Top 10 Non-Musical Things You Can Do To Increase Success at Auditions

We spend thousands of hours practicing for that one big moment. You would hate for your performance to suffer because of something completely unrelated to music or your preparation. Here are some of my most important non-musical suggestions for how to put yourself in the best possible position to play well!


  1. Take care of your body

Plenty of people scoff at the idea that an audition is similar to training for the Olympics but I believe it is incredibly similar. We are asking our bodies to perform at insanely high levels. The last thing you would want is to play poorly because you didn’t get a good night’s sleep.

  1. Eat well but don’t change your diet

Along the same lines of taking care of your body, make sure you are eating good foods. Everyone’s body is different so I won’t try to tell you what you need for your body, but make sure it is good quality foods and you have eaten enough. Your body is going to need that fuel to help you rock out! Having said that though, don’t drastically change your diet a few days before the audition. Your body will react and wonder what the heck is going on? I would even bring food with me because I know the hotel would not have good options for me. I don’t eat a lot of carbs and ALL hotel breakfasts are mostly carbs. So, I would just bring food with me that I was used to and warm it up in a microwave.

  1. Don’t skimp on the hotel room

You have spent thousands of dollars on instruments, gear, lessons, and who knows what else. Penny pinching for a $75 room that is 8 miles away and has a crappy mattress just doesn’t make sense to me. Really? Right now is when you are going to try to save $75? Spend the $150 a night to sleep in a place you know will have a nice room, mattress, and will help you relax.

  1. Fly in the day before

Similar to not penny pinching on the hotel room. Don’t risk not being there in time by flying in on a 5:00 am flight. Your body will be tired (See #1) and you risk missing your time.

  1. Get to know your brain and what it needs to put yourself in a position to play well

Do you need to get amped up to focus and play well? Or do you need to stay calm and relaxed? If you need to get amped up, then don’t sit around all day. Be active and go for a walk or do a light workout. If you need to stay calm, then listen to relaxing music or read a book (that has nothing to do with music). If you find that you are worn out by the end of the day then make sure you pace yourself and find ways to rest.

  1. Wake up at the same time you will at the audition the week before

If you live on the West Coast and are flying to the East Coast, go ahead and make the time change a week early. You would rather be groggy for a few days the week before than the day of. Again, take care of your body.

  1. When traveling make sure all bags have wheels

Don’t carry anything. I mean anything! I don’t care how in shape you are, the airport takes it out of you and you want all your muscles to be in top form. If you have tons of gear to bring, make sure you have a cart or something you can wheel it around in so you aren’t carrying a 30 lbs bag across 2 terminals.

  1. Have warm-ups timed out

What is your plan if all of the sudden they say “Ok, you are playing in 15 minutes.” You better have a 15 minute warm up ready. Sure you probably want more time, but have a 10, 15, 20, and 30 minute warm up routine ready to go in case you have less time than you wish you did.

  1. Have soft hands

Studies have shown that in pressure situations your perception of how much your are gripping something (a stick, a bow, etc…) changes. What may feel to you like a 5 out of 10, may be more like a 7. Trust that your hands will hold on to the stick and relax. Know that what you are feeling is probably more tense than you think it is.

  1. Ask yourself positive questions

This is a huge one!!! This does 2 things. It keeps your brain focused on positive thoughts. Negative thoughts do not help at the audition. By asking a question, it also stimulates your brain to come up with a positive response, which in turn keeps you focused on what is important! Something like “What is the main musical element I am trying to convey to the committee?” is a very constructive, positive question.


How to Travel to an Audition: What to bring and how to get it there

For percussionists, traveling to auditions can be more challenging than playing the audition. We have to get ourselves, as well as a shopping cart full of gear to the audition, that could be halfway around the world. We are not the only ones that have this issue. I have helped tuba players and bass players get to the airport with their over-sized cargo in my truck. We may have it bad but at least our equipment can break down into small pieces. They have to beg and bribe their way onto airplanes!

To start with let’s ask ourselves what we need to take to the audition. I always start with this because first and foremost I want to sound my best. If that means overcoming some logistical issues, that’s fine, but I can’t sound great if I don’t have the right stuff. I go instrument to instrument and make my decisions based on the rep I must prepare.

What to bring

Snare Drum

Let’s start with snare drum as it is one of the largest instruments we might bring. I own about 10 snare drums and use 5 with the orchestra on a regular basis. So obviously this is not possible at an audition. But is also isn’t necessary. In the audition you aren’t competing with 100 other musicians. So your sound needs are different. I typically bring 2 drums to an audition. Those 2 drums may vary based on the repertoire. I either bring a piccolo drum like my Grover KeeGee drum and a 4″ Symphonic drum or I bring that same 4″ Symphonic drum and a 5″ Symphonic drum. I always bring that 4″ because it is what I use for most of the repertoire at an audition. It covers a wide dynamic range and is great for etudes. If the list has a lot of extremely soft passages, I will also bring the piccolo drum. If the list is really heavy on the loud repertoire, I will bring the 5″. Now for a lot of you, your first drum was a 6.5″. Mine was! Don’t fret, this drum is extremely useful! But it might be a little bit much in the volume department for an audition. When you are by yourself, you can make a 5″ drum sound plenty loud. If I am in the finals and the screen is down I might bring the 6.5″ as a third drum to show a wider palette, but probably not before then. I also bring my own stands for my snare drums. I use very light weight stands so they travel easy and I don’t have to rely on someone else providing them.


