Does this word scream “opportunity” to you? Or does it signify a time of fear and a few moments of sheer terror? Does the word excite you or make you sweat?
If you have ever prepared for an audition for anything, you know how terrifying it can be. Whether it’s for a chair audition in your school band or orchestra, or a higher stakes audition to get into a certain college or to advance in a competition, or even make it into a symphony orchestra, auditions are a big deal.
The good news is that auditions don’t have to be scary! In fact, with the right preparation, they can be a satisfying experience, even if you don’t make it to the number one spot.
The more experience you have doing something, the more comfortable you tend to be with the process. It is important that if you want to have successful auditions that you reflect on every audition and recall as much as you can. This is often difficult to do because we tend to audition as a bundle of nerves, often not remembering anything but a blur of playing something that you have practiced either not enough or way too much.
It is most important to remember your process of preparation, and then based on your audition results, decide whether or not your preparation was adequate. I honestly cannot remember how I performed within an audition for a majority of my auditions, but there are some that stand out to me as memorable auditions, even if I didn’t make it.
I clearly remember my very best audition: I knew my music well, I wasn’t worried about the sight-reading and I had a general attitude of “whatever.” I honestly felt like it was no big deal. Experience was on my side as I went in for the 8th audition for the Alabama Wind Ensemble and played with absolute control over my mind and body and nailed that audition. I learned a lot that day and had more auditions like it after I realized from my experience that there was just no need to sweat the audition.
In contrast, one of my “failed” auditions was for an orchestra position. The orchestra was over two hours’ drive from home, but I wanted the audition experience at least. I remember botching that audition in a really dumb way. I knew at the very moment of that mistake that I was finished. Live and learn. I was still satisfied that I’d taken the opportunity to try and happily applauded the winner of the audition that day.
Experience is best gained from an active band or orchestra program that holds auditions on a regular basis (at least once or twice yearly), local honor bands and orchestras, All-State bands and orchestras, and other opportunities that may be available. If you are an aspiring musician, you should seek out as many opportunities as you can.
One of my private clarinet students is a go-getter. She comes to me with requests to work on music for an audition for an upcoming event, and as soon is that one is in progress, she is already preparing for another audition. Often times, she is working on several auditions at once! She does not let an opportunity pass her up! No doubt, she will be successful in her pursuit of music, as she has already proven.
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If you already have good practice habits, this part is not as difficult. If you do not have a solid practice routine, you are not as likely to be well-prepared for an audition.
Organize your time and your sessions. Plan everything!
After a good long-tone warmup and your scale and technique studies, spend some time with the audition music. Thinking you won’t have time to get the music learned if you don’t spend more time on it and less time on scales and technique is the wrong approach! You must focus your main energy into fundamentals. Two-thirds to three-quarters of your practice time should be spent on these fundamentals if you are in middle school or high school, and less so when you have all your scales and related technical exercises down (in college it was and now, it is often half of my practice time). Of course, you can make these scales musical and expressive to work on those aspects of music!
Examine the details of the music. Whether it is short or long, be sure you understand every marking and every term on the page. Whatever you do, don’t neglect a single marking on the page! Make absolute sure that you don’t miss any notes in the key signature, and that every rhythm is clearly understood.
Listen to a professional playing the audition music if at all possible. If the music is an excerpt from a larger work, listen to the whole thing. If it is an orchestral excerpt, listen to the full orchestral piece. With today’s technology, there is virtually no excuse for not doing this (pardon the pun).
After the initial study, give it a read, then carefully analyze your read-through. Immediately go back to the places that challenged you and work on that first. Work out little details, then build up to the big picture.
The little details are what will make or break you in the audition. Every nuance must be meaningful and well-executed. This is why it is so important to have a thorough understanding of the music. Once you have tackled all the details, you must be sure you are thinking musically and artistically as well as analytically.
Practicing with a metronome will help you work the rhythm. It is helpful if you use an electronic one with an accent beat for count one to double check yourself.
I could say this a million times: RECORD YOURSELF.
I’m past having a private teacher to tell me what I need to fix. I am my own teacher. When you practice, you are your own teacher. It is difficult to hear everything you are doing from the playing perspective. Be the audience of yourself. Smartphones usually have a pretty decent recording app (the voice recorder) that does just fine for practice time recording and immediate playback. I will delete the files I don’t need and keep some for the next practice session.
