Audition Practice Help, Schumann Scherzo in Particular

August 15, 2015 at 10:40 PM · Hi! This is my first time posting here. Anyway, I am currently auditioning for an honor orchestra in September and it is my last year to audition so I really want to get in. The repertoire required this year are:

-3 octave G Major and D Minor Scale, quarters and sixteenths(4 per bow)

-A first violin excerpt from the third movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony

-A first violin excerpt from Schumann's Second Symphony (Schumann Scherzo)

-A solo piece to play 2 minutes 30 seconds of

I started practicing for this audition in July and I'm getting the scales pretty well; also, the Beethoven is coming along nicely. I have chosen the Third Movement of the Bruch Violin Concerto as my solo piece, and believe it or not, the tenths and other double stops are manageable. However, the Schumann Scherzo has been giving me trouble as every time I play it it sounds muddy and unclear. I've tried slowing it down but it doesn't seem to help. Do you have any tips on how to work up the tempo and solve coordination issues? Any tips and advice will be appreciated!

Replies (22)

August 15, 2015 at 11:27 PM · It's Not Unusual for people to have difficulties with the Schumann. My former teacher, Delilah (She's a Lady), gave me some great advice. She took my arms and said I need to practice slowly With These Hands. I didn't Promise Her Anything, but eventually I did try it. You don't have to listen to me. I'm just A Boy From Nowhere, but slow practice, separating the left and right hands really helped me and may Help Yourself.

August 15, 2015 at 11:41 PM · Slow practice, no shortcuts. When I was preparing for the audition that resulted in my current job, I first played through Schumann Scherzo, note by individual note, until I was satisfied that I could play each note in tune. I then set the metronome on the slowest speed and practiced the excerpt at that speed until it was perfect. Then I moved the metronome up ONE NOTCH and continued practicing at that speed until it was perfect. I did this notch by agonizing notch, never moving up one until the previous speed was perfect, until I was playing it cleanly at 144. The entire process took 6 - 8 weeks (I was also preparing the rest of the list, and in fairness this was far from my first time with the Schumann Scherzo).

The most common mistakes people make, other than intonation, include too much bow, too high in the bow, and too high bounce. At your performance tempo, whatever that is, you should be using very little bow and you should not be seeing daylight between the bow and the strings in your spiccato.

Rhythms are helpful in practicing: dotted 16th/32nd first, then 32nd/dotted 16th. And one of my favorite practice techniques for string crossings: play through but PAUSE! every time there is a string crossing before going on. Likely you will realize very quickly that you really haven't been paying attention to where the string crossings are.

Good luck!

August 16, 2015 at 01:26 AM · I made a series of videos a few years ago on how to practice the Schumann, so take a look on YouTube. This is the main video, which is a performance of the excerpt. The others take a look at practice techniques.

August 16, 2015 at 02:40 AM · Bravi! Excellent advice from Mary Ellen and excellent performance from Nathan - so together, so right. But I looked in vain just now on YouTube for your subsequent videos for practicing this excerpt.

August 16, 2015 at 02:52 PM · Thanks Nathan! It's worth watching over and over, concentrating on one thing at a time, e.g. right arm balance in string crossing, the mixture of micro-shifts and finger patterns etc.

Mary Ellen the very, very gradual build up of speed is certainly the only way to get an audition-quality rendering.

"Short cuts" e.g. for a community orchestra rehearsal can involve four-note , then four-plus-one-note chunking, slow sotenuto for intonation, slow staccato for clarity. I reckon two thirds of our technique is before or between the notes, as in your asvice to stop at each string change.

August 16, 2015 at 04:24 PM · Hi Raphael, I don't know why they're as hard to find as they are... they didn't come up very easily when I searched either. Anyway, I've collected them in a playlist so here's the link to the whole playlist:

Schumann Scherzo playlist


August 16, 2015 at 08:14 PM · Got them!

Thanks so much for sharing.

August 16, 2015 at 10:43 PM · Ditto! Now I'm feeling greedy for some other excerpts, eg Don Juan, Mendelssohn Scherzo, Mozart #39, etc. See? No good deed goes unpunished! :-)

August 16, 2015 at 11:53 PM · Haha! I'm always happy when people are as interested in how to practice these pieces as I am... I thought I was the only one with a strange obsession.

