Preparing For A Music Audition

Congratulations!  If you have decided to do some auditions and are reading this guide, you will be well prepared for success. Included is the best advice that I’ve got for helping you (or your child) pass your auditions, feel confident, look great, sound great, and achieve your true potential.

There are many reasons to take auditions. You might be auditioning to get a job or a gig. Or you might audition into a music college or conservatory program. Or a specialized high school or middle school like Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts, or the Juilliard Pre-College division. Or maybe its the band program at your high school or middle school. We routinely help students prepare for the auditions into these programs.

You might even take an audition to practice auditioning just so you can be more prepared for a more important audition.  The first step is to define your goal. What do you want to get from the audition?

  • Do you want to pass the audition?
  • Do you want to gain audition experience?
  • Do you want to meet new contacts?

Part 1. Planning for audition success

No matter your goals, the next step in achieving excellent results in your audition is to plan for success. And to properly plan you need information. Because knowledge is power.  Below are the questions that you should ask to better plan for your audition. These will help you be super prepared to achieve your best!

Research the answers to the questions below.  Some of this information may not be available a year in advance. At the very least, you will want to know the audition requirements and the audition date.

If this information is not published yet, look at prior year’s requirements and dates. Auditions usually follow the same formats and are held at similar times each year. You can plan for an estimated date.

365 Days before your audition – Gather essential information about the auditions

Audition Logistics
  • Date – What is the audition date?
  • Time – What is the audition time?
  • Location – What is the location of the audition?
  • Directions – What are the directions to the location? Be sure to check schedule changes, road construction and closures, and anything that might be out of the ordinary.
  • Travel Time – How long will it take to get to the audition? Be sure to include extra time for emergencies like rerouted trains, or traffic on the highway.
Audition Requirements
  • Required Music –  Is there a set piece required? Is there specific music that I must play?
  • Music Requirements –  If I choose my own music, are there specific requirements?
  • Memorization – Is the music required to be memorized for the audition?
  • Time Limit – How long will I have to perform?
  • Skills – Will I be required to demonstrate skills like playing scales or sight reading?
  • Resume – Is a resume required? How many copies should I bring?
  • Headshot – Are headshots required? How many copies should I bring?
  • Dress Code – Is there a specific dress code required?
Audition Equipment, Facilities and Resources
  • Backline – What gear will be provided, such as microphones, amplifiers, PA system?
  • Instruments – If you play an instrument that is not portable or able to be set up quickly such as piano, drums or organ, will an instrument be provided for you to use?
    • If so, will another instrument be available for warm up?
      • If so, how will you schedule rehearsal or warm up time?
  • Warm up space – Will there be space to warm up or rehearse before the audition?
    • How do I schedule space, if required?
  • Waiting Area – Where will I wait for the audition?  
Audition People
  • Auditors – Who are the auditors? Do you know their work, preferences or bias?
  • Accompanist – Will the organization provide an accompanist? Will you have the opportunity to rehearse with the accompanist if so?
  • Point of Contact – Who is the point of contact at the organization on audition day?
  • Check In – With whom should you check in? Where and when?

Audition knowledge is power

These are many questions.  You will do best to answer them all. The more information you have, the more prepared you can be.  And the more comfortable you will feel as a result. One of the leading causes of anxiety is the unknown. You can remove this anxiety simply by knowing more about the audition.

Create your audition timeline

Knowledge acquired. Now let’s plan!  The following audition plan is optimal.  Due to time constraints, you may have to make some changes as required to the deadlines.

However, for first time auditioners or for important auditions, try to take every step in this guide. And take them on the recommended timelines. This will give you the best chance for success.

Backwards planning

Take a backwards planning approach to auditions. Start with the audition day, and plan backwards to earlier events. This will help you pick an appropriate date to start your preparation. This is better than picking a random start date and cramming everything else in.

Students do not always know how much effort it takes to be completely prepared. Professional musicians will take 9-18 months learning a solo program, or more.  It’s not realistic to make significant gains is short periods of time.

Important Note!

