Recently, I was thrilled to be invited for an audition and I wanted to write a few thoughts that I had along the way to offer some lessons. It's audition season so while this post may be a little late to help you in your journey this year, you'll have more information for next time. This post will serve more as suggestions for all auditioning musicians but an additional post will be intended for readers who want to have a career in performing.
There is one truth to be learned from taking auditions. Whether you’re auditioning for a prestigious international competition, competitive spot in a top performing ensemble, placement in a college program, or a seating audition for a school band, the best prepared musicians play better. (Quick aside - I say better to only offer the possibility that luck gets in the way a fraction of the time. This post offers suggestions to remove luck.)
I have heard musicians say “I played way worse than I ever have on the day of the audition.” Preparation can remove this because if you are prepared to play at your best on the first repetition of any piece in any situation, you will likely succeed. How you practice will directly affect how your audition goes. We all know that auditions are just a quick peek at your playing and sometimes, that can be unfair. We all have had the experience where we left an audition thinking, “I wish they could’ve heard me at my best.” If you only have a moment to show the committee or panel your best, you need to prepare in a way that will help you show your best right away and under pressure.
This preparation involves playing for others so you are less nervous when it’s time to play for the people that ‘count’. If the music has been recorded, listening can be an invaluable resource. Record yourself in your practice and compare with the recording while asking yourself, "What is different? What is the same? How can I change what I just did to match the recording?" It also involves practicing in a way that emphasizes perfect repetitions; practice makes permanent, not perfect.
Spend time focusing on the parts of the audition music that you are less consistent with or might not be able to play at all. Isolate the issue and begin stacking perfect repetitions. A perfect repetition might be playing the rhythm on one note with subdivisions at 25% of the goal tempo. A perfect repetition might be singing or playing two or three notes in tune out of time. Or perhaps, you need to say the note names out loud to make sure you know the passage! What is important is that you are reinforcing a positive, perfect idea for your brain to absorb. The musicians who are the best practicers are those who have the highest percent of perfect repetitions in their practice. I’ve found that my practice sessions each year involve less playing, more planning, and fewer repetitions. These tips will help you realize your potential on stage.
At the end of the day, it is important to fall in love with the process instead of the result. Your journey with music will be full of criticism and because of that, many musicians become angry or frustrated if their perceived purpose of music is to play perfectly for a single performance. I love music because I enjoy breaking down the aspects of performing and tackling issues head-on. I love the idea of getting better. The love of the journey focuses on the process of getting better, working each day to improve, and only uses the result as feedback along the way. Not only will this outlook allow you to have more joy and gratitude, it will likely help you improve and eventually get the result you want. Best of luck with any auditions and performances coming up! Let me know if you have questions.