I can oblige you right away with Don Juan, because I just made a video for that last week as part of my NY Phil audition Challenge. Here's the link for that video:

Challenge, Week 11: Don Juan on YouTube

There's a post that goes along with the video, addressed to the folks who are in the middle of my 14-week Challenge. It may be interesting to everyone though. If the link takes you to a week other than Week 11, just type Challenge Week 11 in the search box of my site and you'll get to the right post. NY Phil Audition Challenge

As for the others, I have made videos and lessons for those but they're part of my ArtistWorks school. But free videos are forthcoming, week by week, for the other excerpts that are part of the NY Phil audition list. If you want to know what's coming when, you can sign up for the Challenge mailing list and I'll keep you informed!

August 17, 2015 at 04:17 AM · Thank you Nathan and Mary! Your advice is greatly appreciated, and the videos are spectacular. I've noticed a slight improvement today after my practice session! I will continue to grind this out until my audition day, wish me luck! Cheers.

August 17, 2015 at 04:55 PM · The most useful rhythms to use for practice are the various combinations of 2 eighth notes and 2 sixteenth notes.

Also, practice in groups of 4 notes, in tempo. Stop between each group. Then practice using 2 groups of 4 notes (stop). Then 3 groups of 4 notes (stop).

You can also practice by displacing the beat. With the metronome, Play starting on the 2nd sixteenth note and feel that as the beat (you start up bow). Then start on the 3rd sixteenth and feel that is the beat (starting down bow). then on the 4th sixteenth. This is pretty challenging, even though you are using the same bowing pattern.

If you have practiced this a lot already and still don't have the proper coordination, you may have a technical problem. Find the part of the bow which works best for you. Too close to the frog, and you have too much bow tip weight. Too close to the tip and you have to move more with your arm. Concerning the bow stroke, the bow hair should not leave the string. The wood of the bow, however, should go up and down.

Practice playing 4 notes for each note. In other words, play 4 B's, 4 C's, 4 D's, and so on. Your 4 notes should be played in the tempo you are going to perform the piece. This way you can concentrate on the bow stroke. Your fingers will have to move just as quickly and precisely as If you were playing in tempo. Then play 2 notes for each note. If you are a maniac, you should also practice this way starting up bow. This will equalize the up bow stroke with the down bow.

To work on the string crossings, put the bow on the string, finger the notes but do not move the bow horizontally, only vertically up and down. You will find that this makes you aware of the crossings.

If you want a copy of my fingerings notated on finale, email me privately and I will email you a copy.

August 17, 2015 at 11:05 PM · Very nice advice from Mary Ellen and Bruce and what an outstanding performance by Nathan(wasn't as surprised anymore after reading your bio). I've never played or even heard of this excerpt, but how do you start off so relaxed yet spontaneously at the beginning?

August 18, 2015 at 09:51 PM · Nathan,

You are very generous to share your great practice videos for excerpts, especially for free!

I will direct my students to them. Bruce

August 18, 2015 at 10:15 PM · Thank you for taking a look at my videos, and for kind words. Shawn, the first note comes from the string and is basically a "collĂ©". That gets things started and then I imagine my whole arm from the elbow down as one unit. You have to choose how much flex to allow in the fingers (more flex is not always better!) but after that first note they're just along for the ride.

The same would be true even if it started down-bow. Any exercise that works collé will help these kinds of starts. Kreutzer 7:

Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 3.14.11 PM

August 19, 2015 at 03:24 AM · Hello Tom,

I recently auditioned for an orchestra as well and was required to play the Schumann. I would suggest working extensively with various rhythms with the metronome at 40-50. I would spend 90% of your time practicing it this way.

In my preparation, I used the rhythm sequences from the Ivan Galamian Scale System, which include not only dotted rhythms but also various combinations of eights and sixteenths, triplets, quintuplets, different time signatures, etc. If you do not already own it, I would highly recommend purchasing the book or something comparable. Here is a link to purchase it through Shar.

Also, the New York Philharmonic has a website where they post scans of their orchestra parts with bowings, fingerings, and other markings made by the players. I would take a look at the fingerings and articulations for all of your audition excerpts. Here is the link to the archives.

Best wishes in your audition!