We sometimes have parents or inexperienced musicians call and ask for help preparing for an audition 3 weeks away.  There are many things we can do to help you prepare in such a short time, but you should not expect any big improvements in this time frame.  In 3 weeks, we can work on presentation, presence, and some minor musical fixes. But very little musical progress can be made in such a short time.

For important auditions, you should expect to spend about a year preparing if you want a more positive outcome.

There is no substitute for preparation!

  • 0 days – Audition day
  • 1 day prior – Audition preparation, pack your bags
  • 7 days prior – Mock audition
  • 10 days prior – Finalize audition checklist
  • 14 days prior – Audition for another gig or do a practice audition
  • 60 days prior – Complete your application materials
  • 70 days prior – Test audition
  • 80 days prior – Develop audition answers, greetings
  • 90 days prior – Gather missing information
  • 90 days prior – Expressive performance, open mic, friends/family
  • 140 days prior – Developmental performance, open mic, friends/family
  • 180 days prior – Repertoire is memorized, fully learned
  • 240 days prior – Habits of movement, techniques are fully developed
  • 320 days prior – Repertoire selection, audition practice begins
  • 365 days prior – Gather information, define goals.

320 Days Before Your Audition – Choose the right music to play

Once you have completed your plan, you need to pick the right music. Consider your goals, skills, time and the audition requirements.

Be realistic about the music you play

Be realistic about the music that you will play at your auditions. Many inexperienced musicians will be tempted to play difficult music. They will be drawn to the hard stuff. This is not a good idea.  Your job on an audition is to play music well. Not to play hard music. Show off your best self, your most musical self.

I always enjoy concerts where the music sounds good. And I usually feel uncomfortable when a performer is struggling through challenging music. The audience feels these things. And a panel of professional musicians will absolutely feel these things. So if you are struggling, they will know.  

Choose music that you can play well

A less difficult piece of music played extremely well, is going to sound great. And that will go over well.

A more difficult piece of music that is played with errors, without musical expression, is not going to go over well. If you struggle with a piece of music technically, there won’t be any musical expression.

And so your auditors will not get to see your musical ability.  You’ll look like an unprepared technician. Not like an artistic, well prepared musician.  Which do you think will be better for you?

So choose music that is within your ability to do really well.  This is how you wow your audience. Do not compromise on this.

If you know who the auditors are, you may consider choosing music that would be exciting to them. But I would only recommend this if you can also satisfy your own needs. Don’t choose music that you cannot play well.

preparing for music auditionAudition Set Pieces

Some auditions will require you to play specific music. Auditions do this to make auditions more fair, and easier to judge. When everyone plays the same piece it is easier to evaluate everyone by the same criteria.

Auditors will know this music very well. So it is very important that you learn this music very well, too. Start early.  

Part 2. Preparing for audition success

Now that you have planned your goals, chosen you music, and put together your timeline from the backwards planning sheet above, you need to get to work practicing. You should have three practice goals for an audition.

  1. Learn the music.
  2. Practice the performance.  
  3. Practice the audition itself.

These are different types of practice.

We are going to briefly discuss general audition practice strategy, then work more on your timeline.

2a. Practicing the music

Take music lessons with a qualified music teacher

Find a qualified, trained music teacher to help you learn your music and technique properly. You can find more information on choosing a teacher in our popular guide on making music lessons a success.

Do this sooner rather than later.  Even if you are on a budget. If you cannot afford lessons for a long period of time, take your lessons soonest.  This way, the teacher can point you in the right direction. You will make the most progress over the next year this way.

If you have never taken music lessons, strongly consider it. If you try to learn on your own, you risk making many mistakes in your practice.  You can develop many bad habits. And you will have wasted time learning things incorrectly. And you will have to spend even more time unlearning those bad habits.  Even just a few lessons up front can help you avoid many mistakes and errors.

A qualified teacher will also be able to guide you in practice technique and habit. And they will be able to help you with your practice in many ways that a guide like this cannot do.

practice musicTwo types of music practice: putting things in and taking things out

Generally speaking, there are only two types of practice: encoding and retrieval. The first is where you are learning new things, and putting them into your brain. This is what we call ‘encoding’ in learning psychology.

