Sing Your Way through College: Ten Steps to Help Turn Your Talent into a Scholarship

Learn how to nail your college audition with this overview of Michael Chipman’s new book. With highlights from specific chapters, you can schedule your consultation lesson and be prepared to ace your post-audition interview.

  

 

Baritone, teacher, and author Michael Chipman has published a new book that will arm young singers with advice for nailing college scholarship auditions. Sing Your Way through College is an audition handbook that will benefit singers pursuing undergraduate degrees, potential graduate students, and young artists alike. “Singing is actually a super power,” Chipman writes. The following is an overview of his book and our conversation about why he wrote it.

Michael Chipman, who joined the voice faculty of the Los Angeles-based Colburn Community Music School in 2017, teaches a college music audition prep course in addition to his full studio of private students. We recently spoke over Zoom to discuss the book’s potential impact on the next generation of music majors. 

In the weekly masterclass format, Chipman didn’t feel like there was quite enough time to share all of his expertise, so he wrote this book as both a syllabus for his course and a supplement for singers preparing for college auditions. “I didn’t have any of this information when I was coming up…. I learned everything the really hard way, so I put as much information into the book as I could in order to give my students what I wish someone could have given me.”

The genesis of the book was Chipman’s desire to help his pre-college students. “Each topic in the book is what I would teach one hour per week—I didn’t have enough time to share all the information I felt was important. The book is meant to be supplemental to working with a voice teacher who knows their stuff—give the kids a leg up in a way that I didn’t have.” Chipman states that the most important chapter in the book is “Step Two: Learn Basic Vocal Technique.” You can do everything else perfectly in your audition and application, and if you show up with bad vocal technique (or, worse yet, no vocal technique), it will all have been for naught.” As a university voice teacher myself, I wholeheartedly agree. 

In our singing communities, we probably all know voice teachers with varying skills and specialties. Chipman describes the ideal teacher for college prep as someone “who has at least a masters degree in vocal performance [and] someone who has experience as a classical performer and a proven track record of success in teaching. They will also have essential knowledge of classical vocal repertoire and will have studied diction and grammar of the essential singing languages: Italian, French, and German.” These teachers might be more expensive, but the return on investment will be worth thousands of dollars in scholarship awards or earning pre-professional performance opportunities, developing a foundation for healthy technique or, hopefully, all of the above.

One sign that a singer has a good teacher is the repertoire presented in auditions. What you choose to sing can make or break your chances for scholarship, and a good teacher will help you find songs and arias that highlight your strengths and demonstrate potential. As Chipman writes, “Don’t choose difficult songs with crazy technical demands.” Your audition panel wants you to sing beautifully far more than they want to listen to you gamble on an iffy high note or an attempt to get through difficult melismatic passages in tune. If you wake up with high Q’s, then by all means, let us have it! But if you, like most mere mortals, are working on an even scale and legato phrasing, there are a multitude of songs in the standard vocal literature that will fit within your comfort zone and show you at your best. “Choose songs that you could sing flawlessly, right after rolling out of bed in the morning.” 

As a successful performer and experienced university professor, Michael Chipman has been on both sides of the audition table. He knows what colleges are listening for and his students have earned scholarships at competitive programs across the country. His advice will help you feel calm and confident as you walk in to your audition even if you’ve just stepped off a plane or couldn’t sleep or if you are the blessed soul with the first audition time slot of the day.

So, what are the steps Chipman offers for successful auditions? 

 

Step One: The College Application

Step Two: Learn Basic Vocal Technique

Step Three: Learn Basic IPA and Foreign Language Diction

Step Four: Choose Appropriate Repertoire

Step Five: Focus on Musicianship

Step Six: Don’t Just Sing Your Song; Perform it

Step Seven: Show Up to Your Audition

Step Eight: Nail the Interview 

Step Nine: Select Your School

Step Ten: Remember Why You Sing

 

Chipman writes, “The purpose of classical technique is to be able to communicate through singing. Communication, to me, is the end goal of the countless hours of vocal study, practice, and investment of time and money that this art form requires.” If you were to listen to a full day of auditions, you would hear one talented singer after the next. The singers with a technical foundation will be able to express themselves through their song. Whether this skill is perceived as innate musicianship, good stage presence, or an engaging personality, it is the element of communication that allows the listener to feel a connection to the performance. In the case of auditions, communication can earn scholarship dollars. 

