The Best Summer Music Programs for High School Students

Few things are as exciting as being a teenager with talent and a dream. Few things are as frustrating, either. To know that you’re destined for greatness, to long for the chance to be among your peers, but unable to pursue your dreams until you’re older – that’s a unique kind of suffering. 

While suffering may make for great art, it’s not necessarily unavoidable. Some of the most important music schools in the United States host summer programs for high school students. 

During these programs, students worldwide come to get a taste of real music school studies in camps that range from one week to one month in length. 

A summer music program gives students the chance to connect and practice their art with other like-minded and equally talented musicians. 

More importantly, it provides time for intensive study, often with working musicians and faculty members at some of the nation’s best schools. Not only will this experience sharpen a student’s abilities, but it also helps prepare them for their more rigorous studies after graduation. 

With this list, we’ve picked out the best summer music programs available to American high school students. Programs cover nearly every genre and career path you can think of, and this list is by no means exhaustive. 

However, we’ve tried to pick the best from as wide a field as possible, covering classical, pop music, jazz, and more. 

Whatever your interest, you’re sure to find a program on this list that will transform a lazy summer into a once-in-lifetime chance to make your dream a reality, even before leaving high school. 

Boston University Tanglewood Institute (Lenox, MA)

Boston University Tanglewood Institute
Tanglewd, Boston University Tanglewood Institute Main Grounds, CC BY-SA 3.0

Boston University’s Tanglewood Institute has hosted some of the premier classical musicians of our generation. 

For young people looking to follow in these hallowed footsteps, Tanglewood offers the Young Artists Orchestra. High school students, ages 14 – 19, can study under members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, as well as other professional musicians. 

In addition to daily rehearsals with fellow orchestra members, participants will give three formal concert performances. 

These concerts will be held in stately venues, including at Tanglewood’s Seiji Ozawa Hall Performance at Tanglewood On Parade at the Koussevitzky Music Shed. 

The material covered includes not only classical standards but also original compositions from students in the Young Artists Composition Program, giving orchestra members access to the latest works. 

Even better, orchestra members can earn up to six transferable college credits, allowing them to get a head start on their studies. Through the Tanglewood Institute, students begin their college career with experience performing on some of the most respected stages in the United States, playing alongside classical greats. 

NYU Summer Electronic Music Institute (New York, NY)

Young musicians keep the culture going by introducing audiences to new forms of composition and performance, creating art that speaks to our present moment. 

That’s the idea behind the Summer Electronic Music Institute at New York University (SEMI). SEMI gives high school students the chance to express themselves through cutting-edge technology.

Rising juniors and seniors learn not only the fundamentals of composition and performance but also the process of collaboration through remote technologies.

Working alongside students and faculty in the NYU Steinhardt Music Technology program, students have opportunities to produce their work and perform it for live and virtual audiences. 

Every day of the summer program, students participate in interactive webinars with faculty members. Faculty supervisors work with students to guide their projects from inception to performance to recording, allowing each participant to leave with a composition they can share with others. 

Unsurprisingly, a program of this caliber cannot accept everyone who wants to participate. Competition is tough, and applicants must have strong letters of recommendation and must pass an audition. 

GRAMMY Camp (Los Angeles, CA)

Few words so perfectly encapsulate excellence in music like the word “Grammy,” the name for the annual awards given to the best writers and performers. 

So it should come as no surprise that the GRAMMY Camp only deals with the best contemporary music students. 

The most talented high school students from around the country come to Los Angeles to participate in the five-day camp. Students stay on campus, working with music industry professionals, giving them first-hand access to the business. 

In addition to hands-on training and mentorship in tracks such as songwriting, performance, and production, the camp also includes events that prepare students for the realities of the music industry. 

During the “board meeting” events, camp participants break into small groups and have lunch with industry professionals. Part lecture and part q&a sessions, these board meetings give students connections and insight into their future careers.

Thanks to this approach, the GRAMMY Camp has successfully opened doors and created opportunities for hundreds of students. From bringing young women into the field of songwriting to helping underprivileged students hone their business connections, the GRAMMY Camp is expanding the possibilities of popular music. 

Stanford Jazz Festival (Stanford, CA)

Stanford University
Stanford University – Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

While many of the programs on this list happen only once or twice a year, the Jazz Institute at Stanford offers multiple possibilities for high schoolers. These immersion programs teach students everything they need to know about jazz, from composition to performance to production. 

