why they are there at this time. Your child is there to evaluate them, even more than the other way around. </p>

Lessons were helpful, studio classes even MORE helpful. In studio lessons, she could see 1) how the teacher's students were playing. (Students 4 years older should be playing significantly ahead of your child, not just better.) 2) what sort of comments the teacher, and other students, would make about the other students that were playing...are they technique or interpretation issues, suggestions, etc. Do theyseem to care about intonation? This is a clear window into the teachers priorities and teaching style. And from the lessons, she wasn't looking for comments like "you're wonderful," but comments like, " I like your interpretation, why don't you try this", etc. You may want to write down your child's comments about what the teacher said to them and their students while they are still fresh in you mind, so your child will have them to review while preparing their auditions. It's easy to remember a few teachers, but if you are interviewing 5 or 6 teachers, they tend to get jumbled under pressure.</p>

My D learned she did not like a large studio class. The studio/teacher she thought she would want, she was disappointed in. From watching his studio class, she thought the teacher was too hung up on petty technique issues of his students and missed out on discussing more "important" issues. She wondered if he thought his students were too young to understand these issues. The lowest priority school ended up being her favorite. She liked the teacher because his comments/suggestions were of more depth and meaning than the others. "why did you choose to interpret this way," etc. She found another teacher she really admired, but was disappointed in skill of the students in the studio. We also had one teacher waive the "only live audition for my studio" rule at the meeting. He said he felt as if he knew her enough to make a judgement based on a regional audition. That saved a trip later. </p>

With her list reprioritized, my D was able to focus more on the auditions to the schools/teachers she now wanted, and less on the others, although she still applied to them all.</p>

<p>What a timely thread! Thank you all for the great suggestions. My junior D has been exploring a working list of about 12 schools, researching websites and reading viewbooks, and has had preliminary visits at 4 (tours/interviews/info sessions). One school has been dropped after visiting. She’ll be discussing the faculty at the remaining 11 schools with her current teacher at her next lesson and asking his advice/recommendations, along with refining her audition repertoire plan. And of course he may well have suggestions of teachers at other schools that are not on her radar. I feel like we may be a bit behind the ideal timeline for this process, but D’s only recently – during the spring break college visits – made the decision go for a performance focus. (Actually she might have decided earlier, but she chose our college road trip to tell H and me.)</p>

<p>I am preoccupied right now trying to figure out the calendar to accommodate all of the travel and time off this will require (not to mention the money), since these schools are located all over the map. D will be away for four weeks at a summer music program, then come fall, there will be weekly youth orchestra commitment, two full Saturdays a month devoted to her lesson (a trek of 135 miles one way). Oh, and there’s a little thing called “school” to squeeze in as well come September…. (not to mention her parents’ jobs!) I think as soon as she has a target list of prospective faculty from her current teacher she’ll be starting to make contact for sample lessons. She may be able to have at least one sample lesson with faculty at her summer program, and if possible we’ll arrange one at another school on the list during our summer family vacation. Beyond that, I have tentatively blocked out two separate weeks in the summer, plus one in early October to hopefully schedule visits/lesson trips. Through all of this, she’ll be working on her rep, and somewhere in the middle of that schedule she’ll have to make time to record a pre-screening CD.</p>

<p>I think our talented kids are all amazing to be tackling all this. And I think they are all EXTREMELY lucky to have the support they have from their families!</p>

<p>Our experience was a bit more spread out. Son actually had his first lesson with a conservatory level teacher his freshman year! We were going to be in the neighborhood of the school and I wanted to take him for a visit just so he could start to understand how different a conservatory is from the large public U that he was so familiar with. When I mentioned the visit to his private teacher, he encouraged us to try and set up a lesson. I thought it was too early, but we did it anyway. The teacher was great and it was an excellent experience. </p>

<p>Son researched a bit and attended a summer program after sophmore year to get exposure to another teacher he was interested in. After the summer, he decided he didn't want to study with that teacher. Over the course of junior year he had lessons at 5-6 more schools. Again, during the summer after junior year he spent at a summer program with a teacher that was very high on his list. His only lesson senior year was in the fall with the same teacher he had gone to during his freshman year. </p>

<p>I am not sure that students need to be audition ready when they have the lessons. I think it is an opportunity to get to know the teacher and their style. The teachers often asked my son things that would never come up in an audition, such as why he approached something in a certain way, or how he was interpreting the piece he was playing. </p>

<p>The other advantage to the advanced lessons came when he auditioned. At each one, there was at least one person, (sometimes more) who he recognized. That person always greeted him by name and said that it was good to see him again. I think that really helps kids in these high pressure situations.</p>


<p>Great post. Welcome to CC and I hope we hear a lot more from you.</p>

<p>Hello Orchestramom,
It sounds to me as though you are exactly on-schedule, or even a bit ahead if you are already working on the list of teachers. It is true that the traveling is daunting, and the calendar of visits is indeed quite a challenge, especially as you look ahead to the auditions which will require another round of planning for the January - March period. We took advantage of every possible school holiday in the fall (Columbus Day, Vet's Day, some religious holidays that D's school scheduled) and were fortunate that living in NYC meant she could squeeze some lessons in after school. Then during auditions, DD missed an additional 10 days of school (and managed to get pneumonia to boot, so more missed school). I don't mean to alarm you, but do recommend that you continue to narrow the field, and also keep in mind that you do not absolutely need to visit everyone in advance. Each lesson/visit will help your daughter get a better idea of where she wants to be and what kind of teacher she wants. The happy ending of our story is that D's current teacher, whom she adores, was the teacher she met for the first time during auditions...it just was not physically possible to schedule that visit in advance. However, by then D had met and played for so many others that she really had a clear idea of what she wanted.
So, be sure to save some strength (and excused absence days) for the auditions themselves! Another hint, once DD had decided this was the route she wanted to take, she consulted with her high school teachers and guidence staff and made some pretty drastic revisions in her schedule. Some of the heavier AP classes were sacrified with a view towards balancing a reasonable academic schedule with the demands of practicing and traveling.</p>

<p>Orchestramom, you're wearing me out just reading your plans. You might want to scale back a bit. Also consider that summer visits may not be very helpful. Most conservatories are closed. If they have summer programs, often these are taught by adjunct faculty.</p>

<p>Be glad you at least found out this early about the music performance plans. My D waited until August before senior year before making up her mind.</p>