I’ve auditioned for more things than I can even begin to count. I’ve gotten advice for music auditions from tons of sources before each performance. Most of the advice I’ve gotten was old and repetitive, and quite honestly, not that useful.
I wish I could remember where I heard any of these tips, but I can’t. They’ve accumulated in my brain over the years.
Some of these are the conventional tips that actually work, but mostly I’ve tried to stick with unconventional advice you can’t find other places.
Whether you have a music school audition coming up or your first local audition, these should help get you through it at your absolute best!
1. Wear Your Music Audition Clothes During Practice
This might seem obvious, but I’ve never heard of people actually doing this.
Practice the audition in the exact clothes you’re going to wear the day of the audition. This is mostly for people who have not done a lot of auditions, but it also applies to people who recently got a new suit for their college audition or whatever.
If you haven’t performed in those clothes a bunch of times, there is bound to be something unfamiliar that will happen. Trombone, Euphonium, and Tuba all require far more reaching around and extending than any other wind instrument.
Maybe the sleeves on your new shirt are a touch short and when you go out to sixth position, the cuff rides up your arm. It’s a sensation you don’t want to experience for the first time with the audition on the line.
Maybe the collar is a bit too tight and you experience awkwardness when you take deep breaths. Or your pants or belt are too tight, constricting your diaphragm. Or your tie drops in between your valves, so when you try to empty the spit, it goes all over the tie.
I’m not saying this happened to me, but…okay, that last one happened to me.
Look, 95% of the time, none of this is going to happen. And if it does, it won’t alter the audition in any way. But why take the risk? Find out if anything weird is going to happen ahead of time so that you can focus on the thing that matters most in the audition.
Fiddling with your clothes is a silly way to get distracted.
2. Try “Doubles”
I remember where I heard this one. It was during the Winter Olympics some year. My high school teacher was watching figure skating, and they had discussed that the Russians never seemed tired at the end of the performance.
Apparently, they practiced “double” routines. This could have been totally invented by my teacher or someone else, but it was a great idea. She told me to play the piece one time as well as I could, and then, immediately upon finishing, to start over.
The point is to treat that second time through, when you’re exhausted mentally and physically, as the real performance. You just never know what it will feel like on the day of the audition.
You might have had a grueling rehearsal the night before. You might be mentally exhausted from not sleeping. You might accidentally warm up and spot check some areas too many times. They might call you in early or late.
Trying a few “doubles” to see what it feels like to perform the piece under less than ideal conditions is one way to prepare for this.
Disclaimer: Do not injure yourself doing this. If you get to the end and just physically can’t do it, there’s no need to torture yourself with little to show for it. Even just getting through the first part is fine.
3. Record Yourself
This might be the most conventional advice on this list. But how many people actually do it?
As they say, the recorder doesn’t lie. Back in my day, I had a physical, triple-A battery powered recorder I had to buy. I carried it everywhere in my case. It was only recently that I got so annoyed at it jiggling around in there that I took it out.
No one has any excuse these days. Your phone probably has a tuner, metronome, and audio recorder on it.
Use these tools!
Most importantly, listen to yourself. The first time you do this, you’ll be very surprised. That high C that you thought sounded open and free is actually really pinched and tight.
That A major scale run in fast sixteenths sounds great to you when you play it, but in reality you consistently flub one of the notes, fake another, and do the first part faster than the second. It sounds terrible and uneven.
The recorder is a disturbing wake-up call for most people. The recorder is what the judge of the audition actually hears. You can keep deluding yourself, or you could do this simple thing to get an edge that almost no one else at the audition is doing.
4. Simulate Audition Nervousness
This one is going to sound crazy, but it might be the tip that has helped me the most over the years. If you get nervous, you need to simulate playing under those conditions.
But how are you going to give yourself shortness of breath and sweating and be a little shaky?
Easy. Put on a bunch of layers of clothes and then run up and down some stairs or do push ups. Get yourself breathing hard and sweaty somehow and then play the audition. This isn’t perfect, but it might give you an idea of some of the unexpected things that can occur.