As educators of young singers, we want to help you earn money singing. Our industry is a multifaceted business, and one important element is the sheet music we use daily. If you’ve studied with a teacher that is a member of NATS (National Association of Teachers of Singing), you have been required to sing from an original score, not an illegal photocopy of music. Composers and publishers deserve to earn money for their work, just like you aspire to earn money for your performances. 

Michael Chipman

Music educators encourage students to follow copyright laws and purchase music and legal downloads, but there are plenty of free online music resources in the public domain. Chipman lists several websites to help you find legal PDFs of the music you are singing. When you get to college, your university library will feel like a vocal score jackpot. 

Several chapters in this book dive deep into the process of learning music and practice how-tos. I especially appreciate Chipman’s attention to singing in foreign languages. He presents a concise IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) guide, and you will find helpful tips in his “Seven Layers of Learning a Foreign Language Song.” 

While learning and memorizing art songs in their original language, singing with accurate lyric diction demonstrates an entry level proficiency to this world of classical singing. Being able to express a character and create a mood with your song in a foreign language shows your potential as a singing artist. Diction prep will make you stand out in the crowd of hopeful young artists. 

In “Step Eight: Nail the Interview,” Chipman uncovers the secrets of the post-audition interview. After singing, the faculty often wants to speak with the singer to get a sense of their personality and goals to determine if they would be a good fit for the program. Interviews are also a chance for you to interview the school. You will impress your future professors when you are prepared with specific questions about the educational and pre-professional opportunities they can provide. Chipman lists commonly asked questions you can prepare to answer and offers an entire page of questions you might want to ask. I won’t give them all away; this is just one more reason aspiring singers need their own copy of Sing Your Way through College. But I can sense that you are asking for just at least one example, so here is a question you definitely need to ask: How much performing opportunity is offered to undergraduates?  

Your college voice teacher is an important part of choosing a university. In “Step Nine: Select Your School,” Chipman guides you through the possibility of scheduling a consultation lesson. He includes rock-solid advice on how and when to request the lesson, what to expect, and pro tips for communicating professionally. Addressing your potential teacher by their title offers respect that might help earn your spot in the studio. In my own career, I can tell you that I am not eager to respond to email inquiries that are written like a middle schooler’s text message. 

 

Less effective: 

Hey, LMK if you can do a lesson tomorrow before the audition bc I need a song LOL and my mom was wondering how much scholarship $ you pay for vocals? 

 

More effective: 

Dear Dr. Amonson, 

My name is Johann Sebastian Bach, and I am preparing for my scholarship audition at CoolSchool University. My high school teacher recommended you, and I read that you are the director of your school’s opera workshop. Will you let me know if you have time for a consultation lesson via Zoom? 

Thank you for your time, 

J.S. Bach

 

In “Step Ten: Remember Why You Sing,” Chipman offers exactly why he wrote this book: he didn’t know a lot of this information when he was applying for college, and you don’t have to know it all either. If you love to sing, go for it. We will each forge our own path in music; part of being an artist is our creative nature. He writes, “You don’t have to know the end from the beginning.” Your end will be yours: created with work, love, and joy. 

Chipman encourages you to answer a few core questions, and number one on the list is “Why do I love singing?” As you embark on the fascinating journey of studying music, you will learn much about yourself. I hope everyone who reads this book takes the time to write down an answer. There is no better reminder during tough times than your own reason for getting yourself into this business in the first place. This book concludes with Michael Chipman’s wishes for you to enjoy your journey. By following his excellent advice, I think young singers will have a better shot at pursuing their dreams.

The author’s final thoughts: “Helping students earn scholarships has turned out to be one of the most rewarding aspects of my career. If this book helps anyone in any way, I would love to hear from you. Go to my website, drop me a line. Nothing makes me happier than knowing I have helped.” 

 

For more information on Michael Chipman, visit www.michaelchipman.com.

Christi Amonson

Soprano Christi Amonson is an assistant professor of voice and director of opera initiative at Augusta University and a teaching artist in residence for the summer Festival de Ópera San Luis in Mexico. She earned her DMA at the University of Arizona, her MM in voice at the Manhattan School of Music, and her BM in music education at the University of Idaho. Amonson is an active singer, writer, and member of NATS and NOA. She lives in Augusta, Georgia, with her husband and three daughters.