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Building a Successful Music Supplement

Dec 6, 2021

As you complete the college application process, you may encounter some schools that allow you to submit supplemental application materials. If you are an exceptionally talented musician, can demonstrate your long-term commitment to music, or have musical accomplishments not adequately conveyed in the rest of your application, the supplement may be a good opportunity for you to fill in the gap. Music supplements are typically reviewed by the school’s faculty, who are asked by the admissions committee to provide brief comments on the level of skill demonstrated in the supplement.

The nature of this review process, however, makes submitting supplements a double-edged sword. Top schools will attract some of the best musicians in the world, including some who may already have budding music careers. Before deciding to submit the music supplement, you should evaluate your own musical abilities and accomplishments as compared to those of your peers. You never want the music faculty of a school you apply to to tell the admissions committee that your supplement was “nothing special,” or “average,” especially if the supplement was submitted as an optional addition to your application.

Since only stellar remarks about your supplement from the faculty will boost your chances of admission, you’ll need to put together a music supplement that is filled with your best work. Here are our top tips for students who are confident that they can demonstrate their stellar musical abilities and accomplishments by submitting a supplement:

Review records of your past performances and achievements

Most high caliber student-musicians keep a well-maintained record of their musical history, and it’s not rare to find students with collections of past recital programs, awards they’ve won, and pictures and videos of their past major performances. Students who are applying to college will likely have performed many solo recitals in the past, and these recitals often make for the best music supplement material. Recordings of live performances can not only demonstrate your level of playing under pressure, but can also save you precious time during the college application process since you can simply edit pre-existing material for submission.

Assuming that you have maintained a portfolio of your past performances over time, and that you are not planning to submit a pre-screening audition for the purpose of applying to conservatories, there’s absolutely no need to go into a studio and create recordings to send as a supplement. Maintaining a portfolio of past performances comes most easily for composers, since keeping recordings of their own pieces is a central part of what they do, but it’s just as important for performers to do the same. If you still have some time before starting the college application process, make sure to start recording your solo performances now so you’re not caught off-guard later. Note that schools are looking for solo performances in which you are the main performer. Most schools are generally not interested in ensemble performances in which the applicant does not have a prominent solo role.

Consult with your music teacher

Your teacher will be a very important resource as you prepare your music supplement. Your teacher will help you decide which recordings to include in your supplement, and they may also have insight into the music teachers and programs at the schools you’re applying to. Some schools explicitly ask applicants to list a reference who can speak to their musical abilities and dedication to their craft as a part of the supplement, while other schools don’t have such a requirement. If you’re working with a private teacher, we recommend that you list your private teacher as your reference since they have worked with you closely and can speak to your abilities. Private teachers also tend to be the best advocates for their own students.

If you plan on asking your music teacher or band director from school, be sure to ask if they would be willing to be your reference ahead of time. Tell them which schools you’re planning to apply to or have applied to, and if they say yes, make sure to let them know which schools could potentially be reaching out to them so they’re not caught off-guard.

Choose your repertoire

Supplement requirements vary widely by school: some prefer to receive five different recordings while others may ask for a maximum of two. You should work with your music teacher to pick recordings of performances that best represent both your technical ability and musicality, then rank each recording based on quality. In this selection process, you should aim to find contrasting pieces in terms of period (Baroque, Romantic, Contemporary), as well as tempo and style. It’s important for you to show that you have range. Do not submit an entire supplement of Chopin nocturnes or avant-garde improvisations! This will help the review committee acquire a solid understanding of your ability to handle a wide variety of repertoire. Regardless of whether schools indicate a maximum supplement length, aim to compile a supplement that does not exceed 10-12 minutes out of respect for the faculty’s time.

Create a musical resume

In addition to recordings, most schools will request applicants to submit a musical resume. Formatted just like a traditional resume, this resume is meant to summarize your music training and career, and should include sections detailing which music schools/programs you attended and who you study/studied with, your participation in ensembles (orchestra, chamber music, big band, etc.), your intended major and/or recurring performances, and awards and recognitions you have received. This is where your detailed record-keeping will really come in handy!