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#1147171 - 01/20/09 04:06 PM Composition Audition
steinwaymaster Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/18/08
Posts: 52
Loc: New York City
Hi, I am a professional piano teacher, and amateur composer. I have a student (8th grade) who is very interested in composition, but has little experience. He wishes to audition for a music program in composition(Mannes, Juilliard, etc.). Now, he has only written a few short pieces, maybe two minutes each. He also understands basic theory (intervals, keys, cadences, etc. ) but not any counterpoint, advanced harmony, or orchestration. His pieces do not have any form, just some music for usually piano with violin. What level does he need to be at to have a chance of getting in? What level do his pieces have to be at (I'm guessing probably not symphonies and concertos, maybe a few short pieces for piano and a wind piece, maybe a string quartet?) And, what does his level of theory need to be at? Thanks.
“Music . . . can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.”
- Leonard Bernstein

-Middle School music teacher
-Private Piano Teacher
-Amateur composer (hobby)

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#1147172 - 01/20/09 04:18 PM Re: Composition Audition
8ude Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/21/04
Posts: 2052
The short answer is that you should check the school's requirements.

I don't know about the requirements for the schools you mentioned specifically, but for my audition at Indiana University I showed them a piano concerto, a woodwind quartet, some piano works, and a piano/flute duet. I don't know if works of that magnitude were quite required, but at a minimum they are going to want to see that you have a knowledge of writing for instruments other than piano. The works you audition with should demonstrate a decent degree of form, counterpoint, and harmonic interest. In my personal experience, your student should try to branch out harmonically as much as possible - judges are not going to be interested in pieces that consist of I-IV-V-I type harmonic schemes.

As for theory, I would think they'd want a reasonably high degree of proficiency. They may also be looking for high proficiency in score reading and ear training.

Best of luck to your student. It sounds like he's got a good start - now is the time for him to be trying to learn a lot of these compositional elements so that he'll be good and ready when audition time comes around in a few years...
What you are is an accident of birth. What I am, I am through my own efforts. There have been a thousand princes and there will be a thousand more. There is one Beethoven.

#1147173 - 01/20/09 04:28 PM Re: Composition Audition
mrenaud Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/29/02
Posts: 1335
Loc: Switzerland
The requirements differ for every school, so he'd probably need to contact the composition departments of the schoole he's interested in to find out what they require.

In my case (Music Academy of Basel), they expected at least three pieces for different showing knowledge of basic forms and instruments. Certainly, a major orchestral work will not be necessary. Also, I had to hand in a short analytic paper to demonstrate basic theory knowledge. Then I had to pass a written and an oral exam. The written exam consisted of writing a short piece (it didn't have to be fully refined, of course) on a given theme in four hours. For the oral exam, they gave me a short piece (one or two pages IIRC) and one hour to do some basic analysis. Then I had to tell the examiners what I found out; also, they played a recording of a different piece and wanted to know what I've heard. After that, they wanted me to talk about one of the pieces I handed in, and finally I had to play a piano piece of my choice.

I assume that all schools have similar (if not exactly equal) requirements. They want to see if the candidate has basic knowledge and the potential to go further. Advanced harmony, counterpoint, orchestration, that's all taught to you once you're in.
I have an ice cream. I cannot mail it, for it will melt.

#1147174 - 01/20/09 04:35 PM Re: Composition Audition
steinwaymaster Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/18/08
Posts: 52
Loc: New York City
Just to remind you, I'm not talking about a college audition. I'm talking about the pre-college programs. Sorry if it wasn't clear. Well, let's just say for example Juilliard. Here is the link:

And here is the text:

All applicants must submit two or more manuscripts of the student's work in his or her own handwriting. Manuscripts must be neat and legible. Computer generated scores are also acceptable. Tapes or CDs are not necessary unless the compositions are electronic. Students must demonstrate facility on an instrument and must be taking the equivalent of at least a minor on that instrument at The Juilliard School or privately.

Audition Requirements:

1. Interview and Audition: Applicants will meet with members of the composition faculty to present their music and discuss various topics of interest. Applicants will also be asked to perform on their instrument of choice.
2. Composition assignment: In addition to the theory and ear training exams, applicants will be given a special composition assignment to be handwritten on the day of the audition. The details of the assignment will be determined by the composition faculty. Applicants may use their own writing supplies, and will be given ample time to complete their work. The School will provide each applicant with access to a private room with a piano.

Composition majors will be expected to place in one of the advanced levels of the theory and ear training departments. They should know the basic principles of notation and should be familiar with syllables, intervals, chord qualities, and basic functions of chords. They should be able to sight-sing a simple melody and be able to comprehend moderately difficult rhythmic patterns.

So, what level should my student be at? What about theory? And what types of pieces?
“Music . . . can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.”
- Leonard Bernstein

-Middle School music teacher
-Private Piano Teacher
-Amateur composer (hobby)

#1147175 - 01/20/09 04:52 PM Re: Composition Audition
mrenaud Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/29/02
Posts: 1335
Loc: Switzerland
The text is fairly vague (what does "basic functions of chords" entail, will knowledge of I-IV-V-I be sufficient or do they expect you to know about Neapolitans?), but I assume they want the basic theory knowledge needed to analyse Bach chorales or Mozart sonatas.

As for the pieces, they only say that they want at least two of them, but not what kind of pieces. They're most likely looking for pieces displaying basic knowledge of instruments other than the composer's own (piano in your case) as well as a basic grasp of motivic-thematic development and form. Also (8ude has already stated this implicitly) they're not very likely to be interested in imitations of Mozart, Chopin or Rachmaninov. They want to see the potential to find one's own voice. These pieces don't necessarily have to be very long.

I wouldn't be worried all to much. This is pre-college level, they're not going to expect an hour-long microtonal symphony for Mahler-sized orchestra, throat singer and electronics.
I have an ice cream. I cannot mail it, for it will melt.

#1147176 - 01/20/09 05:18 PM Re: Composition Audition
Steve Chandler Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/18/05
Posts: 3184
Loc: Urbandale, Iowa
I read basic chord functions to mean diatonic chords within a scale, though it might include secondary dominants. I read chord qualities to mean inversions. The more facility with chromaticism your student can demonstrate the better. They specify two pieces, but not different instrumentation. Thus offering different instrumentation would be a way of showing advanced abilities (for an 8th grader), but I believe the two piece requirement is to show a broad stylistic pallette. Two waltzes probably wouldn't cut it.

The real challenge will be ear training and sight singing. They mention syllables, to me that implies solfegge, so start drilling now. They also mention moderately difficult rhythmic patterns so make sure your student knows duple, triple and compound meters, tuplets and can clap or sound them out (ta ti-ti ta type stuff).

Finally, make sure your student doesn't plan to be inspired to compose that day. He/she should have ideas at the ready before setting foot there. I believe a potential 9th grader who knows all of that would be a real standout (at which point you have to wonder do you need Jiulliard?).


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