By Annie Bosler, DMA
Written for the Colburn School – (November 19, 2020)
The college admission process can be daunting for students and parents alike. When you add the process of music auditions, it can be hard to know where to turn for help. As many schools require every music major to take an audition, no matter the area within music (e.g. performance, education, industry, etc.), creating a successful audition is imperative. Here are 10 tips to help you through the music audition process:
1. Get organized
You are going to have a lot of repertoire on your plate for prescreening and live auditions. Sometimes, this repertoire overlaps from prescreening to live auditions and sometimes it does not. In addition, many schools will have similar or identical lists, while others will have unique audition material.
The best thing that you can do is organize and assimilate all of this material into one place (e.g. in a three-ring binder or together in a digital folder). Next, make a master list of all the material so that you have an understanding of which pieces are unique and which overlap. The act of just getting organized will give you a big advantage!
2. Use a professional musician trick
Why not use the same system that many professional musicians use when taking auditions? Divide all of your repertoire into lists labeled A, B, and C. The A list should be things that you are ready to perform. The B list should be pieces that need more polish. The C list should be all of the music that needs a lot of SLOW practice (ahem, with the metronome!). Using these lists will give your practice more direction.
3. Practice your audition repertoire in a variety of ways
It is recommended to practice your repertoire in a variety of ways so that you feel comfortable with any order. To save time, a panel may skip over some music on your list, e.g. they might not hear your scales or an etude. Be prepared that this could happen. The panel could also ask, “What solo would you like to start with?” In that case, choose the solo where you feel most confident. Never choose something based on what you think they want to hear.
4. Break out that paper calendar
For those seniors entering the college audition season (approximately January 15–March 15), it is recommended to use a paper calendar to keep track of all of your audition dates and any possible travel needed. This way you can see everything visually in front of you. Some music schools do not let students know their exact audition date until approximately 3–4 weeks before the audition. Be prepared for the possibility of needing to make last minute arrangements to take these auditions.
5. Utilize a secret weapon: mock auditions
Running your repertoire ahead of a college’s audition, as a mock audition, is very useful. Take one college’s list and make flash cards. Shuffle them, draw a few cards, and run the list in that order. Just know that some musicians who have won professional auditions perform upwards of forty or fifty mock auditions before the actual audition. While this many mock auditions are not needed for every college on your list, mock auditions are critical.
6. Understand that audition jitters are normal
Getting the audition jitters (a.k.a. nerves) leading into the college audition season is normal. Usually the more variables you can control—your preparation of repertoire, mock audition runs, hydration levels, and sleep—the more confident you will play. Know that everyone is feeling the same way that you are. Understanding that can take off some of the edge. Professionals use many techniques such as deep breathing, centering, meditation, and positive visualization.
7. Carve out time for self-care
Since the audition process can be stressful, please remember to take time for self-care. Here are some great ideas for keeping the stress low and staying healthy: take a nap, listen to music, talk to your friends, laugh, meditate, watch a funny movie, go outside, journal, read, and drink water.
8. Treat your audition like an interview
The audition at a music school is often around ten minutes long and is usually in front of either one professor or a panel of professors. Think of the audition as a professional interview. Make sure to dress up (nice pants or a long skirt and a nice shirt are appropriate). Normally, the panel will hear you play then ask you a few questions. It is appropriate and encouraged for you to have a few questions for the panel as well.
9. Prepare at least two interview questions
As you take each audition, formulate a list of questions that you would like to know about each institution. At the end of your audition, ask these questions (e.g. practice room availability, number of students in the studio, opportunities to play in ensembles, etc.). Make sure to have at least two questions prepared. This may not seem very relevant at this time, but as you get closer to April and have to choose one school, knowing this information will be very useful.
10. For parents: stay supportive
Parents, what do you do when your child finishes their audition? Do you ask them how it went? Do you ask them if they got into the school? Accept that they may or may not want share anything with you. Ultimately, the information from the audition is pertinent to the student and their private teacher. Your role should always be a supportive one; the best question you can ask when the audition is over, “What do you want to eat?”
Note: These tips could also help students who are preparing repertoire for recitals and/or competitions. In addition, for anyone that is not a senior, know that you can go to a school’s website, download audition repertoire, and begin learning some of this music now, as long as your private lesson teacher feels it is appropriate. Obviously, double check that the repertoire remains the same when you are a senior and ready to begin this process.
Good luck with your musical journey!
Dr. Annie Bosler is a professional horn player, teacher, and College Prep for Musicians™ consultant in Los Angeles. She co-created the online program College Prep for Musicians™ Course, currently offered through the Community School office, and coauthored the book College Prep for Musicians™. She specializes in teaching private horn lessons to middle school and high school students and has a 100% success rate in helping students get into music schools. Annie has students in almost every major conservatory across the United States.