Vocal Performance - advice on getting started

My son is going into his Jr. year and wants to pursue vocal performance. He wants to explore the Conservatory route, but this is very new to our family. Based on some of his school mates making it into a few and his school’s track record, he has a pretty strong chance of getting in somewhere. Here’s our dilemma - while the family does have resources, we do have two others in college so $50k+ a year for Conservatory isn’t realistic. He also will most likely be able to get a full ride at a couple of state schools. So, I guess my first question is, how much money do Conservatories give out? Is it reasonable to expect coverage of most of his cost to those?

And second, we must weight the benefit of the Conservatory level training versus still high level training but at a more tradition ‘state school’ type of vocal training. I’m sure there are also some Private Universities that provide high level training, but $ becomes he same issue.

And feedback is appreciated.

First, I think you might want to read the Double Degree Dilemma essay in the “Read Me” thread closer to the top of this music major forum. It is really about different ways to study music.

By “conservatory” are you meaning a freestanding conservatory?

There are schools of music and conservatories on university and college campuses, that offer programs similar to the freestanding conservatories. Your son will want a BM program, if full immersion in music is what he wants, but it does not have to be a freestanding conservatory (which often but not always do not give large enough awards of aid).

A BM degree at any of these schools, including state university schools of music,will have 2/3- 3/4 classes in music, while a BA will have 1/4-1/3 classes in music for a music major- as a general rule. There is also double degree (BA/BM orBA/MM in some cases), double major and major/minor.

He should certainly look at the quality of the program and the fit of the training and teachers, but many schools will fit the bill for him as an undergrad. There are posters here who know a lot more about voice specifically so I am sticking to general introductory info :slight_smile:

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Sent you a PM but there is alot of different things to consider for vocal performance - what style is he interested in - Opera or Classical - they are different. Does he want performing training in undergraduate?
Fit with professors is very important as they are training you for the next 4 years and should be a mentor for getting into graduate schools and beyond.

My son was in the same spot 5 years ago. He did not apply to any conservatories as he wanted a full college experience, but targeted universities with excellent schools of music where he could study a music BM and with a track record of getting its graduates into prestigious VP grad programs. If your son has high academics and the music school likes his audition and wants him, we found that universities often stacked academic merit scholarships and music talent scholarships in a way that vastly exceeded what conservatories could usually offer. We also found that as a VP male applicant he generated significant interest from music schools. I’d target 3-4 state schools and 2-3 conservatories and see where the finances shake out. Some conservatories do give out large scholarships to a preferred candidate, and you might be able to leverage a state school award (provided it has a good music school) to get a conservatory to increase its offer.


Be carefully not to get hung up on the word “conservatory”. It does often refer to “stand-alone” conservatories like Juilliard, MSM, NEC etc. These are excellent music schools but they are not the ONLY excellent schools. If you look at the bios of opera singers, you will see a wide range on schools, particularly for UG.

Universities or LACs will offer a music conservatory or school of music. Often they offer a VERY similar curriculum. The marketing people at a particular school may try to make a school of music sound different than a conservatory…but you should look closely at curriculum to determine the best fit school. I remember looking up one school that said: The conservatory at Big U’s school of music. So is it a school of music or conservatory…lol.

Vocalist are YOUNG when they enter college (particularly male vocalists). For UG, you certainly want a good school…but you don’t need to worry about your kid getting into Juilliard. You can worry about that for grad school (and even then a stand-alone conservatory is not necessary). I would recommend looking closely at the curriculum, faculty and, of course, reputation of the “music school/conservatory” at some of the public schools that are affordable. A young, male vocalist can find an excellent teacher at many schools to shepard him for UG.

So feel free to check out a few public schools that would be affordable. I highly recommend this for any students as VP is a long road…and you need to watch the money!! You really should NOT pay $50,000 or $60,000 per year for UG. That would mean no scholarship. Don’t try to buy success at a school with a fancy name…consider schools that recognize his talents with money and have a good faculty to help him grow. Those schools will most likely give the necessary attention.

There are little nuggets in the music world as well, like University of North Texas that, I believe, give in-state to all music students who are offered any scholarship. I would consider it a conservatory education. IU has a conservotory music degree and has a little lower bar for academic merit (compared to Michigan, Northwestern or USC) that may lower tuition to a more acceptable amount. However if he has high academic stats, a university with a conservatory/SOM may be the right choice bc he will get money for those good grades (while conservatories may or may not consider academics in their scholarships). Still, as @vistajay says, try a few conservatories too. You never know.

And…check out some LACs too. They can be generous as well. Look at Lawrence, Oberlin and maybe local schools in your area like St. Olaf.

I think if you spread out your search, you will find excellent schools that can be affordable. If you stay strictly with stand-alone conservatories…that could be risky from a financial standpoint for a vocalist.

