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Audition Advice - Part 2

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In previous posts I have covered some of the fundamentals of preparing for an audition. Now let's look in more depth at some of the other considerations of preparation and also consider some of the actual "performance" considerations of auditioning. In many ways, auditions are like performances. Both require careful practice and preparation. Both can involve stress, and with stress can come an "oops!" moment or two. Most importantly, your mental attitude and its effect on your appearance matter!

Let's start with the basics. Preparation is still a huge factor, obviously. Your inherent talent, that with which you were born, is different from the inherent talent of the other people at the audition. You don't have a choice about that. But you may still be able to play better than Player B whose inherent talent is one notch above yours; the difference would be your preparation/practice.

Some of what follows may seem fussy to a silly extent. But when the competition is tight, little things matter! I have seen some extremely fine players not even make finals in a competitive audition.

Basic Practice Considerations

Regular practice is important. But regular, correct practice is critical. There is a natural tendency to spend almost all your practice woodshedding the audition material. You must learn it intimately, of course, but you had better balance that activity with some "normal" practice as well. Keep working on fundamentals (slurs, scales, arpeggios) and also bring in some music you like. Because many auditions put a lot of weight on sight reading, practice that, too! (More on sight reading later.)

Most of us don't do quite as well under pressure as we might in a practice room. Since you won't likely produce 100%, you should practice to 110-120% of what you need. Because audition panels sometimes request you to modify the tempo, prepare everything a bit slower and also faster than you think is correct. Record your practice from time to time to see if you sound as good in front of the bell as you detect behind the bell. Keep in mind that there is a whole different competitor at these auditions, aside from all the euphonium players who signed up for that day. Not only are you trying to be better than all the other players, you are also trying to be better than the ensemble's expectations and standards. Set your sights accordingly.

You will be distracted during an audition, so practice with distractions. For at least some of the time, try to play one or more of your pieces in front of a TV. Turn the set up loud enough so you can sort-of hear the dialog while you are playing. Choose a show that is somewhat boisterous (action, comedy, etc.; this is not the time for Masterpiece Theater). You may be surprised how much that can throw you off. (I use the same technique to test whether I really have a piece memorized or not.)


The obvious thing to do is to pay close attention to the markings in the music - every one of them. Know what the Italian terms mean, look at all dynamics, articulations, etc. Challenge yourself on some of the simple points. Do your accents stand out? Do you observe the difference between tongued notes and staccato notes? Stop at random points and evaluate the dynamic you were just playing. Most of us are subject to "dynamic inflation" over the course of many bars. Is your f louder than your mf? And is your mp softer, and your p softer yet?

Observe the "dynamic realm" of each section. If it starts at piano, and all you see are balanced crescendo and decrescendo marks, then you should always return to the realm of the piano. That does not mean to eliminate your expression. It does mean to keep your expressions in context. If the section is marked at piano and says dolce, your expression should be more limited in dynamic range than when playing a section marked forte and molto espressivo. So while you play beautifully, make sure your foundation is p. Pay attention in the same way when the music is marked f or ff. In this case, our tendency may be to not sustain the volume. As you express, accent, etc. be sure you are maintain a foundation at the printed dynamic.

Obviously a metronome is essential for preparation. Even very experienced players are not machines, and sometimes an intended tempo will vary as the artist is working harder or thinking more about some aspect of the musical flow. The tendency is particularly strong when you venture into high or low ranges, or when negotiating wider intervals.

Rhythms are also critical. Most of us have been reminded by teachers to avoid making a dotted-eighth/16th figure sound like a triplet. But as music gets demanding enough we may slip. A common place for this to happen (and within a piece that is common on auditions) is the trio of Sousa's Hands Across the Sea. Because the melody is played slurred and softly, it is very difficult to focus on the accurate dotted rhythm. To play that rhythm we sometimes feel like jerky, sudden actions are required to get the sixteenth to be correct, but those don't feel at all natural in a pretty melodic section. In this case a simple exercise might help. Play the passage three ways: 1) as even eighth notes; 2) as triplets (in this case written as a quarter and eighth under a triplet slur); and 3) with the correct dotted rhythm. Play them in that sequence several times, focusing on making each rhythm sound right. If you can hear a distinct difference between #2 and #3 you are probably getting close at least.

