It’s that time of year when high school seniors all over the country spend the better part of 6 weeks flying all over the place to audition for college music schools. It’s incredibly exciting but also nerve racking for those seniors. And for good reason! There is a lot riding on it! I’ve helped numerous high school seniors get ready for these auditions and (while an increasingly long time ago) I remember fondly the experience myself. Here is some of my best advice and tips for those about to embark on this journey.
- Don’t worry about anyone but yourself.
This is much easier said than done. However, you can’t control who shows up to the audition, how good they are, when they play, or how well they play. All you have control over is how well YOU play. For those who are not as familiar with an audition where tons of people are showing up, it can be incredibly intimidating. Everyone around you seems to sound awesome and it can feel like they hear every mistake you make in your warm up. Here’s the thing, everyone feels this way. Everyone is nervous and insecure. It’s in your best interest to just ignore all of that noise and concentrate on you. Do what you need to do to sound your best and forget about what everyone else is doing.
- Carry all “must have” essentials on the airplane.
This is especially important for percussionists. You can take the audition without a snare drum stand, but you can’t take it without the snare drum. Carry the snare drum on. While I suggest bringing a snare drum stand so you won’t have to worry about finding one there, the school will understand if your bag is lost. You also can take the audition without your dress clothes, but you can’t take it without your sticks. Again, the school will understand casual attire in that scenario but if you don’t have snare drum sticks it’s going to be hard to sound your best. In that last week before you leave, plan out exactly how you will pack and travel.
- Make a binder with copies of the music you have prepared with a coversheet listing it.
This is something very small you can do to look very professional. Think about it from the professor’s point of view. They are listening to tons of people that day and they won’t remember what you tell them you have prepared. A simple binder with clean copies of all the music makes it so much easier for them.
- Dress nice, but not too nice.
You want to look professional but there is no need for a suit and certainly not a tux! (I’ve heard stories) Some nice pants and a sweater should do the trick. You need to be comfortable so wear something that you can comfortably play in. In the week or two leading up to the audition take mock auditions wearing the same outfit so you know you will feel comfortable.
- Remember you are auditioning the school as well.
Yes the school is trying to choose who should get in but you also have to decide if you want to go there. If your experience with the professor and the school is negative, maybe what you thought was a good option, isn’t. The school makes the first decision (who gets in) but you make the final decision (where to go). Don’t forget that in the audition. You need to be taking mental notes on whether it is the right fit for you.
- Play plenty of mock auditions before taking that first audition.
Experience is the best way to cure nerves. Many high schoolers have never been in that sort of high pressure situation. Pressure and nerves aren’t the worst thing in the world. They can actually help you focus and play better. But that only happens if you know how to channel them into positive energy. Try to replicate as much of the conditions you will be under in the actual audition. Play for people you don’t study with to recreate the scenario at the audition. Play mock auditions at the same time of day you will be playing at the audition. This is especially important for those traveling west to east and might have to play at what feels like a very early hour. By recreating these conditions multiple times (like a lot) you will become more comfortable with executing your game plan when it matters.
- In the actual audition, if something goes wrong, move on as quickly as possible.
There will be days or times that your playing just isn’t feeling comfortable. Sadly, this is life and you have to do the best with what you have that day. If something doesn’t go as well as you had hoped in the audition, move on mentally as quickly as possible. The only thing you can control is how well you play the next thing. What is in the past is in the past.
- If you play something and you know with 100% certainly you can do it better, ask to play it again.
You only get one of these requests an audition but you can make it. Mistakes happen and showing the committee that you know something wasn’t great, you can correct it, and then doing it immediately can actually be impressive. This should not be frequent though. Only ask to play something again if you know it was a fluke and are certain you will nail it the second time.
- Take care of your body.
At this point in the preparation another run through and an extra hour of practice probably isn’t going to make a huge difference. However, an extra hour of sleep and a good diet WILL make a big difference. Think of yourself as an athlete now and it’s time to put your body in the best position to perform. This may be a new concept to some but trust me, in those last few days getting good sleep and eating good foods will help you play better more than living in the practice room.
- Check out the rest of the school. Talk to current students.
The most important thing you can learn at this audition is how you interact with the professor and their teaching style, but next is what you think of the overall school and the studio vibe. You will be potentially be spending a TON of time with these people and in this environment. You better be sure it’s one you want to be in.
Good luck to all of those seniors taking these auditions. It’s an exciting time! I look back on my experiences very fondly even though I was very nervous. Try to enjoy the ride and feel good about all the work that led up to this point. Multiple teachers have told me that it’s about the journey not the arrival and it’s so true. Your improvement came from the months and months of work, not the one day at the audition. And of course once it’s over, spend a day or two on the couch and put the sticks away!!!
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