And how much money should you expect to pay!!! At an LAC or Big U…it’s dangerous to say…but I would guess that you will still pay about half the bill (tuition and R&B) with good talent and good grades. Of course your in-state public may be different and give you a lower price depending on their policies. As for very high acadamics (and high talent) you could get free tuition at some schools…but academics must be VERY high. For a conservatory, I wouldn’t be surprised by no scholarship or maybe $10,000…or half tuition for high talent. Note that I’m talking about a Vocalist…not a pianist who had been playing since 3 or 5 years old. Vocalists start late…so I haven’t seen the big pops for them for UG. Of course, there can always be exceptions for all these types of schools…but I’m giving a “general” rule, in my OPINION…so don’t take this as fact…simply some information to add to all your research.


Oberlin, Lawrence, Ithaca and Bard have “conservatories” on campus. So the term conservatory is not just for freestanding conservatories, as @bridgenail explained. Universities and colleges may also have a 'school of music." All these programs- freestanding, campus conservatory, and school of music, have BM programs that may be pretty similar, but check the details.

It sounds like state universities might be a really good option in terms of affordability. Check out their music website to see degrees offered (BA, BM) and for details on the vocal performance programs.

Glad some folks who are knowledgeable about VP posted.

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Conservatories can give substantial scholarship for male voices if they need a particular voice type in a particular year. My suggestion would be to reach out to a few teachers at a few good music schools, ask for an “introductory lesson” and see what feedback you get. You might have to pay for the lesson (or not… but it is expected that you offer).
Keep in mind that your son’s voice might mature and change substantially in a year and a half (till the time he needs to audition), so perhaps my advice would be better applied to the second half of his Junior year/early in his Senior year.
You can certainly find a good music school (whether a Conservatory or a Music Department) for much less than 50 thou a year (a lot also depends of your demonstrated need). I agree with the previous posts- a road to becoming a professional singer is a long one, and you do not want to start with too much debt for undergrad. But if in a year your son’s teacher says “you are good enough to get in anywhere”, give it a try, you might get money (but have plans B and C ready!)
If your son thinks he would like an additional degree, there are great Conservatory/University combos that make it possible (Eastman, Peabody, CIM, Oberlin to name a few, but there are others).
You could also see who is teaching at the state schools you mentioned. What are their bios like, where are their students singing? There are some stellar teachers at state schools, but so much depends on the teacher/pupil rapport. Finding the “right” teacher is a very personal, important journey. I suggest you ask your son not to be shy, do some research and ask for sample lessons. These days they could even be on Zoom (though in person is still better if that options opens up again).
Good luck!

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My son is a rising HS senior in the midst of this process. What was really helpful in figuring out where he was compared to peers was attending summer vocal intensive programs that are taught by college faculty. It also gives your student a sense of how lessons work and what instructors expect.

Most of these intensives are still virtual this summer, which meant (for my son, anyway!) that he could attend more than one in a summer and get lots of faculty exposure. Last summer he did the U of Michigan SMTD vocal intensive and then ArtSong through ArtsBridge, which is a college counseling organization for students pursuing arts degrees. That program uses faculty from multiple schools (Oberlin, Eastman, BoCo). This summer he is doing the program with CMU.

The feedback from actual faculty is extremely valuable. PM me if you’d like more detailed information!

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Thanks for all the feedback. Some good stuff here…

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I know a professor of music very well. He tries to at least once with every student have “the talk” regarding what the student intends to do after graduation with either a BM or a BA in music. He has said: “singers and dancers are a dime a dozen, to succeed you need to have more”.

My first recommendation is that you and your son do not take on any debt at all for a bachelor’s degree in music.

My second recommendation is that your son think hard about what he intends to do after graduating with a bachelor’s degree.

I used to have a guitar teacher who had started at the Berklee College of Music, ran out of money, and was not able to continue. He ended up graduating from an in-state public university. He got a great education at Berklee, but not at an affordable price. He had to give a LOT of guitar lessons to pay off his Berklee debt.

Where we live the in-state public university is very good for music. There are many universities in Canada which are very good for music and some of which will be less expensive than many universities in the US. I think that you need to look around and one way or another find an affordable option.


Great advice!! When my D went into vocal performance I had no idea about this career. She is 2 years in and I definitely see a difference of drive in people in her conservatory. Everyone is talented but those without the drive are starting to drop out of the program to move onto other careers.

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You can major in music and work in other fields, go to law/med/business/nursing school or go to grad school in another area entirely (music majors have a high admit rate to med school by the way). Music majors can also go on to a doctorate and teach at a university. Or do grad work in music ed. A BM has access to jobs that require a bachelor’s, and many employers appreciate the discipline and work ethic of musicians.

I know a VP major who got into Medieval Studies in the UK after graduating and is now doing a doctorate, while still performing within the academic context. I know two VP majors now doing DMA in experimental music, so it’s not all opera either. I know another VP major who works in a non-profit unrelated to music.

It is a good thing to avoid debt of course, but just want to emphasize that music majors have more flexibility in future studies and careers than commonly thought. Internships and courses on outreach can also provide experience and opportunities to explore career options.