The other is where you learn to take things out of your brain, as you would do when you perform. This is what learning psychologists call ‘retrieval’. 

Most musicians practice putting things in by doing lots of repetition.  But few practice taking things out, like you do when you perform.

To be successful, you will need to learn your music well (encode) and learn to perform it (retrieve).

240 days before your audition – Movements and technique are habitualized

Use the repetitive ‘putting things in’ practice to make all of the movements in your music habitual. Habits are formed through accurate repetitive music practice. They take weeks to months to develop.  

This means that you should be able to accurately execute and scale, arpeggio or other technique in your music without conscious control.

Achieve this about 8-9 months before your audition. It’s an important milestone. If you are worrying about your ability to make a movement during an audition, you won’t be able to concentrate on artistry or expression.

180 Days before the audition – Your music is memorized

Often I see young musicians trying to memorize their music immediately before an audition or performance. You don’t need the stress of having to do many things at once. If you are worrying about what notes to play, this can greatly damage your confidence in an audition.

Memories are formed through repeated experiences with the material. To successfully memorize your music, you should practice daily and do at least one review session at the end of each day.

Also be sure to get adequate sleep which will help you form long term memories.

Complete this about 6 months before your audition.

2b. Practice performing

140 days before the audition – Developmental Performance

Developmental performance is the ability to play music under technical control in a pressured situation like an audition or performance. The means that you can keep your hands, your voice, your body working they way it should in front of an audience.

You will not be able to play music expressively in an audition if you cannot play it under control. So you should work on playing your music under control a few months before your expressive performance deadline.

If you have already developed solid habits, and have had your repertoire memorized for 40 days, this goal should be easy to attain.

Set up a mini performance for yourself. Perform your music once for a real, or even imagined, audience. Here you get only one chance. This gives you the opportunity to practice ‘taking things out’.  Practice performing in this way until you can keep your hands under control and perform accurately on the first attempt.

90 days before the audition – Expressive Performance

Expressive performance depends upon Developmental Performance, which you should have achieved about two months prior. Once you have attained the ability to play under control, you should start practicing to include musical expression.

Expressive performance is the ability to play music with artistry in a pressured situation like an audition or a performance. This is a skill that can be developed.

You should be able to perform your music expressively for several months before you undertake an audition. Why? Imagine that you can perform your audition material securely, and with artistry three months in advance. How confident are you going to feel at your audition? Awesomely confident, you know it! 

Schedule preparatory auditions, mock auditions, and other performances to practice performing your audition material. We hold mock auditions at Sage Music for students who need them and ask to have them.

2b. Practicing the audition

90 Days Before the Audition – Gather the missing information

3 months before the audition, it is likely that any missing information has been published. Determine the point of contact, your rehearsal situation, who the adjudicators are, etc. With this information, your are going to develop your audition practice.

I’ve done a little bit of work creating promotional videos for performers. We will film a performance, and they sound great. Then we interview them on camera and its awkward, uncomfortable.   They have practiced the music so that they are comfortable with it. But they never practiced the speaking.

Even if you know your music inside and out, you might still feel uncomfortable if you have not practiced your introductions, greeting the adjudicators, and answering questions. You should be prepared to answer any difficult questions they might ask.

80 Days Before Your Audition – Develop answers to audition questions.

The adjudicators may ask you easy questions or no questions at all. Or they may ask  difficult questions like:

  • Why should we accept you into the program?
  • Why makes you a fit for this role?
  • From your resume I see that you don’t have any comparable roles, why should we consider you for this one?
  • What will you be able to add to our organization?

Using your knowledge of the auditors, the mission and values of the organization, and the position you are applying for come up with a good list of questions they might ask.

Write down these questions. Then write your answers. And then practice reciting your answers. Your confidence in answering will leave a positive impression.

70 Days Prior – Test Auditions

You should do some mock auditions to further prepare for the entire experience.  An audition is slightly different than a performance. Adjudicators may ask you about your resume, your experience, and about the music. It may be part interview, unlike a performance.