Another common rhythmic mishap may occur when you have a series of eighth-note triplets, usually when they are slurred over each group of three (think of the big euphonium solo in Holst's The Planets, the Mars movement). Many players will squeeze the triplet a little and allow too much space between groups, so the effect is similar to groups that contain two sixteenths and an eighth. In this case practicing very slowly may help. Focus on a totally even series of notes. When that is comfortable, begin to speed it up.

The two rhythm examples above happen to some extent because of technical issues. But another related problem is a lack of counting through longer notes. Often a performer will be doing a good job on some complex figures, only to play a 4/4 measure with a dotted 1/2 slurring to a 1/4 note and make it sound more like a 3/4 bar with a 1/2 and 1/4 note. For my own practice, I ALWAYS have an accompaniment going in my head as I play (and when I count rests within a measure I'm playing). If I don't already know the accompaniment, I just make one up in my head (nothing profound - often I just hear on-beat and after-beat notes beneath my melody). This accomplishes two things. First, it help to keep my measures' rhythm structure correct, and second, it helps me play more musically because I'm interacting with an "accompaniment."

All the practice above could be about 20% more effective if you really focus on getting every single note to speak clearly. The great trumpet virtuoso Rafael Mendez took the time to record all the Arban single-tongue exercises to help show students how they can sound. I had played those many times without knowing I should strive for that kind of clarity. I needed to hear an example to emulate. The original 10" LP has been out of print for decades for fortunately it is not availble (along with a lot more content and commentary) on CD:
Rafael Mendez - the Legacy


Make 100% sure you practice not just the technically hard passages but also the easier melodic passages. It's a way to show what you've got inside you. Most advanced auditions expect technical expertise, of course, but they are not out to hire a machine!

One important goal is to focus on the composers' intentions. Try to get in their head and figure out why they wrote what they wrote. If a passage doesn't make sense, whether or not it's hard to play, look at it from different perspectives. Is the composer painting a mental picture? Depicting a dance? Depicting a particular mood? Try to figure it out. Listening to experienced players perform the same piece can be very helpful. Remember that all the advice in the previous section about accuracy is not to make you play like an automaton; it's to help you play like a musician with great control over the instrument in order to present the music properly.

As you are accurately observing all markings make sure you have a concept of how they contribute to the music. Was a section in one place written at f while in a different place it's marked mf? Why do you suppose it's different? You'd better have an answer. Apply the same musical standard to any etudes you may do. If you are to perform a song (something that originally had words/lyrics), learn the words and make the music fit them. Listen to a vocalist perform the song and pay attention to the difference between vowels and consonants. A word like "forget" will have a bit of separation between the two syllables, which a word like "forever" will have more smoothly-connected syllables.

If you don't like what they chose to have on the audition list, learn to! Audition committees don't usually choose bad music. They may pick something odd for a sight-reading choice, which could be to focused on a particular aspect of playing, but the majority of what you're going to play is probably used and liked by the ensemble.

Sight Reading

Military band auditions will certainly test your sight reading ability, and some other auditions might also. You need to practice sight reading just like any other skill. If you are auditioning for a band, find all the band parts you can lay your hands on and read them. If you run out, then get some cornet parts and bassoon parts and read those too. Be completely comfortable with hand manuscript, both of the "Broadway" style (4 bars per line, fairly large) and the "other" kind (i.e. almost anything). Try to practice with manuscript where there are ledger lines that don't maintain good consistency above/below the staff, a common problem. During your sight-reading practice, as you work on each piece, read it straight down first. Then go back a practice a few things you missed for perhaps 1-2 minutes. Then move on to the next piece. If you search the internet you can find several PDF packets of audition materials for military bands and universities. Download them and learn them, because they may end up on the sight-reading portion of the audition. Euphonium players should be prepared to read anything in treble or bass, and should be able to mix the two during an audition.

Mental and Physical Preparation

Your brain plays a part in this, so try to maintain a reasonable schedule for the few days before. That's usually tough because of travel, but do your best. Keep well hydrated, eat well, don't indulge in any unusual (to you) or spicy foods near the audition, eat a good breakfast, etc. If you usually exercise, at least get a good walk in well ahead of going to the audition.