5 or 6 days before the audition, play your audition for a friend or a family member. Instruct them not to speak, but just to sit and listen. This process is helpful, as you are more likely to expose your weaknesses at this point. Now you know what you need to work on for the final days of preparation.
I could go on and on about good practice habits, but I won’t because that information is already on the Practice Tips page.
Sight Reading is another aspect of practice you should not neglect.
Visit my Practice Tips page for more information on sight reading.
Beyond the practice room
Take care of yourself! A few days before the audition, pay better attention to your sleeping and eating habits. Stress causes us to do dumb things.
Get plenty of sleep.
Drink lots of water. More than you think you need.
Exercise: it keeps you healthy physically and mentally! Stress can be managed well with daily exercise (sorry if I sound cliché).
Eat healthy foods and avoid foods that are fatty and/or high in sugars. You may be surprised at how much better your focus is and how much higher your energy level is by eating right.
The day before the audition
There is not much else you can do at this point. No need to freak out or stress over what you have done–unless you did nothing to prepare, which would be your worst mistake ever (or just a really embarrassing one).
Stress practice–don’t give in to this! Do not over-practice. A marathon practice session the day before is not going to fix anything. It will likely do more harm than good. Practice no more than usual.
Do not play through the audition material over and over and over, expecting that it will make you feel better about things. It will not.
MENTAL preparation is the most important now. Think through your music. You will likely make fewer mistakes in your head.
Slowly and calmly go over the spots that are most challenging. Play through the audition material once, maybe twice, or not at all. Be done. All that is going to be fixed is fixed at this point. It is what it is. Go to bed.
The day of the audition
Eat breakfast! A balanced one without too much sugar or caffeine would be a good choice. Bananas are known for being “beta blockers” and supposedly help in controlling your nervousness. Personally, I’ve never noticed a difference if I eat them or not.
The day you have anticipated. It’s here. Your turn is soon. Very soon. The next phase of your life depends on this moment you are about to embark upon.
The hours of practice you have spent are about to be tested by a judge will decide your true fate based on those few short minutes you will have to display your best performance.
Everything you have done to prepare must fall into place at this time.
Is your mind racing about uncontrollably? Or are you calm and collected?
During your warm up, you should spend no more time than necessary to get your face and fingers under control. I recommend about 15 minutes. The last thing you want is an embouchure failure in the audition–then all that work is for naught.
Avoid warming up on the audition material!
Air-play through once just to get focused, then be done.
Breathe deeply and calmly. You can control your nerves by focusing on slow deep breathing. In through the nose and out through the mouth. SLOWLY.
Now, go do this thing!
You have just performed a really short performance all alone and got an evaluation.
You can only perform as well as you have prepared to perform.
What you find out from this audition is how you stack up against others who have auditioned on this particular occasion. Chances are, the outcome would be different if you auditioned again tomorrow–same audition, same competition.
You didn’t make it.
This does not equal failure!!! You have learned much in this process and gained experience.
It could be that you just didn’t have a good day.
Sometimes the pieces don’t all come together, despite your best efforts.
Sometimes other people just have a better day than you.
Then again, maybe you just have a lot more practicing to do.
YOU MADE IT!
If you did have a successful audition, did you achieve your goal? Did you make the position you were aiming for?
It’s a great feeling to meet that long-prepared for goal.
If you fell short and didn’t get as high of a chair position as you’d hoped for, you still made it. Don’t be down on yourself!
Use this experience next time you audition. You did something right. A lot of somethings.
Auditions do not have to be a frightening thing.
I haven’t made every audition I attempted or achieved the highest chair position every time, but it never stopped me from trying again. If anything, it drove me to work even harder. Every time I auditioned, I got better and more confident. Understanding the process makes all the difference. Understand that the best you can do is only what you are capable of doing. You cannot control the other talent that shows up for the same audition. Be satisfied in knowing that, but never settle. After all is said and done, there is another audition around the corner.
In the meantime, practice with patience and perseverance!
I’d love to hear from you. Leave me a comment or question below. Tell me about your last audition, share a funny story, or ask for more information. I’m game!