7 Music Extracurriculars for High Schoolers
- 7 Extracurricular Activities for Aspiring Music Majors
- How Do Extracurriculars Impact Your College Chances?
If you’re planning to study music in college, you should demonstrate your passion and talent in high school. Building a strong extracurricular portfolio is one of the best ways to showcase your skills and dedication to your future career.
For students in the arts, depending on the rigor of the program and school you’re applying to, your extracurricular activities will matter even more than your academic record. Read along for the extracurriculars that could make your application stand out.
7 Extracurricular Activities for Aspiring Music Majors
1. Youth Ensembles
The most obvious extracurricular for young musicians is band, orchestra, or choir—depending on your area of specialization. This is the bare minimum for aspiring music majors. While you should participate in these groups, you should also try to get involved with youth ensembles that are more selective and require auditions.
Most states have an All-State orchestra, band, or ensemble for high school students. The audition process is generally competitive, with just a small percentage of students selected to participate. In New York, only 900 out of 6,500 students are chosen for the New York State School Music Association Conference All-State music groups.
Additionally, many states have regional ensembles that feed into the state ensemble. Regional ensembles are less selective but still show your dedication to pursuing music.
Lastly, many cities offer audition-based youth orchestras, which are similarly selective to regional orchestras. These are a great way to stay involved in music throughout the year.
While you can participate in a school band, orchestra, or choir, you can also be part of an independent band. This is a great option for students interested in non-traditional instruments and sounds—for example, students who play rock music or R&B music.
Starting a band in high school is both time- and energy-intensive. You will need bandmates, a practice space, a marketing strategy, and more.
Traditionally, you can start a band with four members: a drummer, a guitarist, a bassist, and a singer. If you are interested in a more acoustic/simple sound, you can start with just an acoustic guitar and a singer. To find bandmates, utilize social media and post signs around your town and neighboring areas.
At your first band meeting, everyone will need to get on the same page about a few things: a name, a sound, a time commitment, and roles and responsibilities. You may even want to write these down to avoid conflict later on.
Once everything is decided on, get in the habit of establishing short- and long-term goals—deadlines for writing and learning songs, schedules for practices, and ultimately a gig schedule. Your band members will have to hold each other accountable and you will likely need to reach out for help from mentors and adults with connections.
3. Summer Programs
Like with other academic disciplines, there are many summer programs offered for students planning to pursue music. Music summer programs are often called institutes, intensives, or academies.
Some of the more affordable summer programs include:
- Morse Summer Music Academy
- National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America
- The Sphinx Performance Academy
- Stanford Jazz Workshop Jazz Camp
- UNCG Summer Music Camp
For more programs, check out our list of 20 Summer Programs for High School Students in 2023.
An important part of mastering a trade is being able to teach it to others, and conveniently, there are many avenues for talented high school musicians to teach their skills to aspiring musicians.
Some teaching opportunities music students should look into include:
- Teaching an introduction to music class at a local retirement center (something like recorder, basic vocals, or rhythm)
- Mentoring children in the band or choir at your local elementary school
- Hosting private lessons for younger musicians who play your same instrument at a discounted rate
- Working at a music camp or after-school program
Most of these opportunities will be community-specific, so start by reaching out to institutions that cater to younger and older people—like elementary schools and retirement centers, respectively—within your community to see if they have any opportunities.
If they don’t, suggest a new opportunity that you can initiate. Retirement homes and centers are always looking for new activities for their residents.
5. Self-Driven Projects
Producing your own music is a great way to distinguish yourself from other applicants. Having a track to show is both proof of your dedication to music and proof of your musical talent—the two most important things to music admissions officers!
Steps to producing your own track include:
- Download a DAW (digital audio workstation)
- Figure out your music at a high level — genre, tempo, instrumentation, emotion, lyrics, song structure
- Write a song section
- Lay down tracks for one song section — typically, drums, bass, harmony, and melody
- Apply effects to your music
- Repeat steps 3 through 5 until you have all sections
- Mix your production
- Make cover art
- Publish to Band Camp, SoundCloud, or Spotify or just share with friends
This process is long and requires accountability and planning. The goal is to impress admissions officers with your work ethic, dedication, patience, and organization, in addition to your talent.
Some clubs for students planning to study music include:
- A Capella Club
- Glee Club
- Chamber Orchestra
- Concert Band
- Guitar Club
- Jazz Ensemble
- K Pop Club
- Marching Band
- Mariachi Club
- Music Composition Club
- Music Production Club
- Pep Band
- Percussion Ensemble
- Piano Club
- Pit Orchestra
- String Ensemble
- Ukulele Club
The availability of these clubs will vary from school to school.
It is important to note that participation in this type of club will not automatically improve your chances of admission to prestigious music programs. That said, starting a music club, holding a leadership position in a music club, or succeeding in competitions with a music club could help you stand out.
Additionally, if you have a strong music application, sprinkling in some more “fun” music clubs could show the extent of your interest in music. For example, admissions might notice a talented young chamber musician who is also in the ukulele club or a member of an award-winning glee club who also participates in the music composition club.
7. Tri-M Music Honor Society
Founded in 1936 as Modern Music Masters, Tri-M is a music honor society for middle- and high-school students with chapters at schools across the United States.
Students must receive a recommendation from their school’s music department and maintain an A average in all music courses and a C average in their academic courses to participate. The society recognizes the achievements of members and provides them with service opportunities.
You might also be able to secure a leadership position in your school’s chapter of Tri-M, which is a surefire way to enhance your application to prestigious music programs.
How Do Extracurriculars Impact Your College Chances?
Extracurricular activities are sometimes given as much weight as a student’s academic profile. This is especially true for highly specialized students with unique plans for the future—like music majors. Colleges and universities will weigh your extracurricular profile more heavily, since your musical talent is just as important as your grades for admission.
Because of the importance of skill and dedication for music majors, our CollegeVine team recommends that students focus on 2-3 extracurricular activities that demonstrate expertise. If your extracurricular list shows breadth rather than depth, your admissions officer might not understand how truly dedicated you are to music.
Additionally, admissions officers often group activities into one of the four tiers of extracurricular activities. The highest tiers—Tier 1 and Tier 2—have the most influence on college admissions and are reserved for the rarest and most distinguished extracurriculars. Lower-tier activities—those in Tiers 3 and 4—are less well-known, less distinguished, and ultimately have less of an impact on college admissions.
For example, an admissions officer is going to be more drawn to a student who participated in All-State choir and produced their own acoustic cover album—activities in Tiers 1 and 2—than a student who was a general member of Tri-M—an activity in Tier 4.
As you choose your extracurriculars, think about what will stand out to admissions officers and what will showcase your love of music. Additionally, put your extracurriculars into CollegeVine’s free chancing engine, which will tell you how specific extracurriculars will affect your admissions chances at specific colleges and universities.