Be particularly wary of falling into the "psych-out" trap. If you hear others warming up, you could easily be intimidated. Many players have warm-up routines they do daily, and some B-level players can sound like a solid A-level when they are playing such familiar material. Consider how to pace your own warm up as well. You want to get carefully warmed up for what you need to do. Be methodical; don't get in a panic and jump into hard things too quickly. And once warmed up, don't spend all your time working on the few things that you don't feel are perfect in the audition material. You need to psych yourself up as part of the prep. Allow yourself to play some of the things you already play really well and revel in how nice you sound! You want to walk out into the actual audition with the idea, "Let me show you guys some stuff!"

Audition Logistics and Stage Management

Make the actual audition a performance of sorts. Make it flow well. Use body English if you are comfortable. When playing solo material or band parts with rests, don't count the entire long rest (but DO count rests of few seconds accurately). Keep the flow going between pieces. Be sure to look at the music for a few seconds before you start if it is sight reading, but don't have long pauses. Your goal is to quickly grasp tempo, key, performance markings, and any tricky-looking measures in just a few seconds. If a piece you are playing requires a mute, manage it quietly - don't bang it on the stand or clang your bell. These points won't win you a ton of points, but they may make a subliminal difference to the panel.

As with any performance, maintain your horn so it both works correctly and operates quietly. Carefully plan where you point your bell to enhance your tone. Keep your breaths quiet and unobtrusive. And above all, don't forget to empty the water from the horn before going to play!

Consider what you wear as a practical factor. Aside from wanting to look professional, practice in those clothes a few times to make sure that buttons etc. don't come in contact with the horn and create rattles or buzzes. Such sounds may or may not reach as far as the panel, but they will surely distract you.

Respect the proctor, who is your guide. If you have a question about something, you quietly ask the proctor who will pass it on if needed.

If the case of screened auditions, respect the format. You are screened so they can't tell your gender, race, etc. Keep your voice inaudible to the panel.

Scary Things

  • You play a selection and you hear someone on the panel call out, "Play that again, please." This is not necessarily bad news. They may have been discussing something during the first time through. Or needed to answer a question for themselves. In some cases it could be good news. For my All State audition my senior H.S. year I played the 16th-note passage (with all the jumps) in Toccata and Fugue in d-minor by Bach. That is something I had been really practicing hard for weeks. After I played it, I knew I had just nailed it. They asked to hear it again. I got done and heard, "OK!" from the judge.
  • You're on stage, either playing or changing music, and you hear chatter from the panel. It's bad form, in my opinion, but it may happen.
  • Or worse... If you hear a giggle, that can be really disconcerting! But don't give it a second thought - someone on the panel may have been playing with their Pez dispenser or something (I'm referring to an episode of "Seinfeld").
  • They ask you to play that last march a LOT faster than you did. Of course that's no trouble because you've practiced it that way, right? It doesn't mean you're ignorant about music. Their group may like to really blaze through a march that isn't normally played very fast. Listen to this video of His Honor for an example.
  • You find your self wondering something about the piece that is up next. This is especially likely in sight reading. If you need clarity on an aspect of the next piece up, ask the proctor quietly. Proctor's are sometimes asked questions during deliberations. Your primary goal is to play well, though, so ask if you need to.


Listen to other auditions; how would you choose a winner? What sets the players apart? You can learn things from this exercise that you may wish to apply to your own playing (or appearance and demeanor).

Look like someone qualified. Maintain good posture, look others in the eye, etc. Dress professionally; be well groomed; try to look like you're not nervous, but look enthused. Be prepared to answer questions like, "Why do you want to get this job?" Be sure to learn as much as you can about the ensemble before you get there. It may help you answer questions in a better way.

For military auditions, remember they have physical standards. Height and weight will be checked for military. Other health issues can be a problem, but some that are not too serious may be waived for the right candidate. In military surrounding you maintain even tighter grooming for your audition. If you win the audition you may not get the job. Background check, physical, etc.

Be respectful to everyone you meet. The person who shows you where the bathroom is may be someone who influences the panel's decision. (Hopefully you are already nice to everyone you meet in your daily life! If not, then practice!)

Other Resources

This site has a section with some very specific advice for euphonium band auditions:

Dr. Jerry Young has an excellent article about auditions here:

And a very good article on another site: