Nail your audition

May 31, 2011, 10:46 AM ·

 Auditioning is a popular topic here on, which seems fitting given that auditions can be both momentous and tricky. 

Having heard countless auditions over the years, I’ve learned that most young musicians audition beneath their potential. So I thought I’d share eight strategies that I’ve found will boost musicians’ chances at high-stakes auditions. 

I’ll emphasize tactics for succeeding at college and conservatory auditions, but the concepts generally apply to professional tryouts as well.

Of course, a single post can’t fully unravel this subject, so I’ve included links to related resources that I’ve published here and on my site. I hope it will all prove helpful.

1. Choose music strategically
I can’t tell you how often students underachieve at auditions due to misguided repertoire choices. Do your best not to make that same mistake. Always opt for titles that meet the published requirements and are within your capacity. Favor tried-and-true pieces that you love over untested ones and never program music at the edge of your ability. If any repertoire guidelines seem vague, write for clarification, and get feedback from a teacher or mentor before you commit to specific titles. 

2. Master your material early
Begin learning new material far in advance of audition dates, and stick to a practice schedule – maybe use a practice log. Remember that auditions can trigger worry, which can lead to avoidance and injurious cramming. Pace yourself.

3. Be ready to interview & sight-read
At many auditions, you’ll be asked to explain your artistic vision and goals. Therefore, draft talking points and rehearse what you’ll say. Be prepared as well to state why you want to attend a given school or work with a particular group. Plan to pose questions too – see page 294 of my book The Musician’s Way for sample questions that you might ask a teacher at a school audition. If sight-reading will be required, add extra sight-reading practice to your daily routine (ideally, sight-read regularly with your teacher and colleagues).

4. Plan meticulously
Tackle logistics step by step: submit applications well ahead of deadlines, arrange travel, line up accompanists, and so on. Use a Preparation Timeline and Preperformance Inventory to ensure that you stay on track. If possible, visit an audition site before your performance and adjust to the space; for distant auditions, try to arrive the night before.

5. Arrange mock auditions
Mock tryouts enable us to acclimate to audition situations and practice performing. Basically, weeks before an audition, reserve a space and recruit teachers or mentors who'll play the roles of auditioners: they'd ask you to perform your pieces in random sequence, let's say, and, depending on the audition, might interrupt and interview you and also instruct you to sight-read, re-tune, play scales, and improvise. Be sure to audio- or video-record.

6. Build inner strength
Auditioning entails being judged. Musicians who appear before audition panels without a solid sense of self can feel their composure crack. Take care to approach an audition with a firm belief in yourself and your mission. In that way, you can stay centered and focus on what matters most: making music.

7. Perform soulfully
Although you’re going to be evaluated, what your evaluators most want to hear is your musical personality and potential. For that reason, aim to deliver a polished yet emotion-laden performance. In the case of school auditions, teachers don’t expect perfection; they realize that students pursue education to gain expertise. Teachers do anticipate, though, that students will have basic skills in hand and exhibit heartfelt expression and enthusiasm for learning. So, even if you’re zinging with adrenaline, play your heart out, and let mistakes dissolve into the past.

8. Display professionalism
The moment you arrive at an audition site, show respect for the process: display a positive attitude and impeccable courtesy; be well-dressed. Most of all, demonstrate through your playing and stage presence that you’re in love with music and serious about your future. Take pleasure in meeting the challenges of auditioning, knowing that, whatever the outcome, your participation fuels your growth.

The Musician’s Way itemizes detailed audition strategies on pages 217-222 and essential practice and performance techniques throughout Chapters 1-11. A version of the article first appeared on The Musician’s Way Blog

© 2011 Gerald Klickstein
Photo © Nicholas Sutcliffe, licensed from



May 31, 2011 at 05:27 PM ·

Thanks for posting those.  I am a rank amateur, but I have sympathy for those who audition.  I suspect that portions of ##1 and 7 are counter-intuitive for some of the younger folk out there.  Being able to do Mozart concerto #3 well with good interpretive chops because you love the piece is probably more convincing than a botched job on Zigeunerweisen.

May 31, 2011 at 05:53 PM ·

"Being able to do Mozart concerto #3 well with good interpretive chops because you love the piece is probably more convincing than a botched job on Zigeunerweisen."

Well said, Tom. Players who present polished, expressive performances demonstrate their artistic & technical skills, self-awareness, and interpretive maturity. They also show that they understand what it means to be responsible performing artists.

May 31, 2011 at 11:05 PM ·

 I was a victim of misguided repertoire choice for an audition in college--Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso.  It was a lesson learned the hard way.  I wish I'd read something like this back then!  

This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

2023 Authenticate LA: Los Angeles Violin Shop
2023 Authenticate LA Shopping Guide Shopping Guide


Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Jargar Strings

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop


Los Angeles Violin Shop


String Masters

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine