Everyone will have to take a job interview at some point in their lives, and musicians are no exceptions. For us though, our form of job interview is an audition in which we have to play our instruments and try to convince the hiring committee (or judges) to pick us for the opening. And much like a job interview, the committee has just a few minutes to make up their minds about us. And if you are a serious musician, you will have to take plenty of auditions. There are auditions for chair placement in your high school band, auditions for honors bands at the local, regional, and state levels, auditions for colleges, auditions for college ensemble placement, auditions for music teaching positions, and auditions for professional ensembles. Hopefully by that, you get the point that you will have to take a lot of auditions in your lifetime. This article will go over key aspects of what you need to focus on in order to really impress the judges and win the spot! Middle and high school honors bands will be the primary focus, but a short discussion on college auditions will be at the end.
First up are scales. If you are in middle school, you may use a scale sheet to play your scales, but in high school they must all be memorized. Judges will be listening for four areas: tone, intonation, articulation, and rhythm. To achieve a characteristic tone on any instrument, you must always use good breath support and keep a relaxed, open mouth cavity. Intonation is both playing the correct notes and playing every note in tune with the others. For articulation, the judges will decide whether each specific scale should be played slurred or articulated, so you should practice all of your scales in both styles. When you come into the audition room, there will be a piece of paper telling you how the judges want each scale to be articulated, so you must follow it exactly. And finally, rhythm is that you play each scale evenly and with the correct rhythms. Take note that you should also play the triplet eighth note arpeggios in the same tempo as the sixteenth note scale, and that you hold the half notes for their full value! As for tempo, it is always better to play the scales slower but correctly than play them too fast and miss a lot of notes. To make things a little more interesting in high school, you also have to play all of the scales in under two and a half minutes, so when you are practicing scales, it is best that you time yourself to make sure you fit everything in the limit.
Next, you will have to play a predetermined solo or selection of excerpts from pieces that the judges picked out. Again, judges will be listening for tone, intonation, articulation, rhythm, and your sense of phrasing. Just like with scales, you know what the solo will be, so you can practice it well in advance of the audition and make sure that you are playing all the right notes and rhythms in time with a good tone. Phrasing in the solo is important and shows that you both know how the piece should sound and that you have the technique to play it how it should sound. If you don’t know how the piece sounds, then all you have to do is whip out your smart phone or laptop and look it up on YouTube and at least one person will have posted a video of them playing it. There is no excuse nowadays to not know how a piece should sound. The last thing with the solo is that more than likely is that the judges will not have you play the whole solo. In the interest of time, they will pick a short section of it that you will have to play, and every person auditioning will play the same section. This still means you have to practice the whole piece because you never know which section they’re going to pick.
Finally, you will be asked to sight read a short excerpt from a random piece that you’ve never seen before. This is also the part of the audition that gives people the most trouble. After you’ve finished your scales and solo excerpt, there will be another face down piece of paper on the stand, and you will be asked to flip it over, take 30 seconds to look it over without making any sounds on your instrument, and then play it. The judges will be listening for the same things, tone, intonation, articulation, rhythm, and phrasing, but this time you won’t have seen the music before. During your 30 seconds to look it over, it’s very important to look at the key signature and time signature, any accidentals, and any rhythms that look tricky, or anything else that you know would be hard to play without any practice. Though you can’t make any sounds on your instrument, you can still silently finger those tough passages. And just as important, you should take the whole 30 seconds they give you. Your adrenaline will most likely be pumping, so the 30 seconds will probably seem like an eternity, but in actuality, it isn’t very long. The judges will announce when it is time to play. When it’s time to play, take a deep breath and try and relax, and while playing, don’t stop even if (or when) you make a mistake. No one is expected to play a piece perfectly when sight reading. Before the audition, there are ways you can help your sight reading, which include practicing scales (they’re what make up music entirely!), practicing all different rhythmic patterns, and most important, sight read something new every day. The best way to get better at doing something is just doing it over and over again.
And there you have it, the not so secret secrets to doing well in your honors band auditions in middle and high school. Practice a bunch at home and make everything sound as good as you can, and then when you get in the audition room, try and relax and play how you practiced. If you get really nervous during auditions, try eating a banana before you go in, as this helps calm your nerves. If you are put in a group warm up room before your audition time, the best thing to do is warm up comfortably and don’t overplay, and try not to compare yourself to others also playing around you. Everyone has experienced the one trumpet player playing really fast and really high, just trying to show off. It might seem daunting while listening to them, but chances are they tire themselves out before the audition and don’t win. And lastly, taking private lessons in middle and high school is almost a must if you really want to make a good chair in the honors bands. A good private teacher will help you make sure your scales and solo are sounding good and give you tips on how to improve your sight reading. Check out our other blog post on private lessons to learn more about them.
Above, we focused on middle and high school honors bands, but if you’re thinking of majoring in music in college, you’ll have to audition for the school in order to get into the program. From slightly embarrassing past experience, there are some important things to know about college auditions. The playing aspects are similar to honors band auditions in that you’ll have to play a solo or two, but you may or may not have to play scales as well. When looking into possible colleges, you will want to try and go take a lesson with the professor you will be studying with for the next hopefully four years to see if you like their teaching style. This is also a good time to find out exactly what they expect of you for the audition. Some colleges want you to play scales, some don’t, so it’s best to find out what they want. They will also want you to play a solo or etude and possibly excerpts from orchestra or band pieces. When the audition comes around, make sure you arrive with plenty of time to spare and know where to park, and unlike honors band auditions that are blind with the judges turned away from you, your future professor and other music professors will be facing and talking with you, so dress formally and be ready to answer questions like why you want to come to their school. Making a good first impression could be the difference between getting in or not or getting any amount of scholarship money.That does it for another blog post on auditioning! Just like a job interview, you have a very short time to display all of the hard work you put into your craft. Make it the best experience you can by using these tips and impress the judges. Practice what you need to beforehand, and when the audition rolls around, relax, play how you practice, and good luck!