August 20, 2015 at 11:54 PM · Thank you Cameron and Bruce. Although I still have one more question. The audition tempo is marked quarter note=144. My teacher suggested to me that I should never try to play that fast. I've read that many orchestras play it with quarter note as 138. Is there anyway I can play the scherzo slower? And if so, how will that impact my audition?

August 21, 2015 at 03:40 AM · Do you know if you will be forced into a tempo? I've played youth symphony auditions where a tempo was explicitly given at the start of the audition (usually conducted or counted by an audition judge), so if they are going to give you a tempo, you need to learn it at that tempo.

If you will be allowed to start at your own tempo, you can take it a notch under the marked tempo, but it cannot be noticeably under-tempo.

August 21, 2015 at 04:25 AM · Yeah, I know absolutely nothing about professional auditions, but if they are anything like youth orchestra, or all state, they're not going to secretly have a metronome in the background, checking to see if your tempo is off by a notch or two :) Just be careful to not play too fast! That can happen when you are nervous! I'm sure if you play it kind of like Nathan, you will do great! Maybe use that that video as some kind of a quality check/inspiration. Also, if you play too slow, it's better than playing fast but poorly.

If they force you to go along with a tempo like Lydia said, then just go with the flow.

August 21, 2015 at 06:19 AM · If they force you to a tempo, you need to learn to strategically cope with that tempo -- i.e. to fake convincingly and accurately at that tempo. They need to hear that if you're forced to play it faster than you're capable, that you're not going to make a hash out of the passage; you are better off hitting most notes accurately than scrambling to get them all and failing. (Think "Will my faking this make the section sound worse?")

So worth asking around for what the audition format normally is.

August 21, 2015 at 03:41 PM · "Yeah, I know absolutely nothing about professional auditions, but if they are anything like youth orchestra, or all state, they're not going to secretly have a metronome in the background, checking to see if your tempo is off by a notch or two :) "

We don't need to check tempo with a metronome; we recognize immediately whether a candidate is within the acceptable range or not. 138 for Schumann Scherzo is acceptable. If you start something too slow and we have already heard things we like in your playing, we'll probably interrupt (or let you finish if it's short) and then ask you to play it faster. If we've already written you off, we'll just let you finish what you're doing while we work on our crosswords.

August 21, 2015 at 04:13 PM · This is not directed specifically at Mary Ellen, but part of her previous post: "If we've already written you off, we'll just let you finish what you're doing while we work on our crosswords."

May I just say that that statement is sadly far to accurate when it comes to auditions. As someone who has sat on my fair share of audition panels, the behavior of the judges can be incredibly rude towards the various participants. I have witnessed first-hand the use of cell phones (including games), talking, snoozing and general lack of attention paid to those deemed unsatisfactory in some way. Since when does courtesy stop as soon as it's decided a musician doesn't make the cut? I grant you that hearing auditions can be fatiguing and monotonous but it's no reason to behave badly. The participants worked hard to prepare their material and it is not to much to expect the judges to show some common courtesy towards each musician regardless of the final decision.

August 21, 2015 at 05:26 PM · Quietly reading or working crosswords behind the screen once a candidate has eliminated herself by playing badly is not disrespectful; snickering or cutting the candidate off as soon as she tunes is.

Let me put it from another point of view: Listening to auditions IS exhausting and it is humanly impossible to maintain a full level of concentration for an eight to ten hour day. It isn't fair to the better candidates if I am so tired from paying close attention to all the notes coming from someone who has no chance of making the cut that I cannot be fully attentive to hear subtle differences among the top candidates.

I do try to pay enough attention to be able to give helpful comments to those who ask. If I hear that the candidate isn't keeping a steady tempo, I will make a note of that before turning to quiet diversions. But this isn't solo & ensemble, and I am not there to answer the question, "Please tell me everything I am doing right and everything I am doing wrong." I am there to answer the questions, "Who is playing at the level we are seeking?" and "Who would our music director want to hear?"

Edited to add that this may be one of the most significant differences between professional orchestras on the one hand and youth/college/community orchestras on the other. I'm sure this sounds harsh to those not in the business. And we know how hard each candidate has worked--we all went through the same brutal process ourselves to get to the point where we are now judging others. We want people to play well. In my orchestra, we will let people play two or three excerpts even if it is obvious from the first phrase of their concerto that they're in the wrong place, exactly because we know how hard they worked to prepare. But anyone going into an audition expecting to be treated with kid gloves is in the wrong field.

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