The heart of the program is the Jazz Camp, a two-week summer program. High school students attending jazz camp spend their days working alongside professional musicians, learning key competencies such as ear training, techniques, and theory. 

In the evenings, students watch their teachers perform at the Stanford Jazz Festival.

For those who seek more advanced training, Stanford also provides a six-day program that gives exceptionally gifted students intensive interaction with some of the best living performers. 

Students in the jazz institute not only learn from a rigorous curriculum centered on improvisation, but also take part in masterclasses covering theory, arrangement, and more. 

Students even get to attend the Sandford Jazz Festival every night and participate in post-concert jam sessions. 

Faculty members in the jazz fest include saxophonist Charles Macpherson, who has played with legends such as Dizzy Gillespie, Wynton Marsalis, and Barry Harris. In addition to teaching at the institute, bassist Tomoko Funaki has played alongside Ray Drummond and Donald “Duck” Bailey. 

Brevard Summer Music Festival (Brevard, NC)

Located on a secluded 180-acre campus in western North Carolina, the Brevard Music Center invites hundreds of students each year to study under the direction of conductor Keith Lockhart

During his illustrious career, Lockhart has served as Principal Conductor for the Boston Pops and as the BBC Orchestra’s Chief Guest Conductor. 

For high school students, Brevard features several programs, including courses in orchestral studies, composition, classical guitar, and more. 

No matter which track they choose, all students at Brevard benefit from weekly lessons with faculty members, professional musicians working at the Center to develop their skills. Class sessions cover core concepts, such as music theory, literature, and studio recording. 

Additionally, Brevard gives students ample opportunity to show off their skills in nightly performances. Concerts include both solo and chamber presentations, as well as orchestra and opera shows. Students can even audition for world-class musicians and composers visiting the Center. 

These programs immerse students in a world of music, letting them learn from musician peers and from the legends who paved the way for the classical artists of the future. 

Berklee ASPIRE Five-Week Music Performance Intensive (Boston, MA)

Berklee College of Music
John Phelan, Berklee Performance Center, Boston MA, CC BY 3.0

Meghan Trainor, Charlie Puth, and Betty Who didn’t just come out of nowhere to leap up the pop charts. They first honed their skills at Berklee’s Aspire five-week summer music program. 

Aspire gives high school students a taste of life at Berklee’s acclaimed College of Music. 

Participants focus on a particular instrument and engage in an intensive experience, working alongside both Berklee faculty and guest musicians, as well as their fellow students. 

Students learn everything from mastery in their instrument to various career fields, such as production, songwriting, music therapy, and more. 

While most summer music programs have these attributes, Aspire stands out because of its wide range of focus tracks. The tracks include everything you’d expect from Berklee, including jazz workshop and choir/vocals. 

But students can also participate in tracks unique to only to a Berklee summer program, such as gospel performance and the global string program. 

In the global string program, participants work under Berklee String Department chair David Wallace, gaining exposure to genres worldwide. Teachers guide students in string instruments such as mandolin, banjo, and harp. 

Over five days, participants in the gospel performance program train under Berklee faculty and visiting clinicians. Whether instrumentalists or vocalists, performers study the entirety of the gospel tradition, developing their skills among a group of like-minded enthusiasts. 

Interlochen Center for the Arts (Interlochen, MI)

Interlochen Arts Academy
rossograph, The Commons at Interlochen Fine Arts School, CC BY-SA 4.0

For nearly 100 years, the Interlochen Center for the Arts has been one of the premier training sites for pre-college-aged musicians. Located in rural northwest Michigan, Interlochen is a retreat for lovers of the arts to hone their craft and learn from one another. 

That’s especially true for the summer arts camp. The program features everything you’d want from a summer camp experience, including sleeping in cabins, roasting marshmallows, and outdoor activities. But the real draw is the opportunity for young musicians to study under virtuosos and professionals.

Given its focus on excellence, Interlochen’s music arts camp is divided according to grade and instrument. Some of the tracks for high school students are just one-week intensive stints, such as those for bassoon, oboe, flute, and similar instruments. Other programs can go as long as six weeks, such as the harp or the music composition tracks. 

No matter which track they choose, all students at Interlochen get to work with some of our finest living musicians. 
Faculty members include former principal trumpet player for the Madison Symphony Orchestra John Aley and Kate Boyd, who has given solo piano recitals at Carnegie Hall, the National Concert Hall in Dublin, and around the world.

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