Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
Last updated: Feb 2023
TL;DR: Belinda Chong has immense experience while auditioning for a music degree in Europe. She said that each university has different requirements for different instruments, however the requirements can be very similar for all the universities. In this article, Belinda shared 5 important steps and guides for auditioning in Europe: application, plan your journey, set an appointment with the teacher, audition day, and lastly, don’t forget to enjoy yourself!
My name is Belinda Chong, previously a MPYO violist. My musical journey started at around the age of 5 when I joined musikgarten and I love the idea of playing and just enjoying music as a group and so l was slowly involved in choir, orchestras and ensembles. I learn the piano, violin, viola and vocal. However, in the end, I have chosen viola to be my major instrument.
I went to Austria to audition for their music universities when I was 17, after graduation from high school. Thankfully I have my mentor to guide me throughout the whole journey as she herself studied in Vienna.
Europe, the home of the world’s greatest musicians and composers.
Studying music in Europe or even Germany is a dream of many musicians and especially classical musicians. Classical music is a part of their life and culture. Therefore this can only mean, high standards are expected from the applicants to their music universities. At this moment, your grades do not matter at all but your musical playing does. Therefore, music universities in Europe require live auditions.
Audition is never easy to begin with. If you are thinking of going on this journey, here are 5 important steps and guides from my experience auditioning for a music degree in Europe.
As music universities require live audition, one needs to be aware of the application period which tends to be early. Each university has different requirements for different instruments, however the requirements can be very similar for all the universities. You are to prepare pieces from 4 different periods and a virtuosic etudes. Make sure the pieces you have chosen for the audition are pieces that are usually tested in audition and it helps to present your technique and skills. For this, you can always seek help from your mentor(s) or other musicians. In my case, there are only a few concertos which are often asked in auditions and these concertos are well-known for their difficulty. Although you won’t be playing the whole concerto from top to bottom during the audition, it is expected that you are prepared for any surprises.
All the details are stated in the website of the universities, including the entrance exam date. So detailed research has to be done by you. Other than online application, some universities may require posting of solid documents. Do take note, you will also be tested for your theory, aural, sight-reading skills as well as piano (this only applies if you’re not auditioning for piano). Your understanding in music history might also be tested. Make sure you know the background of the pieces you have chosen and the music composers. Questions will be asked in German and you are to answer in German as well. At least B1 level of German is preferred.
Be prepared for any surprises.
It is recommended to apply to at least 5 universities of your choice, which you have confidence in getting a place in. (This can be deduced after you have spoken to the university professors, your confidence in your preparation for the university requirements and the number of candidates auditioning for the university) This is because the entrance exam is only held once a year for most universities and by applying to more universities, it broadens your chance of getting a place and makes the journey cost effective.
I can’t stress this enough, plan your journey well. Make sure the audition dates for the universities do not clash with one another, arrive at your next destination at least a day or two before to warm up and be mentally prepared. Visiting the university before the audition day will definitely help to assure yourself.
Auditioning for different universities in different cities is no surprise if you are going to apply for more than one university. It is going to be tiring so make sure to give yourself time to rest before the next audition. However, be sure to plan and book your accommodation beforehand. Some cities tend to be hard to find accommodation for various reasons due to it being a tourist destination, the summer holiday, etc, so book your accommodation as soon as you can. Renting an Airbnb would be ideal as you won’t be staying at a place for long and it is difficult to find a room to rent for a short period of time. Do let the owner know the purpose of your trip and ask whether practicing is okay. There will be times when practicing can not be done and therefore, be really well-prepared, do mind practicing and finger exercises whenever you can. Always double or triple check your plans, confirm with the universities about your application and your necessary documents.
The public transportations is easy to use and very efficient. There are different transportation apps for each city which acts like a GPS. Schedule of the train and bus arrival is on point. You can always check the pricing and time schedule for the long distance travel train on their personal app as well.
Don’t forget about the time difference!
A little incident of mine, it was a cold winter Sunday, a landlord was ready to spend some peaceful time with the family after a long weekend. As she was driving, her daughter had spotted a clueless stranger, looking around with an enormous luggage in one hand and an instrument in another. Then, she decided to stop to offer some help. Later she found out, that person was me, her tenant who was supposed to arrive on Monday instead. This happened as I had messed up the time difference and had told my landlord the wrong date of my arrival.
I was really fortunate that she had not gone out a minute earlier, if not I would have to wait till night time when they are back. Therefore, be very thorough with your planning and make no silly mistakes.
Make sure the audition dates for the universities do not clash with one another.
Applicants can choose the professor they want to learn under. This means a little homework about who they are is essential.
Here is where things get a little different than I thought. It is advised to contact the professor you have chosen personally and let them know you are interested in learning under them. They may request for a video recording of your playing or they might want to meet before the audition to listen to your playing. This is so that they know your standard and could provide their feedback. Playing for the professors allows both parties to see how well both can work together and this could increase the chances of you being accepted. However, it does not guarantee you a place in the university. Your entry into the university will not be determined solely by your chosen professor but by the agreement of all the professors under the faculty.
During these times, It is a good opportunity to ask for masterclasses from the professors as they are indeed well-known, amazing players themselves. You are able to learn much more than you could have imagined from them. Take down notes or even record it for future reference.
Ask for masterclasses from the professors.
It is normal to see numbers of applicants from all over the world ready for audition, especially for instruments such as piano, violin and vocal. The list could cover two whole whiteboards and the audition itself can take days. Remember, don’t panic, stay calm, be confident and just do your best. Everyone out there wants you to do well. Do not get caught up by your own fear but do whatever works for you to calm down such as listening to power music, eat a banana, walk around, etc. You’ve worked hard for this day and that’s it. Practice, know your pieces by heart but most important of all, PLAY MUSIC. Be passionate, determined and stay true to yourself. Don’t forget why you are here for, what makes you start this whole journey.
In the audition room or hall, there will be around 4 to 8 judges and some auditions are held open, which means outsiders can enter to hear you perform as well. Rate of acceptance depends on the places available under each professor and the number of professors they have in the faculty. However, as for those extremely competitive music instruments, there can be hundreds of participants and only a number of places are open.
Don’t panic, stay calm, be confident and just do your best.
Through it all, don’t forget to enjoy the moment, go for an adventure, explore the different cities, eat some local dishes and learn their culture. Relaxation is also a key to better playing. If you’re feeling lonely, you can always drop by their international community or an international church. Speak to the locals, ask for help if you have any trouble, some of them are really friendly and they would love to practice their English as well. One does not practice 24 hours a day. Go out and have fun!
Go out and have fun!
Auditioning for music universities is tough. It is a lonely journey which requires a lot of self-discipline and a strong mentality. It takes up time and it is also expensive. However, if you do love music and have the desire to improve and learn from the best, do give it a try. It is not impossible but neither is it going to be easy.
There’s also an alternative where students will first enter into a private music college and learn from the teachers there while equipping themselves for the audition. This is also very common for many who wish to stay in Europe for a better learning environment and do not give up on the idea of entering a music university.
It is not impossible but neither is it going to be easy.