The next large instrument we must cover are cymbals. This is a tough one. They are heavy and to play all of the repertoire it’s not unreasonable to think you might have to bring 4 pairs with you. My recommendation on cymbals is to only bring cymbals if you are uncomfortable with what you think they are providing. This is for various reasons. If the group you are auditioning for has a long history then they are used to the sound of the cymbals they have used for 20 + years. Even if your cymbals are awesome and you play awesome, they will still sound different from what the committee is used to and might be judged as not as good. In that one instant you have to impress them, you will be doing yourself a favor if you use the instruments they are used to hearing. If you are auditioning for a school, chances are their cymbals are great and once again they are used to hearing them. Do yourself a favor and use the cymbals provided. The only scenario I would bring cymbals to now is if cymbals aren’t provided (duh…) or I am really uncomfortable with what they are providing. If you do bring cymbals I recommend a bag with wheels so you aren’t carrying so much weight. Zildjian make a great one.


I absolutely would bring your own tambourines. I think tambourines are the most personalized instruments especially when it comes to thumb rolls. I have tried to pick up someone else’s tambourines and I can’t play a thumb roll to save my life, yet they have no problem! You know how you like your instrument so just bring all of them you need. They don’t take up that much room anyway.


Triangles are similar to cymbals in that a group can be used to a certain sound. If an orchestra is providing triangles, I might use their recommendation because again, it is what they are used to hearing. They know their hall much better than you do. I would bring my own clip and beaters so the implements I am holding at least feel the same. If the group is not providing triangles or you really love what you are using, then of course, bring your own.

Sticks and Mallets

For sticks and mallets it goes without saying, but bring them all! These give us our sound and are vital. They don’t take up a lot of room and you really can’t play the audition without them!

Other accessories

There are a lot of little accessories that you need to bring depending on the repertoire and how much you really need them. For bass drum, make sure you have whatever mutes you need. If you need towels for tambourine bring those. If you like putting a towel over the lower end of a marimba (below the A), bring that. If you are incredibly tall and find it difficult to play marimba solos on a low instrument, bring some blocks. I would try not to use them for time reasons but if you are 6’6”, then you probably need some blocks. You know yourself and you know your playing so make a list of these little toys and make sure you bring them.


How to get all this stuff there!

This can become an annoying game of Tetris when it comes time to pack for the audition so do a trial run a week before the audition. Make sure you have a plan and it works. Here are a few rules I would follow that I have learned from trial and error.

  1. Every bag is on wheels or can be put on wheels

You can work out before and after the audition, but the days surrounding the audition is not the time to be sore. All suitcases and gear bags need to be on wheels. Don’t plan to carry anything heavier than a backpack.

  1. Make sure sticks and mallets and anything you literally can no live without is in the carry-on.

Sure you want your favorite snare drum there, but if you don’t have any xylophone, glock, or vibes sticks, it’s going to be pretty hard to play the audition. Prioritize and make sure the stuff you literally can’t live without goes in carry-on.

  1. This is not the time to penny pinch.

If all the stuff you need means you need 4 bags, then bring 4 bags! Yes it will cost you extra to check bags. Yes you will have to pay for a luggage cart at baggage claim. Yes it means you will need a cab instead of the subway. However, we are talking about maybe $200 in extra expenses. Seriously? Don’t waste the thousands of hours in the practice room because you are trying to save at the most $200.

  1. Label all bags multiple times.

Do I need to explain this one?

  1. Use hard shell luggage.

Let’s be honest, clothes are about 5% of what we are bringing to the audition. The rest if gear! Make sure the outside is hard so nothing can poke and damage an instrument. Most hard case suitcases can fit 1 snare drum in a soft bag as well as some toys, a stand, and some clothes. I have even seen people rip out the lining of a hard suitcase and glue their own foam lining in to make sure it protects the instruments.


How to move around

Only in the percussion world do we ask ourselves questions like this. How do I even get from one place to the next with all this stuff? Because I have never taken exactly the same stuff to multiple auditions I don’t have a tried and true method. I have to replan and repack for every audition. There are some similarities though. I typically have a hard-shell suitcase with a drum in it, a rolling duffle bag with hardware and odds and ends, a backpack or stick bag, with most of my sticks, and a hardcase snare drum. The snare drum can strap on to the duffle bag and boom, I’ve got a suitcase rolling in each hand and a backpack. I look like I’m packed for a month, when I’m only gone for 2 days, but I can manage to navigate the airport.

