For several years I’ve given audition workshops aimed at high school and college students, and it’s finally dawned on me to share my accrued wisdom on the topic. Here are some helpful tips for auditioning – be it for a college, a youth orchestra, a school program, or even a professional job – that may be of interest.
Before launching into the laundry list, I’ll give my most important piece of advice: Do not let the results of a single audition affect your self confidence or self worth! Remember that the judges are on your side – they want to fill their studios/programs/orchestras/bands with talented members, and they are hoping that you will be an excellent fit. They are not out to exclude you – they want you to succeed. Perform for them and they will be pleased.
What we’re listening for
- A musical introduction. These should be fluent and accurate.
- Aim for evenness of tone and accuracy of intonation.
- Sometimes specific instructions on scale patterns/articulations will be included. Pay close attention to these.
- Carefully consider tempo/metronome indications and dynamics.
- Listen to several recordings of each piece.
- Try to imagine the rest of the orchestra as you play your part.
Solos (Concerti, etc.)
- Choose your repertoire wisely. I would much rather hear you play a piece you are very comfortable with at the height of your abilities rather than a piece that is too hard, or that you just began work on, played poorly.
- Choose a work that has contrasting sections, or prepare a pair of excerpts that show fast technical work as well as lyrical musicality.
Don’t freak out, just prioritize:
- 1. Pulse: if you make a mistake, don’t interrupt the pulse of the music – keep going so that the meter retains its shape. Pulse is like a conveyor belt that doesn’t stop.
- 2. Rhythm: even if the notes are giving you a problem, try to perform the rhythms accurately.
- 3. Pitch: the notes themselves come next. Make sure you’ve memorized the key signature before you begin.
- 4. Musicality: niceties of dynamics, articulation, and phrasing
Note that I’m not including tempo on this list of priorities. In most cases, it is not important that you play the sightreading at the marked tempo, though that would surely be a bonus. Judges would much rather hear an accurate rendition at a slower tempo than an inaccurate one at a faster tempo.
If you are allowed to choose your own tempo, read through the excerpt first and identify the fastest rhythms/trickiest passages. Determine a tempo at which you could comfortably play these sections and then imagine the music from the beginning with that tempo in mind.
Preparing for your audition
- Seek advice and assistance from your teachers/mentors
- Try to mimic the audition scenario. If you know what the audition room looks like, spend time visualizing it and imagining your audition in that space.
- Mark your scores clearly for the accompanist (esp. singers) and judges.
- The three electronic aids you should use in preparing for an audition (or for practicing more generally): metronome, tuner, recording device. These are all available on your smartphone.
On the day of your audition
- Arrive early. Especially if you’re traveling for a college audition, plan for navigating a new city/mode of transportation; traffic; parking; walking from your car/train; navigating the campus/building; check-in; warm-up time; rest.
- Dress appropriately, neither overly formal nor underdressed.
- Make sure you can play in what you’re wearing
- It never hurts to add a unique, but non-distracting touch to your wardrobe.
- Go with the flow; schedules often run late.
- Tune directly before entering the room.
- Introduce yourself and your selections.
- Be polite, but not familiar with the judges.
- Have a positive attitude – perform!
- Be prepared to be cut off, and do not let this effect your performance. Often this is just for time’s sake, to remain on schedule or get caught up.
After the audition
- I repeat: do not let the results of a single audition affect your self-confidence or self-worth!
- Some auditions will offer you feedback. If this is offered, use it as a valuable opportunity.