How to Have a Successful Performance Audition
What is an audition?
An audition is a kind of trial performance in which a musician demonstrates his or her skill. Auditions are required by almost all music departments and schools in the United States as a means to evaluate the prospective student's potential to succeed as a music major in that school's music programs. Auditions are generally 10 to 15 minutes long, and consist of the performance of certain required repertoire (published by the school in its application materials). Many schools also test the applicant's technical ability with scales and arpeggii (among other things), and may also require a bit of sight reading. Requirements vary from school to school and from instrument to instrument.
Who will hear my audition?
The composition of the audition committee varies from school to school. Most are made up of two or three faculty members, sometimes representing more than the applicant's performance discipline. At Brevard College, for instance, an auditionee on piano might be heard by the piano professor, the clarinet professor, and the guitar professor. This in no way sabotages the proper evaluation of the applicant's pianism or musicality. In fact, it strengthens the likelihood that he or she will be more fairly evaluated on the question of potential success in all aspects of the Brevard College educational experience.
Auditions are usually closed to the public, which means that only the auditionee is welcome to be in the audition room with the committee during the audition. One of the most important reasons for this is the evaluation of the confidence and maturity of the applicant, a major indicator of potential success in college.
Is the committee out to get me?
No! The committee is interested in you and your success. Audition committees are generally friendly, helpful, and truly concerned with creating an environment that will enable the auditionee to do his or her best. They may ask searching questions about your education (musical or otherwise) and personal interests, but these are all with the view of getting to know you and your potential as well as possible in the short time allowed for the audition. Fifteen minutes is generally enough time for this, although sometimes the committee might have to interrupt your performance and ask you to move on to another movement or piece.
Committee members are human, too. They may be under the weather or experiencing distressing circumstances, etc. But all committee members are under the obligation to behave professionally, which is to say politely and fairly, in an audition.
It's important not to base your evaluation of the audition on your perception of the committee's reaction. An acceptable audition may produce a friendly smile or not, as might an unacceptable audition. Remember that you are never accepted or rejected until you receive formal notification from the institution.
Where and when will my audition be?
Auditions take place in a variety of settings: performance halls, teaching studios, classrooms of all shapes and sizes. The committee takes the venue (and the quality of the piano, if used) into account when assessing the audition. There is not much you can do to prepare for the vast range of different audition spaces at different schools.
The procedure for arranging an audition date and time should be clearly published by each school in its application information.
How important is the audition and what is the committee looking for?
The audition is vital to your admittance as a music major. It is possible to be admitted to an institution as a general student but not be admitted to its music degree programs. It is imperative, therefore, that the audition be taken seriously and prepared for in the best possible way.
The committee is not looking for perfection. It is looking for good technical and musical ability (as defined in the minds and general standards of the faculty at that institution), responsiveness to teaching, thoroughness of preparation, and a mature attitude and commitment to music study. Auditionees are not rejected because of one or two memory slips or a few wrong notes, unless these indicate a lack of serious preparation and ability. There is nothing you can do to manufacture what the committee wants to see if you don't possess it already. You are responsible only for doing your best; the rest will be seen by the committee, because of their experience as teachers.
How shall I prepare for the audition?
- Make sure to follow the school's repertoire guidelines in choosing what pieces/technical exercises to prepare. If you are not sure, always call and ask.
- Arrange an audition as soon as possible with the procedure prescribed by the institution. Take the initiative!
- Your repertoire should be performance- ready at least two weeks before the audition. If the school requires pieces to be memorized, make sure they are, and that you can start at the major sections when asked. It is a good idea to perform for family and friends (or anyone who makes you "nervous") before the audition so you can work the bugs out of your performance.
- It is a good idea to contact the teachers you want to study with at each institution, if you know who they are, to make sure that they will be able to hear you and to offer any extra information they might find useful.
- Be sure to find out about practice facilities and procedure for the audition/campus visit before you arrive at the school. This includes finding out how you will be notified of the results of the audition.
At the audition:
- Make sure to warm up thoroughly (but don't over-practice!) before the audition.
- Wear suitable clothing. This needn't be terribly formal, but how you dress is a sign of respect for the committee and an indication that you take the audition seriously, like a job interview. Make sure, however, that your clothes are comfortable and do not restrict your physical or emotional performance.
- The committee is in control of the audition; your job is to be polite and obliging and honest, trying to do your best. Most committees will allow you to begin with the piece of your choice, but this may not always be the case.
- You may ask questions if the committee has time at the end of the audition, but don't be offended if you do not get this opportunity. Time is limited and most committees need to hear many people. You can always contact the professor with whom you would like to study (or a member of the audition committee) after the auditions have finished.
- Remember that the only thing you are responsible for is that you do your best!
What if I don't get in?
An audition's success or failure is solely dependent on whether or not you are able to present yourself honestly and at your best. Remember that the purpose of an audition is to determine the probability of success in any given institution's music degree programs. Many times an institution will find that an applicant might not be suited for its performance degree, for example, but is exactly suited for the music education major. This should not be taken personally as a rebuff, but as an evaluation of your ability to succeed as a music major at that institution. Other institutions may have different ideas, especially if you gave them a better audition! But an audition at which you performed your best and did not pass for whatever reasons is still a successful audition: the committee was able to find out what it needed to know in order to best advise you in your musical studies.
It is always possible that you might receive a letter denying you admittance to any music degree program. As painful as this is for all concerned (no audition committee ever takes pleasure in rejecting people), you should understand that it is better to find out your prospects at once and be glad for the saving of wasted time and the more intensely painful feelings of failure to complete a degree. And in truth this does not shut you out of music at all! There are many opportunities for music study in college outside degree programs, and there may be ways to a career in the many facets of music without a formal degree at all. You are limited only by your imagination and work ethic.