Once I arrive at the audition I repack. I get everything ready to walk onstage or in the teacher’s studio. I ALWAYS ask the proctor to carry my drums and anything else I can get them to take. Again, I want to be as relaxed as possible. Carrying 40 pounds of equipment onstage will not help that. I have a cart that I roll onto the stage that has everything I need other than snare drums and cymbals. Before there were “P-bags” I would take a Stevens bag and fold it backwards so there were mallets on each side and hang it from the top of the cart. Easy access to all my sticks and mallets. All of my tambourines, triangles and toys were in a small bag on the bottom. I would normally put a picture here of what I use but my cart broke at this past year’s PASIC. Guess it is time to order a new one.


I want to thank Joe Bricker for the email that inspired this post. I have been waaaaay behind of where I like to normally be on these posts and his email Saturday night inspired today’s post. Hope this helps Joe!


12 Thoughts from the other side of the screen…

12 Random thoughts from the other side of the screen

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During a recent audition for the Saint Louis Symphony, I kept a separate note pad next to my chair and made some notes that I thought would be helpful for those taking auditions. They are a combination of do’s, don’ts and general thoughts from a committee perspective. I always found it helpful to evaluate my playing from the committee’s perspective, because after all, they are the one making the decision.


1. Be running next to the train before you attempt to jump on.

When starting an excerpt or solo, make sure your brain is already subdividing in the tempo you want. If your tempo takes a bar or two to settle in, it tells the panel you were not ready to start the excerpt and you are going to struggle with entrances in the orchestra.


  1. No one expects a note-perfect round. Really!

Notes are important, but the musician playing them is infinitely more important. The committee is picking a colleague, not a winner of a competition. They want someone willing to take risks and contribute to the rest of the ensemble. Mistakes happen for everyone.


  1. Fundamentals are more important than being note-perfect.

Along the same lines as #2, the committee can generally tell the difference between a fluke mistake and a mistake due to a fundamental problem with an applicant’s playing. Once the committee picks up on a fundamental problem, your chances are not good.


  1. Every sound that is made from the door opening until the “Thank you very much”, is being judged.

This may seem unfair but think about who leaves the better impression. The player who noodles a little on the instrument, takes a lot of time between excerpts, makes lots of noise taking things out of their bag or the player who walks in quietly, plays efficiently, takes their time but doesn’t rush, doesn’t need a tuning note, and methodically plays the list? Point made hopefully.


  1. Don’t let technique dictate the music.

Every musician in history has gotten this direction from a teacher but it bears repeating. All instruments have their technical challenges but those who make them sound easy are the pros and very quickly stand out from the rest.


  1. Play the music first and the notes second.

This point was jotted down when I kept hearing trumpet players play the opening of the Promenade from Pictures note perfect but with radically different articulations throughout the excerpt. A consistent articulation throughout is valued much higher than note-perfect.


  1. A good risk can stand out from the rest.

Think about the life of a committee. They have to sit in the same place for hours on end without being able to move and have to listen to the same thing over and over. When someone takes something a little bit different in a good way it can score some major points. The key is making sure the risk is a good one.


  1. Find a few excerpts on the list that you can be incredibly expressive on.

So much of an audition excerpt list is testing technical chops. Make sure you take advantage the ones that are all about expression. Use them as an opportunity to move the panel.


  1. Don’t freak out if the committee asks you to play something again and differently.

Again, think about this from the committee’s perspective. Why would they ask to hear something again if they didn’t like something about it? They may know qualities of the hall that you haven’t picked up on yet and are giving you direction to make it better. They may just be testing your flexibility. Almost 100% of the time being asked to play something again is a good thing.


  1. Ask to play something again if you KNOW you can nail it a second time.

You don’t have many of these cards to play, but it is a valuable one to use when you need it. We all screw up. Asking immediately to playing something again and nailing it shows the panel that you know it wasn’t right and the first time was a fluke. This can be impressive.


  1. Don’t play too carefully.

This can go unnoticed for an excerpt or two but it will catch up to you. Careful playing ultimately sounds boring and that isn’t a trait you want associated with your playing.


  1. Focus on the beginnings of solos and excerpts.

The panel’s focus will never be higher than at the beginning of your round. It’s just human nature. Making sure your solo or first excerpt gets off to a solid start is very important. Remember #1 and making sure you are running next to the train before jumping on.


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These points are by no means all inclusive but were some thoughts that jumped out at me. I include a picture of the chair I was literally camped out in because this is the visual I would use when auditioning. This is where the committee is living for a full day. I wanted to make their job easy when it came to picking me. There are lots of topics I could jump into such as the mental game of the audition and how to prepare, but these thoughts were strictly from a committee’s perspective. I thought they could be useful to those preparing. If you have any more thoughts please leave them below.