Maybe that run near the beginning is usually super easy, but you ran out of air this time. Maybe it feels different to hold the instrument when the palm of your hand is sweating. You don’t want to be noticing these things for the first time at the audition, where it matters.
There isn’t too much you can do once you make these notes. You will likely settle in and be less nervous as the audition goes on, so if there are actually some early kinks, you’ll want to take an extra moment at the beginning to calm down.
If nervousness is going to be a serious issue for you, then you’ll want to learn some techniques for calming yourself. These will be different for everyone. I like to close my eyes, take a deep breath, and count to three.
Something as simple as that can be the difference between flubbing something in those first few bars and having the focus to nail it.
Disclaimer: I’m not a physician. Use common sense here. Don’t pass out from heat exhaustion. If you have health concerns about raising your heart rate, do not do this tip.
5. Perform the Piece as Many Times as Possible
I don’t mean scheduling a performance hall and charging money or anything. This will seem silly and awkward, especially if you don’t know a ton of people who would be interested in hearing you play. But it can also pay off to make the effort.
Perform the piece for a sibling, teacher, parent, relative, friend, whoever will listen. Pretend it’s a real performance, too. Don’t stop when you mess up and say, “Let me try that again.” Learning to perform through a mistake is vital for a successful audition.
The main purpose of this tip is to give you confidence. Nervousness tends to come from fear of the unknown. If you’ve performed the piece well a bunch of times already, there is less unknown. It’s just doing something you’ve done a bunch of times one more time. Nothing to be worried about.
Performances also tend to mature your understanding of the piece. It’s somehow different than doing a run-through during practice (even if you only do it for one person!). This maturing process can take time, but it can also make you stand out as giving your own unique interpretation of the piece.
6. If you play Euphonium, Stand for the Audition.
(Honestly, this is true for most instruments).
This is one of those things that never occurred to me as a young player. When I started playing, the instrument was basically bigger than me. Band teachers always teach euphonium players to sit while playing.
There’s nothing wrong with this.
As time goes by, it gets ingrained in your head that this is how things are done. You sit while practicing, while playing in band, while in your lesson, and every other imaginable situation.
If you’re preparing to audition for college, it’s possible you’ve never even considered standing. In this case, I strongly urge you to try it.
Professional players stand. I still remember my first lesson in college. My teacher asked if I sat. I said yes. He said that from then on I should practice while standing, because I would perform in seminar and my juries and any public solo performances while standing.
I think my first semester of lessons was done standing to help me get used to it, but maybe I’m not remembering correctly.
Why am I telling you this in a post on auditioning?
First off, the younger you are, the more this will set you apart. You will probably be the only euphonium player to stand for their audition for All-County or All-State at the high school level. This could be a huge edge in an otherwise similar set of candidates.
It will demonstrate that you play like a professional, and it will make you look more confident and prepared.
But the main reason to do it is that you will, without question, play the audition better. Standing opens up the diaphragm, so you can take deeper breaths and play with a richer, open tone.
Since you won’t be relying on the instrument resting against your body in a bunch of places, people who stand tend to exhibit less pressure against their face. This will result in easier playing high notes and passages that require flexibility.
It also frees your body to move with the music. This tends to result in more musicality in the lines.
I won’t go into the many other reasons to stand while playing. If these haven’t convinced you to do it for an audition, I’m not sure what will.
7. Learn Something About the Piece
I played Gordon Jacob’s Fantasia for my college auditions. When I went into those rooms, I couldn’t tell you the context for the piece at all. I didn’t know who Gordon Jacob was, when the piece was written, if it fit into a broader movement of composers, or even what the original instrumentation was.
It horrifies me to think back on my naivete. I probably thought the piece was for euphonium and piano or possibly euphonium and orchestra. There is no way I would have guessed it was originally for euphonium and band.
If you’re looking for unconventional tips on auditioning, then here’s one someone has probably never told you:
Find out as much as you can about the piece you are performing.
First off, knowing the context should inform how you play it from a stylistic standpoint. Baroque is different from romantic; American minimalism is different from British neo-classicalism.
So, knowing something is important if you want to play the piece properly. But the other reason is that you just never know when the auditioner will ask you a question. I’ve probably been asked a question in more than 50% of my auditions.