Often, auditions have more impact on your life than a performance. They will determine whether you get the job or admission.  This can add much pressure. Don’t avoid this reality. Prepare for it.

There is a saying in the Marines, “You fight like you train”. The same is true here, you will perform like you practice. Prepare for the toughest case, train for it. And you will succeed.

Ask your teacher, or some family and friends to play the role of the judges.  Have them ask you difficult questions before you play. Have them ask about your resume, your experience or lack of it.

After answering the hard questions, settle yourself and run through your pre performance routine. Then make an awesome performance!

This test audition is the most important one. And it is very important that you do it at least 10 weeks before the actual audition.

During this test audition you should:

  • Note any questions that were difficult to answer
  • Determine which musical passages are not secure
  • Find anything that felt uncomfortable
  • Learn if your technique or memory has any errors or gaps

Remember that it takes 3-5 weeks to form new habits.  So by doing this test audition 10 weeks away, you guarantee that you have enough time to form new habits if you need to do so.

It also guarantees that you will have another 5 weeks before the audition to become familiar and confident with the changes after they have been learned.

Don’t miss this deadline!

60 Days before your audition – Prepare Your Resume, Headshot and Application

Resume

I’ve read many resumes in my career.  Most resumes, especially in music, seem to make several errors, which I’d like to help you avoid.

  1. Create a unique resume and cover letter for each audition that you take. Tailor the resume to the audition and to your specific goals for the audition. That means you need to….  
  2. Stay on topic. If you are applying for a musical role, the organization is probably not interested in your summer camp counselor position. Put relevant work experience on your resume.
  3. How well do you do, not what you do.  It’s easy to list the things that you have done on a resume.  You should list your relevant work, but for a resume that stands out, qualify your work.

    Communicate about the professionalism and quality of your work. About how well you work with teams. About your level of preparedness. About how you went above and beyond. Employers, programs, and schools are likely more interested in how you work and the quality of your work than simply what you did.
  4. If you want to really stand out, communicate how your strengths can add the group you are auditioning for.  Show them exactly how you would be a fit, and a benefit. Show that you are interested in being a part of their organization.
Prepare Your Headshot

I’m not a photographer, and I don’t have much experience with headshots, or their effect on the audition process.  Just be sure that the headshot represents exactly who you are. Do not misrepresent yourself.

See this article for more on professional audition headshots, or here for more advice on how to get a perfect portrait.

Jason Sage

One of my headshots.

Prepare Your Application

Each organization may have its own application. Ensure that your answers are well thought, complete, clear, and honest. Avoid the temptation to give the ‘right’ answers. If you are not the right fit for an organization, you are not the right fit. This will set you up for failure, not success.

Part 3. The Audition Homestretch

At this point, you should be looking forward to your audition because you have done everything that you can to prepare. You don’t need to stress about practicing, because you have done the work. You can trust in the process. You’ve had several preparatory auditions, a few mock auditions, and months of practice behind you.  

You may feel excited about the upcoming audition, but don’t worry. A little excitement will help you perform better.  

10 days before the audition – Finalize Your Checklist

You should make sure that you have everything you need for a successful audition.  Think through all of the information and things you will need to have a successful audition, and to be comfortable.  Then create a checklist of all the things you will require.

Information Checklist

  • Audition Date
  • Audition Time
  • Audition Room
  • Warmup Rehearsal Room
  • Warmup Rehearsal Time
  • Printed Directions  (In case your GPS or phone doesn’t work, or batteries die)  
  • Point of Contact  
  • Questions and Answers of potential questions for review
  • Accompanist Name
  • Accompanist Contact

Gear Checklist

  • Instrument
  • Equipment:  Amps, effects, cables, endpin rests
  • Music Scores:  Your musical choices, set pieces
  • Music stand
  • Tuner
  • Repair Kit for minor instrument repairs
  • Extra supplies – Such as strings, reeds, valve oil, rosin, picks, rosin, peg compound
  • Cell Phone
  • Lunch
  • Snacks
  • Water
  • Activities (things to do to stay occupied during wait times)

Attire

  • Clean and press your clothes.
  • Shine your shoes
  • Raincoat, outerwear if required

Checklist Review

Go through your checklist and get the items that you do not have. It is important that you complete this at least 10 days in advance. This will give you the opportunity to purchase or gather missing items without being rushed or stressed.  

