One of the very first assignments given to CMPI Fellows is to write a bio about themselves. For Fellows who have never written a bio, it can be a daunting task, especially knowing what to include and what to leave out. Younger Fellows with less experience may feel like they do not even have enough information to craft a full bio, while older musicians may have too much! In this article, we will provide some general information on how to compose an appropriate classical music bio that can be used for applications, competitions, and programs.
Length of Bio
The length of the bio will vary based on the purpose of it. Students are commonly asked for bios that are 150, 200, or 300 words in length, although occasionally bios can be as long as 500 words. It is generally advisable to write a longer bio that you can then cut down into a shorter one. Most musicians have both a long and short version of their bio.
What Should Be in Your Bio?
The following are items that are typically included in a bio for a precollege classical musician:
- Your name
- Your instrument
- Your age or grade – you can include your age or grade while you are still a student. Don’t include your birthday.
- Length of study – you can include either how long you have studied your instrument or at what age you started.
- Your current teacher – include your current private teacher’s name. You can also cite your teacher’s affiliation, such as the program/university they work at or the orchestra they play in. Do not include your school teacher unless you work with them one-on-one.
- Music programs you participate in – list programs like CMPI and precollege programs.
- Scholarships and awards – list music-related awards and scholarships you have won. Don’t list academic scholarships unless they are relevant to your musical study.
- Competition prizes – list the competitions you have received awards/prizes in or have qualified for and competed in as a semifinalist or finalist. Do not list competitions that you entered but did not receive an award or qualify for. If you have a long list, only include the important ones.
- Performances – list important performances, including solo with orchestra, important recital appearances, important halls you have performed in, or similar types of performances. If you have a lot, don’t list every single one.
- Large ensembles you play in – list the ensembles you are currently in and special ensembles such as All State. You can list conductor names if they are well-known. You can also list named chairs (concertmaster, principal) that you received. If you have a long list, you don’t need to include every one. School ensembles are often omitted unless they are your only ensembles.
- Chamber groups you play in – list the chamber group(s) you currently play in, important performances, and awards. You can list your coach or other group members if they are well-known.
- Masterclasses you have performed in – list the names of masterclass clinicians you have played for. You don’t need to specify where the class took place or what you played.
- Summer programs you have attended – list the summer programs, festivals, and institutes you have attended. If you studied with an important teacher, gave important performances, or played under an important conductor, you can include that as well. Don’t list non-musical summer programs.
Other items you may want to include if space permits:
- Past teachers – you don’t have to list all of them but mention any important ones.
- Past music programs you have participated in
- Past ensembles or chamber groups – if you have a lot, you don’t need to list all of them.
- Academic school information – you can list your current academic school, but there is no need to list all of your previous schools.
- Other musical studies besides your primary instrument – list other instruments you play, other musical awards for other instruments, or theory/composition info. Don’t go into detail about other musical practices unless they are important to you. Keep it brief.
- Charity or service performances
- Hobbies or interests – briefly list other non-musical interests. Don’t list every single hobby or interest. Keep it brief.
- Non-musical awards or scholarships – briefly list other non-musical awards or accomplishments.
- Information about your instrument – if you have an instrument on loan or play a special instrument, list the maker or who loaned the instrument.
- Your musical goals or aspirations – you can briefly list your musical philosophy or future aspirations in one sentence, but do not write detailed information.
- A quote about your playing from a publication – you can list one or two brief reviews (one phrase or sentence only) of your playing if it has been reviewed by a publication. Do not include quotes about you from friends, family, or teachers.
In some cases, you may be required to include certain information in your bio. For example, if you receive a fellowship or scholarship from a program, they may require you to state this in a certain place in your bio. Similarly, if an organization has loaned you an instrument, you may be required to list this information in your bio.
Point of View
Bios should ALWAYS be written in third person unless you have specifically been asked otherwise. Bios should include pronouns like he, she, or they, and should not include I, we, or me.
People have short attention spans. Keep your paragraphs short, preferably only a few sentences each. Often, each category in your bio gets its own paragraph. The exception to this rule is when you have been asked to write a very short bio, in which case the entire bio is just one paragraph.
Bios tend to be dry by nature. If you feel comfortable, it is perfectly fine to spice up your bio with descriptive adjectives. Also try to vary the sentence structure. Try to avoid starting every sentence with your name or preferred pronoun.
No matter what, proofread your bio! Spelling, capitalization, and grammar matter and will make an impression on the reader. If English is not your first language or you are not comfortable with your writing, it is perfectly fine to ask for help proofreading your bio. Your teacher or your CMPI Student Navigator can assist with proofreading if needed.