Audition prep

July 2, 2012 at 02:03 AM · I'm starting what I expect to be a 2-month preparation for an orchestra audition (the date hasn't been determined yet). I will put together a plan, but am a bit unsure how to start. Could some of you share your process for preparing for an audition? How do you plan? What do you practice first, and how? How much do you practice? When is it too much? (Is it ever?) When and how to start performing? What are your routines? Who do you play for, how many times? How do you deal with the physical tension and mental pressure?

Well, you get the picture... if there are other posts covering this, I'd be glad to take a look (I couldn't find any).


Replies (25)

July 2, 2012 at 02:56 AM · There's a terrific blog here with David Kim. Also an excellent CD available with Wm. Prucil. There have been a number of books and articles on the subject. Next week I'll have more time to add more info.

But yes, there certainly IS such a thing as practicing too much for an audition or anything else.

July 2, 2012 at 07:04 PM · Thanks for the reply. I guess I'm living proof that one can practice too much – I'm currently dealing with the consequences on my shoulder.

I'll look for the post you mentioned. In the meantime, if anyone has any further comments, I'd be very grateful for your input.

July 2, 2012 at 07:50 PM · Found the link to the blog about David Kim's audition masterclass:

Very good, indeed.

I was actually planning on downloading W. Preucill's CD, and just did that too. :)

July 2, 2012 at 10:13 PM · Apart from the actual, physical practicing, there's a lot you can do on the mental side.

You don't mention which orch., but if it's one with cds out and a well-defined sound, it's a good idea to see how your playing can be shaped into that sound.

Once you know the excerpts you are to prepare, learn them in their context--listen to performances at different tempi, with differing interpretations so you are really familiar with the possibilities--and pitfalls--each represents.

Make sure your strings aren't too old--or too new--to sound their best.

Get sleep and exercise so you are at your peak in all areas. Smile a lot! it's a great way to relax the face, and, by extension, the rest of you.

July 3, 2012 at 01:37 AM · Thanks, Marjorie.

This is a new orchestra, 5 years old, a very exciting and ambitious project in a large city in South America. They don't have any recordings released yet, but I've been trying to get a sense of their sound by attending concerts. I also had the amazing opportunity to gig with them, so I have a good sense of the ensemble (and hope I was able to give a good impression).

Since I'm asking people to pitch in with ideas, let me tell you guys a little of my own preparation process. I started today by making a thorough list of challenges and things to work on for each of the excerpts. I hope this will help me shape them up in the coming weeks, slowly and patiently, one at a time, always with these notes in front of me to guide me. I will also play the concerto (they require the 1st mvt of a concerto of your choice) in a violin recital at the university this week.

At some point, I plan to start playing things through in different orders to get used to it and acquire resistance, but for now, I need to refresh a lot of the technical issues on the excerpts.

I might be able, at the end, to have one or two members of the orchestra listen to me play before the audition. Regardless of that, I want to play for a good number of experienced players and other musician friends.

One issue I have is I get extremely nervous and have a significant loss of technical control as a result. For auditions only, I find it useful to have a moderate dose of Propranolol. Although I'm not a big fan of this solution, I find the idea of losing months of intense practice just because of nervousness a good enough excuse to resort to it.

Thanks for the responses so far and I hope more of you will pitch in!

July 3, 2012 at 01:50 AM · "For auditions only, I find it useful to have a moderate dose of Propranolol. Although I'm not a big fan of this solution, I find the idea of losing months of intense practice just because of nervousness a good enough excuse to resort to it."

That's one I'd never agree with. As athletes get penalized/ostracized for drug use, so should musicians. Suppose you are concertmaster, with a solo, you going to dope up for every performance? Quality music, good reaction time, the ability to make split-second, high-quality decisions etc., all come from within, and from practice at being in tense situations, not from a pill. Sorry, but this is one I feel strongly about. (And, yes, I get nervous, too, but I want to deal with the nerves and still be me.)

I hope this won't hijack the thread. The issue has come up before to a very split response.

How fortunate you are auditioning as something of an insider--that's often a great asset. All the best luck.

July 4, 2012 at 09:15 PM · Thanks for your input. I think I even agree with you in some points (I'm not happy to use medication), but I need it this time.