Once your checklist is complete and the required items are gathered, you are ready for your mock audition.

One week before the audition – Mock Audition

The purpose of this mock audition is to accomplish two essential things.  First, to provide you with the chance to rehearse your important audition. Second, is to ensure that you have not forgotten anything that you need. This is not the time to be making changes.  This is the time to get more comfortable with the changes you have already made.

Put on your audition clothes. Warm up. Keep in mind all of the questions you answered in your information gathering stage, and imagine yourself on audition day.  Imagine arriving to the venue.

Do everything as you will on audition day.

Have your teacher, friends, family pretend to be the jury.  Proceed with your mock audition.

1 Day Prior – Pre audition preparation

All you need to do today is ensure that your logistics are together for tomorrow. That and just a little light practice.  No need to push hard today, the work has already been done.

Light Practice

Visualize feeling your best and performing your best. Play through your music once or twice slowly. Then rest. No more practice is required.

Remember that musical skills are developed over weeks and months. Your audition is tomorrow, so there is not much more you can do.

Pack Your Bags

Using the checklist you packed the week before, pack your gear, instruments, equipment, and food/water.

Double check your list and your packing. Once you’ve cross checked your list, you are ready!

Go to bed early

Your sleep is important for your ability to concentrate and your general sense of well being.  These are both important for how you feel and how you will perform. It’s a good idea to get to be early, especially if the sense of excitement makes it harder to fall asleep.

Try not to dwell on the audition day as you go to sleep.  You’ve followed the guide, you are well prepared, and all will turn out the best it can be.

Part 4. Audition Day!

Rise and shine, it’s going to be a great day.  You are super prepared for your audition, and you are going to rock it.

Eat a normal breakfast, no need to change anything from your regular diet.  Many might advise that you eat a special breakfast, but I think this is a bad idea.  

You want your audition day to feel as normal and as regular as possible.  This is why we have developed a performance routine, just like basketball players use at the free throw line.  Things should feel consistent and routine.

There are certain diets that will help you maintain better concentration, performance, and health.  And I would encourage you to regularly adopt such a diet. But audition day is not the day to do that.

Leave extra early

No one wants to work with musicians who are late. And you surely don’t want to deal with the stress of being late.  So definitely don’t be late.

Based on your travel time, add an additional buffer in the case of traffic, train delays, auto accident.  Consider my tragic travel story…

I once was hired to perform a solo concert in Princeton. This was the opening concert of the Princeton Music Festival. It was a prestigious gig, and I was called to fill in by a much senior colleague who had to drop the gig at the last minute.

I was to perform 75 minutes of difficult Spanish repertoire, which is not my repertoire.  So I learned an entire solo program in 3 weeks, and was a nervous wreck about it. I wanted to ensure that I had an easy day, because it was such a stressful program.

It was an estimated 90 minute drive from my apartment in NYC to Princeton.  So I figured that I would leave at 11am, and arrive before 1pm. The concert began at 5pm.

This way, I would be able to leisurely warm up, get used to the concert hall, have lunch, and relax before this demanding program.

Well, that is what I had hoped.  The Verrazano bridge was blocked down to one lane.  And it took me more than 4 hours driving just to get into New Jersey.  My stress levels rose.

Then because it was close to evening, traffic got worse.  

Then I got to Princeton, New Jersey.

Then I got near the concert hall.

There was no street parking.

The garage was already full. 

So I had to park illegally.

It was now 4:58 p.m.

Show in 2 min.

$%@&!

I told the concert organizers that I would be there 1pm.  And they assumed I was. I literally walked into the concert hall through the audience as they were announcing my name and reading my bio.  

I unpacked my guitar on stage.  Did my pre performance routine. And I played.

It was not a bad concert, there were many congratulations after.  But I have to say that it was the worst feeling concert I ever played.  I didn’t feel relaxed until about 60 minutes into the program.

If I had done better preplanning, I would have taken another bridge.  Don’t be like me! Plan ahead to you can have a stress free day.

Your Mental State

What if things don’t go as planned for my audition?

As evidenced by my travel horror above, things don’t always go as planned. There is a saying in the Marines that deals with this “Plan for everything because nothing goes as planned.”  The military plans for all conceivable contingencies because the stakes are so high – a matter of staying alive.

Only you can decide how many contingencies to plan for. You should base this upon how important the audition is to you.

You could potentially plan for some very unlikely outcomes. And this can take a great deal of time. So I would suggest that you plan for likely problems such as a broken string, traffic, a delay in the audition schedule.

If the audition is very high stakes, such as for a job, then I would plan for more contingencies than less.  

But what about problems that you cannot fix?

Don’t worry about it.  You are well prepared, and it’s your performance that will show. You’ve done the work and you can still rock it, no matter what external things happen.  While I’m not religious, the opening of the Serenity prayer by Niebhur is a great way to look at things:

Grant me the grace to accept things I cannot change,  the courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.

What if there is no warm up room available on audition day? What if your accompanist fails to show up?  Or if the audition room is freezing cold? Accept the fact, and don’t let it stress you. Since you cannot change it, don’t waste your efforts.

Distractions

There can be many unwelcome distractions during your audition. It’s possible that an administrator enters to ask a question before you finish playing.  It’s possible that a judge stops you midway through a piece to ask you to change something, to see how you react to direction.

Don’t let these things shake you.  This ability to stay focused can be learned and trained.  Consider this quote from encyclopedia.com about Tiger Woods:

If one single secret to Tiger’s early success exists, it was mental toughness. Earl Woods tried to ensure that his son’s swing would not unravel during the pressure of competition. When Tiger practiced, Earl made it his mission to drive his son to distraction by jingling change, dropping golf bags, tearing open the Velcro his glove, anything to unnerve the young golfer. As Reilly reported, “What his dad tried to do, whenever possible, was cheat, distract, harass, and annoy him….Eventually, nothing the father did could make him flinch.

Be Positive

Keep a positive state of mind.  It can be easy to be critical of yourself and others. Don’t fall into the trap.  A positive attitude will keep you feeling your best, so that you can achieve your best.

The Audition

After all that prep work, this is now the easy part.  It’s time to get the audition done.

      1. Greet the adjudicators. Look them in the eye. Shake their hands. Show them respect.
      2. Connect with Adjudicators. Be courteous and interact with them.  You are more than just a musician. And the judges want to know who you are.  Relate to them. The more you can relate to the judges, the more they will like you.  And guess what? That helps your chances.
      3. Answer the adjudicators questions.
      4. Show time! Conduct your preperformance routine and then
      5. Give a great performance!
      6. Ask questions that show interest. Don’t just ask about pay. Or deadlines.  Ask questions that show you are really interested in the job or school. Ask “Will the production be moving on to Broadway after this off broadway run?”  “How are teachers assigned at school X, because I’d love to study with him or her?”
      7. Thank the Adjudicators. Make them feel good, because people want to work with those who make them feel good.  
      8. Be professional. You may get positive feedback, or you may get negative feedback.  Either way, maintain your standards, and act like a pro at all times.

The Wait

Now your audition is over. You just have to wait for the results.  No matter what those results are, if you have followed this guide, you will have grown as a person and a musician. And that is cause for celebration.

And if you have not put all your eggs in one basket, you will have undertaken many auditions for several schools or several gigs.  Your likelihood of success will be that much greater.

The Conclusion

Auditioning is often seen as an unfamiliar, strange, or even terrifying idea.  But an audition can be made to feel comfortable through proper preparation and practice.  Be sure to start early, about a year before your audition or audition season begins. And be sure to seek out the right help early on so that you can prepare the right way.  Remember: Set your goals, gather your information, do reverse planning, prepare, and perform with confidence. Go out and do it. I believe in you.

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