“Often I am asked what is the best path for a student who wants to pursue music in their college years. I thought it would be helpful to share my advice with you for those who have an interest in taking their musical talent to the next level. I am always open to answering questions, so please feel free to leave one or a comment on this post or reach out to me at russ@pmaconline.org. Here to help, Russ (PMAC CEO and Co-Founder).”

Hi Russ,

I have an 8th grade student in my general music class who is a strong player; they learn quickly and work hard.  Do you have any advice I could offer them about possibly preparing for music school in the future?




Hi Sally,

That’s wonderful. There is some universal advice that is appropriate no matter what area/genre/instrument they are pursuing. My top advice is to take private lessons. Whether guitar, piano, trumpet, voice, composition, or music theory, wherever their primary musical interests lie, they should find a private teacher who can be a mentor. If the cost of private lessons is an issue, their family should seek out a school that offers financial aid for lessons, like PMAC, but really it’s just important for them to study with a really good private lesson instructor.

My second piece of advice is that they should be actively making music in one or more ensembles. This typically starts with school ensembles – chorus, band, orchestra, jazz band, musical theatre, any opportunity to make music in a group with their peers. If they play an instrument or genre that is not available in school (electric guitar, rock band), they need to seek out community programs where this is available. Hopefully there are opportunities for them to rehearse and perform in ensembles at school. Churches are another wonderful resource for ensemble experience.

My third piece of advice is to seek out extra-curricular, outside-of-school music opportunities. Whether it is going to SYMS camp at UNH in the summer, an after-school PMAC ensemble, going to Boston to play in a regional orchestra, or any such opportunities. It will be good for them to experience making music with students from throughout a region, rather than just limiting them to their schoolmates.

Fourth, they should participate in any and all school-sponsored festivals – audition for districts and all-state, play in any solo and ensemble festivals, anything like that. These are great skill-builders for eventually auditioning for conservatory or college, if they end up going down that path.

Fifth, music theory is very important if you want to go to school for music and it’s never too early to start. There are great phone apps, online courses, or private teachers who can incorporate theory into instrumental or voice lessons – their family should request that. When they get to high school, they should take any and all music appreciation and music theory classes available. And take the AP Theory test senior year.

Finally, they should never neglect their other studies. I see too many students go all in for music or art and then have difficulty getting into the college of their choice. They don’t need to take every AP or college prep class, but good grades in a balanced curriculum is important, especially if they choose a different path in the future.

Final words: all this can seem overwhelming to a student or family who is not familiar with all it takes to be competitive for college/conservatory. They don’t have to do all of this, but starting with private lessons and school ensembles is a must. Too many parents think they can wait until junior or senior year of college to do private lessons to prepare for college auditions. My rule is it’s better to start early and decide to follow a different path later, than to start late and have to catch up to be competitive.

One other note – I’ve learned recently that some colleges are now providing music scholarships for non-music majors. So even if they decide on a different path, an investment in music study could still help out in college. And all of that said, music really is fun, even with all the work along the way.

It seems like a lot, but it gets spread out over the years and when you think about the time and cost associated with investing in a sport-related path to college, this doesn’t seem too bad. 🙂 Let me know if you have any other questions.

Take care,