July 4, 2012 at 09:45 PM · You might want to look at the article another thread has about auditions for BSO percussionist.

Not about the person who was the subject, but about the person who, having won the audition, was dismissed after two unsuccessful probation years. I'd be willing to bet (at least a cup of coffee) that he might have had the "I need it this time" mentality, and maybe took something like you plan to. Short term success...long term...disaster. Being fired from the BSO is much worse than never having won an audition.

July 4, 2012 at 10:10 PM · Yeah, I know the article. I don't remember anything about anyone taking beta blockers – other than bananas.

Again, your input is much appreciated. Everyone is entitled to their opinion; and each one of us has their own distinct lives to live and decisions to make.

July 5, 2012 at 05:34 PM · I'm not sure how I feel about this subject. I'm in the process of preparing excerpts as well and I feel your pain. It's much like saying that students who have disorders like ADD and ADHA wouldn't do as well in their studies with out adderall. Does that make it wrong? William has an unavoidable problem of nerves - so to counteract that he uses a drug geared toward that issue.

Sports players using steroids/drugs is not in the same ball field. They want to be stronger and faster with no real medical issue. Sometimes people may not be able to overcome the problem of nerves thus influencing the use of beta blockers.

Don't over use them though. I know a concertmaster who takes auditions quite frequently and started using them for the same reason and now can't do any concert which requires them to be a soloist without it. (auditions too) They are so immune to it at this point that they have to 4x the normal amount in order to be affective. They haven't won any of those auditions either - not even making it through the first round.

I finished typing this and realized something. What if some one is allergic to bananas and can't utilize natural beta blockers?

July 6, 2012 at 01:17 AM · "William has an unavoidable problem of nerves - so to counteract that he uses a drug geared toward that issue."

Hi, Jerry. I wouldn't say unavoidable. It's just not an easy or quick fix. It takes time to understand, address, and finally be in control of your nerves, especially if you haven't been active as a violinist for a while. Ideally, I should eventually not need it anymore, ever. At the moment, I wouldn't use it in any situation but the most extreme. The key is to train and get used to performing without beta blockers (e.g., perform for colleagues, small recitals, mock auditions, etc.) At some point, I know I'll be confident enough (again) to put my livelihood on the line without the use of them.

July 6, 2012 at 01:56 AM · Hi William - Terrific discussion.

Sounds to me like you've developed a sensible plan. If you can also arrange a realistic mock audition, especially for a veteran orchestra player who doesn't already know your playing, that could be additionally helpful (be sure to record).

On the subject of beta-blockers, please allow me to direct you to my post Musicians and Beta-Blockers, which has elicited many interesting comments.

Good luck with your audition! Gerald

July 6, 2012 at 09:54 PM · i think the key is to not over practice, otherwise you mix up your excerpts and your concerto ;)

July 6, 2012 at 10:32 PM · Nice, Daniel. You can keep on mixing them up, I'll keep on listening.

July 7, 2012 at 02:45 PM · Good one, Daniel. :)

July 7, 2012 at 05:05 PM · "It's much like saying that students who have disorders like ADD and ADHA wouldn't do as well in their studies with out adderall. Does that make it wrong? William has an unavoidable problem of nerves - so to counteract that he uses a drug geared toward that issue..." Jerry, your example actually supports my objection!

the o.p. says he is planning on using his meds only for the audition. That means if "I" were to hire him, based on his cool demeanor, nerveless control, and sangfroid at the audition--with the expectation it will continue into the 'real world' of the orchestra season--I could be sadly disappointed. Unless one really IS constitutionally unable to control his nerves, the only honest 'fix' should be experience with the nerve-creating situation. If the nerves are a pathological problem, however, as is the case with those who must endure ADHD, etc., then drugs are appropriate--because they are needed for the whole time, not just spot fixing.

July 7, 2012 at 06:45 PM · I use Sage to calm the mind, and it works great for me. We sometimes overthink our mistakes and this will make us nervous. 3 times a weak have 2 fresh sage leaves, decaf coffee and less alcohol and sugar a month before judgment day. Honey will also calms the mind.

July 7, 2012 at 07:28 PM · Audition prep ideas, anyone?