It’s only ever been about the piece once, but if you’ve done your research, you can always work some tidbit into an answer to a different question. Knowing about the piece shows you care.
I can only imagine what would have happened if I played a college audition, and then had someone on the panel ask me why I picked Jacob’s Fantasia.
Maybe I could have made something up, but mostly I would have looked like a fool that didn’t care about music enough to know the first thing about the piece he was playing.
If you are auditioning for things, then you presumably care about music. You probably love it. This means that learning about the music you play should be enjoyable as well.
Being able to talk about that joy, if it comes up at an audition, can be a huge leg up over the other people who merely played the piece their teacher set in front of them without once thinking about it.
If you have to play an orchestral excerpt, here’s my advice on those for trombone.
8. Be Polite to the Audition Judge
I know this sounds like common human decency. It sounds so obvious. Who is rude to their audition judge? That’s not quite what I’m talking about here. Let me explain.
Judges are people. People are biased. Going out of your way to be polite can bias a judge in your favor. This isn’t cheating; it’s common sense.
Many judges at lower age groups are doing this as volunteers or at such low pay that they may as well be volunteering.
Even for a college audition, an instrument professor isn’t paid extra to judge potential students. It’s sort of an unwritten assumed part of their salary, but they’re still coming in on a weekend.
It can be a straining time on everyone. Because all auditions are within a few weeks, that can mean several 7-day work weeks for them, possibly leading to a frustrated family at home.
What I’m trying to say is:
Thank the judges for their time for goodness sake.
And mean it. If they sense falseness when you do it, that can leave a bad last impression.
I’m pretty sure I went my whole life with no one explaining this to me. I almost certainly went to most auditions thinking I was the one spending my time for those people.
I was doing this awkward thing for their benefit. Can you imagine the horrifying sense of entitlement I had back then?
It makes me ill to think about.
Attitude changes can take a long time to sink in. So, if you aren’t 100% convinced that the judge is the one giving up their time for you, start this task early.
Remind yourself how grateful you are for the judge giving up their time to listen to you every single day until you actually believe it. Then you can genuinely thank them at the audition, and they’ll sense that you mean it.
9. Eat a Banana Before the Audition
Someone told me to do this before my first jury in college. I looked at them like they were crazy, but it worked!
You know all those things I listed in Tip 4? Those are caused by the body’s fight-or-flight response. Beta blockers are a class of medicine developed in the 60’s to block the body’s natural fight-or-flight response.
Now, you don’t have to go so extreme as to get a prescription medication. There are lots of foods that contain beta blockers. Bananas and oranges both are said to be effective.
Whether this is true or not almost doesn’t matter. If you try this and it works for you, who cares if its a placebo effect?
In general, you should think carefully about food and drink before an audition. It should be as normal as possible, and shouldn’t be anything that will cause lasting effects in your throat (I avoid dairy, but everyone is different).
You don’t want to drink a bunch of coffee to increase your mental awareness if you aren’t used to it. Caffeine will make you jittery and worsen any anxiety you already have. You also might have to pee during the performance.
But the reverse is also true. Don’t skip coffee that morning if you’ve had it every morning for five years. That might cause unnecessary fatigue and possibly a withdrawal headache.
So if you’re going to try anything new, like eating a banana, make sure to try it before a practice session first. Otherwise, stick to things your body is used to.
10. Pack Everything the Day Before
Your mind could be a million places on the day of the audition. You do not want to trust yourself to remember everything in the pressure of the morning.
Do you need to switch your mouthpiece from one case to another? Is your valve oil on your desk and not in your case? Is your music on the stand and not in the folder? Do you need to bring a resume or an extra copy of the music for the judges?
On and on it goes.
It’s good to even have a physical checklist on paper made ahead of time. This way you can literally check things off that you need to bring and not rely on memory or intuition.
The only thing worse than getting frazzled and frustrated during the packing process is to actually forget something.
The whole point of this list is to be prepared, and improvising with something you forgot is the opposite of being prepared. Pack everything the day before with a checklist. You won’t forget anything, and you’ll be far calmer to focus on the audition.