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What music should one expect to prepare to get an undergraduate degree in classical piano performance at a U.S. school?

I know that U.S. schools generally offer two degrees: a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree and a Bachelor of Music (BM or BMus). Loosely defined, the BA is for "talented amateurs" who want to major in music as part of liberal arts study; the BMus is a professional degree.

I'd like to know about audition requirements for a BMus.

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  • Generally speaking conserve training in the US is provided either by liberal arts colleges or schools aimed specifically at the arts. The names you are familiar with from regular universities may not apply here.
    – Neil Meyer
    Dec 19 '20 at 13:09
  • In case the very thorough answer isn’t clear about this, it varies from school to school. One approach you can take is to make a short list of the schools you most want to apply to and find as much overlap as possible in their requirements, and then learn pieces to cover all the schools hoping that the overlap keeps the total number to a minimum. Oh I see you answered your own question. Perhaps adding some of my comment will help future readers, if you agree with my advice Dec 19 '20 at 15:30
  • @ToddWilcox Good call. I've added a note as you suggest. Consider opening a question/answer on audition prep, because I think the point deserves highlighting.
    – Aaron
    Dec 19 '20 at 20:12
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This post has three sections which can be read independently:

  1. General requirements
  2. Examples of requirements
  3. Getting school-specific information

Special bonus section: some preparation advice


General audition requirements

  • Most schools will have requirements based around 2-4 pieces of contrasting musical periods and styles.

  • Transcriptions and arrangements are generally not permitted as are non-classical works.

  • There is often a time limit for the audition, but it's typically your choice whether or not your repertoire actually fits into the time limit -- the person or people hearing your audition will stop you when they're heard what they need of a particular piece. (Note that in 2021 most schools have shifted to video auditions, so time limits apply differently than in a live audition.)

  • The level of proficiency required is generally in line with the rigor of the audition material: the more rigorous the audition, the higher the level of performance expected.

Requirements vary by program level

Entry level programs

Central Washington University

Audition requirements consist of two contrasting pieces to be performed preferably from memory. Chosen repertoire could include selections from the Inventions, Sinfonias or Preludes and Fugues of Bach, a Classical sonata movement of Mozart, Haydn or Beethoven, and/or a work by Debussy, Bartok or other Modern master.

University of Minnesota, Duluth

  1. Repertoire: The undergraduate audition should include a minimum of 15 minutes of solo piano repertoire, played by memory. The audition repertoire should consist of a minimum of two complete memorized solo piano works, selected from at least two different historical periods. While the complete program may be heard, the candidate should be prepared to perform sections of the music as requested by the committee.
  2. Scales: Prepare four-octaves major and harmonic minor scales at a comfortable steady tempo playing hands together. Two to three scales (major and minor) will be selected by the audition committee
  3. Sight-Reading: Play a short example with 1-min preparation time

University of Houston

The audition should consist of at least two fully memorized selections from the standard classical piano repertoire, representing contrasting musical periods and styles. ... The selections should be chosen to display the technical and musical proficiency of the student at the keyboard and must demonstrate at least a freshman level of performance skill. Some examination of sight-reading skill may also be a part of the audition.

University of Kentucky

Prepare at least fifteen minutes of music, two or three pieces of contrasting styles, preferably memorized. Also review and be prepared to play any scales or other technical material you have studied. You will also be asked to sight-read some unfamiliar piano scores.

Mid-level programs

Michigan State University

A pre-screening audition is required. Below are the requirements for the main audition.

A work by J.S. Bach (two or three part invention, a Suite, or equivalent);
A fast movement from a Haydn, Mozart or Beethoven sonata;
A 19th or 20th century composition;
Be prepared to play all major and harmonic minor scales and arpeggios in parallel motion, four octaves;
Memorization is required

Boston University

A pre-screening audition is required. Below are the requirements for the main audition.

