August 15, 2011

So You Want to Study Music: A Guest Blog by Prawit Siriwat

Wit Siriwat

I am incredibly proud to post a guest article by one of the brightest young musicians in Harford County – Prawit Siriwat. I’ve known Wit for a few years now and he is easily one of the most driven and dedicated musicians I’ve met, no matter his age. He loves great guitar playing – in any style – and was recently honored as a top finisher in the Harford County Public Schools’ Musical Composition contest.

Wit has just graduated high school and is onto a new adventure as a Jazz guitar major at The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York City. This has inspired a tremendous piece about the audition process to music school, which we’ll be presenting in two parts. It is a first-hand account of a young musician going through the entire process – choosing and applying to schools, preparing for and performing the audition, and dealing with acceptance and rejection.

Serious young musicians with an eye on music school will get some great insight from Wit’s experiences, and casual musicians will get a taste of the commitment and dedication necessary to score a spot in a top notch music program.

Without further adieu, my friend and fellow guitarist, Mr. Wit Siriwat…

So You Want to Study Music: A Young Guitarist’s College Search

Hello! I am honored that Jim has asked me to write this column! Let me introduce myself: My name is Wit Siriwat. I have recently graduated from the Science and Math Academy at Aberdeen High School and have been accepted as a Jazz guitar studies major at The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. Over the past two years, I have gone through the wonderful experience of college hunting. It was a long and exhausting process, but it was also extremely rewarding. Hopefully this column will help give you some insight into the process, and possibly help you in your own musical journey.

The Choices, Part 1

For many talented students, this first question is one of the most difficult they will ever face: Should I major in music? Now, there are countless reasons for wanting to study music in college, and probably just as many reasons why being a music major isn’t for you. I can only relay to you the passion that I have personally felt for music for so long.

I decided I wanted to major in music when I was in middle school. Deciding a “major” this early in life may seem naïve, but in reality, I had only scratched the surface of what I would really learn to love in the coming years. As I grew as a musician – writing and recording, playing all types of musical styles and facing so many challenges – my choice was solidified. These experiences helped me to determine that majoring in music was the right choice for me.

Here are some questions you may want to ask yourself: What are my goals, musical or otherwise? Do I need to go to college to accomplish my musical goals?

Determining your personal goals will help you decide if majoring in music is the right choice for you, and it will also help you decide which colleges to apply to. At first, narrowing down your career goals can be difficult, especially if you want to pursue music. Do you want to perform? Do you want to compose? Do you want to teach music or otherwise give back your gift to the community?

I had decided that I wanted to become a session musician and composer, so I looked for schools with a curriculum that would help me to become the best musician I could be, but also one that would provide a direct connection to working musicians in the music business. After all, music is a journey of discovery, and many colleges can open up new doors for you. I have friends in and out of school who are doing many different musical jobs, from audio production to writing for symphonies. But all of these people were successful because they decided exactly what they wanted to do and went after it.

Another thing to keep in mind when targeting potential schools: the number of auditions you must give and applications that you will have to fill out. This process can be very time consuming, so make sure you don’t wear yourself out by applying to twenty music schools when there are five schools that would help you meet your personal goals. The schools I applied to were The University of Miami (Frost School of Music), Berklee College of Music, The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, and Towson University.

Preparing The Audition

Wit Hands Gtr

College auditions can seem daunting and frightening, so early preparation and strong organizational skills are very helpful. Many schools have a long list of requirements in their audition process, so you should start preparing as soon as possible. Since I knew I wanted to major in music early on, I started preparing for college at the end of middle school. I then took a music theory class in my sophomore year of high school and played in the school jazz band. Private lessons with different teachers also gave me different views on music, which were extremely beneficial in the audition process.

When looking up the audition requirements, be sure to account for every part of the audition. If there is an interview portion, you should prepare for that too. What I found helpful in preparing for my auditions was printing out the requirements and putting them with my practice materials. Even something this simple can make your preparation more efficient.

My auditions could be categorized into a few different types. Berklee was a contemporary program with an audition that allowed me to pick any song I wanted to play, regardless of style, as long as it represented my interests. It also included some musical assessments such as sight-reading and ear training. University of Miami, Towson University, and The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music were all jazz programs with pretty much the same requirements: a blues, a swing tune, and a ballad to demonstrate improvisational skills. Each of the schools had unique aspects; for instance, Miami asked for a pre-screen video and The New School asked me to play live with their students.

Preparing for all of these auditions took a lot of time, but investing the time really paid off. I had to learn many new things about jazz in order to audition well and I feel I’ve become a better musician in the process. I talked to a number of teachers and asked lots of questions. I wanted to be as prepared as possible; with so many things happening in the audition room, being prepared musically helps to block the distractions and calm the nerves.

Relaxation is something that I practiced as well. In order to learn how to deal with nerves, I played in front of teachers, friends, family, and even people I never met before. They gave me pointers, they supported me, and some didn’t care, but playing in front of an audience – any audience – will help more than playing alone in your bedroom.

The adrenaline rush of the audition will likely speed up your heart rate, which will affect your tempo. So practice keeping a steady tempo under stress. One great technique is to raise your heart rate by running, and then play through your audition pieces.

The Moment of Truth

Like the saying goes, “The only way to get better at auditioning is to audition.” So come along with me on one of my auditions!

In Part 2 of So You Want to Study Music: A Young Guitarist’s College Search, Wit Siriwat will take the reader along on one of his music school auditions. He’ll also explore the topic of dealing with acceptance and rejection. See you at Part 2!

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Jim Bowley is a professional guitarist, teacher and blogger. A native of Baltimore, he has over 30 years of playing experience and an advanced degree in Music Education from Towson University. Jim lives in Bel Air, MD where he maintains a thriving private lesson studio and performs with his band, Remains of Radio.

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