College Connection: Looking Ahead to What’s Next

College Connection: Looking Ahead to What’s Next

The time between high school graduation and beginning your college music studies is short. Read on for some tips on what and how to prepare for entering your college music program.


There it is. Propped up on your desk. The letter you’ve been waiting for months to arrive. As you reach for it you remember how happy you were when you walked out of the audition room. How the faculty smiled and complimented you. Not realizing that you are holding your breath, you open the envelope, take out the letter and read:


Dear [your name],

Congratulations and welcome to the class of 2027 at Our Great Institution!


After reviewing letters from all your schools, you are ready to make the final decision, choosing where you will spend the next four years studying, learning, and exploring. But first there is graduation and your final summer before college to spend with family and friends. Perhaps you have accepted a position singing at a summer music program . . . or you will be working these next few months . . . or travel is in your future. After all the hours of filling out applications, writing essays, and performing auditions, it is time to celebrate because your hard work has paid off.

As you contemplate this next step in your musical and academic career, you might find yourself experiencing some nervousness. Rest assured; this is experienced by everyone. You will soon leave what has become familiar and will embark on the next part of your journey as a singer, scholar, and member of a larger world. Thanks to all of your teachers and coaches, you are prepared to accept the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. However, because your professors will expect you to be ready to learn from your very first day in class, let me offer some suggestions for this summer to prepare you even more for your first semester at your new school. 

Music Theory

Some of you may have had the opportunity to take music theory at your high school, either an AP course or courses designed by your music faculty. Others may have experienced music theory through classes at your community music school. Still others may not have had formal music theory classes but have learned fundamental skills through your voice studies and your ensemble experiences. Regardless of grades earned, you will be asked to demonstrate your theory skills on placement exams either before arriving on campus or during your first few days on campus. 

These exams are simply used to assign you to the appropriate level music theory classes. Take some time this summer to review or familiarize yourself with the following basics.

  • Clefs: Easily read and identify pitches on both treble and bass clefs.
  • Key Signatures: Identify and write major and minor key signatures by hand. Memorize the order of flats and sharps and be familiar with the circle of 5ths.
  • Intervals: Identify both aural and written intervals within an octave (major, minor, diminished, and augmented).
  • Chords: Build simple, root-position chords (major, minor, diminished, and augmented).
  • Sight Singing: Using the methods you know, sing melodies at sight without writing down solfège, intervals, or numbers. 


Every student majoring in music as a classical vocal artist will graduate with piano proficiency. If you have never studied piano, consider taking some lessons over the summer to become comfortable at the keyboard. Online tutorials are helpful, but a teacher will ensure that your technique is healthy and will prepare you for future studies. 

Just as you will take a music theory placement exam, you will most likely take a piano placement exam. Again, this is to ensure that you are placed in the appropriate level of study. There are many classical vocal artists who begin their undergraduate studies with minimal or no piano skills. This will not prevent you from succeeding in your studies, and your faculty will ensure that you will be a proficient pianist by the time you graduate. 


Summer Repertoire

Allow yourself some time away from the structure of daily practice and music study during this summer, but don’t take off the entire summer! Continue singing your current repertoire, especially the literature you presented at auditions. You will want to keep two or three selections at performance level because you will most likely sing auditions during the first week of school for choir placement, opera productions, or scholarships. Also work with your current teacher to choose some new repertoire to begin this summer, songs and arias that speak to you musically and emotionally. 

Consider emailing your new voice teacher and asking for recommendations of repertoire you can explore. Please note­—if you have been learning music from copies of scores given to you, be sure to purchase those scores that you most use including an edition of the 24/26/28 Italian Art Songs and Arias anthology in the appropriate vocal range, other art song anthologies, and opera anthologies that include literature you have been studying. 

Let me include a brief note about first-year orientation. Whether your school hosts orientation during the summer or immediately before the start of the semester, those days will be filled with activities. I encourage you to take some time to explore the campus and especially the music facilities. 

Find the practice rooms and sing, visit the piano lab, and meet the staff. Ask about lockers, listening rooms, recital halls, and the library. And, if possible, schedule a visit with your new voice teacher. Be aware that you may be invited to audition on the spot for one of the ensembles or invited in for a short lesson. Be open to all these experiences and come to orientation prepared to participate. 

Take some time this summer to create the following documents to share with your new teachers:

  • A repertoire list that includes literature you have performed, learned, and are learning.
  • A list of vocalizes and warm-ups with directions so you can easily explain and demonstrate to your new teacher.
  • A basic resume that includes your vocal arts and theatre experiences such as ensembles, stage work, solo work, competitions, and awards as well as the names of teachers, coaches, and masterclass clinicians you have worked with since the beginning of high school. 

And now let me share some final thoughts with you. Some of you may be commuting to school from home, some may be living on campus near your home, while others may be moving across the state or country for school. No matter how far you go, you will be leaving your current teachers, coaches, and collaborative pianists and will begin studies with your new faculty. I encourage you to take some time this summer to thank those who helped you on your journey thus far. A short, heart-felt note will not only be appreciated, it will be treasured for years to come.

This is an exciting time. And while you may be a little nervous about working with new teachers, meeting colleagues, and acclimating to a new school, everyone wants you to succeed. Remember that the work ethic that got you here will ensure your success as you continue to learn and grow as a singing artist. 

Your future awaits! Go out there and share your passion, your talent, and your drive. Be open to new experiences and enjoy all life has to offer you. Toi, toi, toi!

Liana Valente

Dr. Liana Valente is the Denyce Graves Foundation Shared Voices program coordinator ( Prior to joining DGF, she enjoyed a 30-year career teaching all aspects of the classical vocal arts at colleges and universities along the East Coast including at Knoxville College, Wesleyan College, University of South Florida, Rollins College, and Howard University. She continues to perform, presents at national and international conferences, and focuses her current research on improving the quality of life for older persons through music participation. Since 2016, Dr. Valente has served as the National Federation of Music Clubs Representative to the United Nations Department of Global Communications.