July 7, 2012 at 10:20 PM · Check the orchestra's upcoming season programs. You can bet they will have you play the first violin music from their first program.

July 8, 2012 at 02:17 AM · I assume sight-reading is also part of the audition. Find a friend who is also a bit of a sadist to throw sight-reading excerpts at you, the uglier the better. Play for someone you find intimidating. Play where it's too hot, too cold, stuffy, or breezy. Play in uncomfortable clothes and bad lighting. Auditions are nerve-wracking not just because of the stakes, but also because they are such an artificial situation.

Gerald, your article on beta blockers is one of the best balanced and least dogmatic I've ever seen. As someone who has taken them long term for medical reasons, I'm always amazed at what people think they do and don't do.

July 8, 2012 at 05:54 AM · This may sound either obvious or counter-intuitive, but don't practice ONLY for the audition. Keep your whole technical practice, your Bach, your go-to pieces and etudes, alive and well, too. This will help you avoid the over-thinking a previous poster mentions; it will also keep you in balance as a musician and maintain the flexibility needed to meet the peculiar pressure of the audition itself. Context, perspective--these are essential for well-rounded preparation.

July 8, 2012 at 07:40 AM · what has worked for me: don't do so many special things on the day of the audition. you should treat it like any other day. maybe you have read the studies that have been done on taking tests - that people score higher if the conditions were consistent to when they were studying. so whatever your routine is, stick to it and don't do fancy stuff the day of.

additionally, your practicing shouldn't change so much. if "audition" means that you start practicing well, that means you've been doing it wrong the whole time before, and it probably won't work just changing it month or 2 before. i know many people that got the job on their 1st audition (in a good orchestra) simply because they are good players with good habits. i also know others who fail 10+ auditions in a row, and continue to believe that there are some magic or tricks that they just haven't been told. it's all about the work you put in, and the habits.

in addition to habits for practicing and general musicality, physical habits help many people as well. running, eating well, going to sleep/waking up at consistent times...

outside of habits, there are some "tips" i can think of, but these are not tricks or magic...

-you have to be ready to play at 4am.

-Make as many mock auditions as you can. play for your friends, family, dog, recording device, anything....

-before the audition, if you're warming up and you hear 100000 others playing their excerpts an octave higher to intimidate you ;) just ignore it. play slow scales, keep your cool.

-also make sure your have GOOD editions of your excerpts. a wrong accent here or there might cost you a spot. if the orchestra provides you with a part, it's usually best to use it, and to not change bowings/fingers unless it's unnoticeable

-do you have william prucil's cd of excerpts and commentary? it's good.

-practice the music the orchestra is playing the week of the audition. You’d be surprised how often it shows up as unannounced repertoire (sight reading)

-remember the excerpts are the most important.

-if you have duple vs. triple rhythms, make sure the difference is very very clear.

-get rid of gaps, swells, and false accents

-try to distinguish p and pp but never play quieter than beautiful

-in excerpts, pay extra special attention to the beginnings and ends of notes before/after rests. make sure it's beautiful as can be, never cut off abruptly, noisy with artifacts in the bow, vibrato suddenly cutting off before the end, etc....

just some things i can think of off the top of my head...

this might not be so helpful, but the MOST important is the practice you do in the months and years prior to the audition! how about that!

July 8, 2012 at 03:27 PM · Lisa - Thanks for the positive feedback on my article Musicians and Beta-Blockers. It's gratifying to know that my work is helping to dispel some of the misinformation that swirls about.

July 9, 2012 at 09:50 PM · Great hints, D Kurganov!

Perhaps part of my problem is that I have been changing my practice habits. Part of it is that I had no practice habits (I hadn't played professionally for 4 years), but also I have been discovering better, more effective ways to practice. I guess eventually it will become routine, but right now, there's too much newness in my practice sessions.

Thanks a lot!

July 10, 2012 at 12:21 PM · Hi, Marjorie.

I think that's also a factor here. Since I'm kind of "rusted," there's not enough time to do much else other than the audition repertoire. I do crave doing new things, but right now there's just too much to get done and my focus has to be on the excerpts.

I want to get to the point where I'm doing things that I want and like to do, not that I have to. Tough.

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