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Higher Ground: A Look at Guitar in Higher Education

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Higher Ground: A Look at Guitar in Higher Education


Chris Buzelli gives a student some one-on-one attention at Bowling Green State University

Get on the Good Foot: 5 Professors Give Their Top 5 Tips on How to Succeed in Music School

Chris Buzzelli, Professor, Bowling Green State University

1. While many fine teachers are self-taught, or were taught by someone who is self-taught, if your goal is to attain a music degree, then having a teacher who has "been there and done that" will be a great asset. They'll be able to guide you through the whole audition process and improve your chances of acceptance and maybe even receiving scholarship dollars.

2. Guitarists are notoriously behind their peers when it comes to reading music—and I mean standard notation, TAB doesn't count. You will be expected to read reasonably well in all of your music classes and ensembles. Reading is a skill best learned in an ensemble situation. Find a group to play in where you have to read music even if that means taking up a second instrument or singing in a choir.

3. While technique is important, it's just the means to an end. And that end is to play music. Learn repertoire in your chosen specialization. If you're going major in jazz, learn jazz standards. If you're going to be a classical guitar major, learn classical guitar literature from a variety of periods.

4. You will need to be a musician, not just a guitar player. You should be spending time listening to music, developing your ear, learning music theory, and participating in a variety of musical experiences.

5. This one seems obvious, but I am surprised at the number of students who come to their audition and have never consulted the college’s website for the audition requirements. That's usually a bad sign. Virtually every school has fairly specific audition requirements posted online. Be sure you are prepared for everything that the audition requires. It also doesn't hurt to contact the teacher in advance (preferably a couple of months in advance so you have time to prepare) regarding your audition selections.

Jude Gold, Director, Guitar Department at Musicians Institute

1. Show up the first day of class knowing the name of every note at every fret of every string.

2. Few skills are more valuable than being able to groove with other players, so get your time together by ’shedding with metronomes, click tracks, recorded music, and, most important, musicians who are more experienced than you are, and do so in a wide range of tempos, feels, and time signatures.

3. Make sure your private lesson teacher is not only showing you inspiring techniques and riffs, but also teaching you the language of music via the fundamentals of music theory, notation, and sight reading.

4. Gain experience with ear training. Start learning to identify chords and intervals by their sound. Learn to match pitch. Strive to be able to sing what you play, and play what you sing.

5. Never, ever forget that whether you're playing a Bach theme or a chromatic finger exercise, it’s music. Even a simple scale played in slow quarter-notes can be a gorgeous melody if your heart is in what you're doing. Every note you play on your guitar should sing.

Frank Potenza, Chair, Studio/Jazz Guitar Department at USC

1. Be sure that you've looked over the audition requirements for that particular program in detail and that you understand exactly what they'll want you to play in your audition. Focus on being as relaxed, natural, and positive as you can be. Think of your audition as an opportunity to play for a small audience of people who love music and the guitar that are better equipped to appreciate your performance than any you've ever encountered.

2. Be thoughtful about the audition pieces that you choose yourself. You want to showcase your strengths and the full breadth of your abilities in the limited time that you have to play, so plan your selections accordingly.

3. If you submit a repertoire list prior to auditioning, be prepared for the possibility that you will be asked to play selections from that list. Padding it with songs that you've barely played may look more impressive on paper, but it could come back to haunt you if the auditioning panel asks to hear a particular selection and you're unable to play it.

4. Be up on your sight-reading ability. Guitarists are notoriously poor readers and you're auditioning for a program that will be made up largely of students who have been comfortable reading music for many years. Even if you're admitted, you're at an immediate disadvantage if your reading ability is low.

5. Practice for your audition by performing the material for your family, friends, and fellow students. Record these audition rehearsals on video for review and critique. This will allow you to refine your performance skills and become more comfortable playing in a pressure situation, especially if you have limited live performance experience.

Fareed Haque, Professor, Northern Illinois University

1. Learn to read in all positions! Learn from a position-playing book.

2. Learn your major scales. All positions, all octaves from lowest to highest notes.

3. Learn to build chords. Don't just memorize.

4. Learn tunes by ear from records, not books.

5. Play with other musicians! Go to jam sessions. If you are not having more fun than ever—well, then you still are not doing it right.

Rick Peckham, Assistant Chair, Guitar Department at Berklee College of Music

1. Be able to play your instrument in tune, in time, with a good tone.

2. Be able to perform several examples of exemplary repertoire, whatever the style, at an extremely high level. Have an area of specialty and be able to “shine” on command. For auditioning purposes, choose great music by established masters of the style. Original compositions, although essential to musical growth, can confuse the issue, when it comes to demonstrating performance skill. Stand upon the shoulders of your favorite giant!

3. Make sure that your high school grades are good and that you're able to represent your skills and professional aspirations in an interview format (Berklee currently has a 15 to 20 percent acceptance rate for guitarists).

4. Take advantage of online resources to elevate your game as much as possible—for example, musictheory.net and berkleemusic.com. Every advanced topic has a foundation of basic musical principles, and you can't skip the basics.

5. On a local level, get as much playing experience as you can. Play at jam sessions and take lessons from great players in your area.

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