One work or movement of a work by J.S. Bach.
One movement of a sonata from the Classical period (Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, or similar).
One work or movement of a work from the Romantic period (Chopin, Schubert, Liszt, Brahms, or similar).
One work or movement of a work from the twentieth century (Debussy, Ravel, Copland, Bartók, or similar).
Memorization is mandatory for all who audition for Performance.
Concerto literature is not appropriate for the virtual audition. Arrangements of popular music, jazz compositions, reductions, simplifications, and/or transcriptions of original compositions are not acceptable for auditions.

University of Washington

3 compositions (Bach, Classical, Romantic/Contemporary): 1) Bach: Any Prelude and Fugue from W.T.C. I or II or movements from a Suite or Partita, or the Italian Concerto. 2) Any first movement from Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven sonatas (except the following: Beethoven Sonatas, Op. 49, Nos. 1 and 2. 3) Romantic or Contemporary work, preferably of virtuosic nature. NOTE: Pieces must be memorized.

Top-tier programs

Juilliard

A pre-screening audition is required. These are the requirements for the primary audition.

All pieces must be performed from memory. Exceptions may be permitted only in the case of some 20th and 21st-century pieces. Permission must be granted by the Juilliard piano faculty upon request.
All applicants who are invited to the audition round are required to take a remote written exam of basic musicianship skills and a remote musical skills evaluation.
The entire audition program should reach a minimum of 45 minutes.
Bach: A substantial work. A prelude and fugue is acceptable. (No transcriptions permitted.)
One of the following:

  • An entire sonata by Beethoven (excluding Opp. 14, 49, and 79), or
  • One of the following Haydn sonatas: Hob. 20, 23, 32, 46, 49, 50, 52, or
  • One of the following Mozart sonatas: K. 281, 284, 310, 332, 333, 457, 533, or 576, or
  • One of the following Schubert sonatas: D. 568, 664, 784, 845, 850, 894, 958, 959, 960, or the Wanderer Fantasie, D. 760.

A substantial composition by Chopin, Schumann, Brahms, Liszt, or Mendelssohn. (Etudes, nocturnes, short dances, waltzes, or comparable pieces are not acceptable.) *No individual movements or partial works will be permitted in this category.
One virtuosic etude by Chopin.
A substantial work, or a collection of shorter works, of the applicant’s choice which is:

  • in a different style and by a composer not listed in the previous requirements, and
  • not less than six minutes.

Jacobs School of Music (Indiana University)

One Prelude and Fugue from J.S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier
One complete sonata by Haydn, Mozart, or Beethoven
One romantic work demonstrating considerable technical accomplishment
One twentieth or twenty-first century work of your choice

USC Thornton School of Music

Below requirements are for first-round auditions. Second-round requirements are not posted.

Baroque – a Prelude and Fugue by J.S. Bach from The Well-Tempered Clavier
Classical – a complete multi-movement sonata by a classical composer, up to and including Schubert, but excluding Beethoven opp. 49 and 79
One piece from the Romantic, Impressionistic or Contemporary repertoire
An etude

Getting school-specific information

Most music schools post their audition requirements on the school's website. You might also want or need to contact the head of the piano or music department to inquire. At some schools there may be an undergraduate advisor you can contact. These kinds of inquiries are perfectly acceptable, but to make a good impression, make sure you thoroughly review any web information first.

A note on preparation

There is often overlap in the repertoire requirements of various schools. It's advisable to make a list of the schools where you wish to audition and choose pieces that maximize the overlap. (Thanks to @ToddWilcox for suggesting this.)

It's also okay to contact a school to ask if a chosen piece is acceptable even though it's not specifically listed. For example, you have a Schubert sonata you plan to use for auditions at Juilliard and Thornton, but you also want to audition at Jacobs, which doesn't list Schubert as an option. It's a good idea to contact Jacobs to ask if your sonata can be used in your audition.

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  • I know it is the case that at least with the Peabody institute is that that the quality of applications varies greatly year-by-year
    – Neil Meyer
    Dec 19 '20 at 13:07
  • Julliard used to have an article on there website with the specifics in regards to auditioning, but it seems to have gotten lost in the revamp of there website. (I cannot find at least)
    – Neil Meyer
    Dec 19 '20 at 13:11

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