Advice on Auditioning for Colleges and Grad Schools

by Bruce Schoonmaker


1st Responsibilities: Convince the faculty that: 1) there is nothing you would rather be doing than performing for them 2) That you love this piece and are compelled to perform it. Be sure that you demonstrate your joy in playing/singing and in music.


Check your Facebook or MySpace pages or public blogs for anything that might offend your grandmother and remove it. Check that your email address represents the best about you.


Dress Well. Dress in clothing that your grandmother would approve. Women, if you plan to wear heels, practice walking on and off stage in heels. Practice this a lot. Remember that some people may be offended by body piercings or unusual hair coloring.


Act naturally.


As much as you are able, relax and enjoy the experience. Everyone wants you to succeed. Most faculty and schools want to make a positive impression on you just as much as you want to make a positive impression on them.


Perform only pieces that you know thoroughly and can perform standing upside down in a swimming pool. If the school offers guidelines in choosing audition repertoire, follow them.


More for grad schools: practice your stage presence. Video yourself so that you see whether your body and face are projecting what you want them to project.


Practice your auditions with people who intimidate you as your audience.


Be prepared to audition in spaces that are very different acoustically from what you are accustomed to. Know what to do if the audition room is much smaller than the places you are used to. Know what to do if it is much more reverberant. Know what to do if it is acoustically dead. Know what to do if it is hot or cold, or humid or dry. Be prepared for the faculty to be 3 feet away from you or 60 feet away from you. Be prepared to perform with spot lights glaring directly in your eyes.


Before you leave for the audition, double check that you have all your music and necessary materials. Plan to arrive at least 45 minutes early. That way, even with a flat tire or heavy traffic, you’ll have time to warm up, check in, and rehearse with your accompanist. Rushing is never good for music making.


If possible, perform from memory (a “must” for singers).


Be prepared to sight-read and to be tested on pitch memory, rhythm patterns, and written musical skills.


Speak slowly and clearly while announcing your pieces. Know how to pronounce the titles and names of the composers and know something about the composers.


Be kind to your accompanist. Accompanists often have a vote in the acceptance/scholarship decisions.


Clarify before you go to the audition the school’s policy on the use of copied music.


Bring your music organized as thoroughly and graciously as possible for the accompanist. Put loose pages in a binder. Don’t use binders that do not stay open easily. Don’t use plastic covers for each page of accompaniment (the glare can inhibit seeing the music). Mark important fermatas or tempo changes. Practice with the accompanist before the audition. If you cannot, when you arrive on stage, quickly show her/him the important tempo changes and fermatas and “a piacere” sections. If your accompanist begins in the wrong tempo, sing or play the tempo you have learned. The accompanist will follow you. Thank your accompanist. Thank the faculty for hearing you.


Be ready to answer, “What interests you in our school?” in a positive way. No school should ever be told that it is your “back up” school.


Be ready to answer, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”


Be ready to answer, “Why must you be a musician?”


Have a question or two ready for the faculty that show you have thought about this particular school, in the case that you are asked “Do you have any questions for us?”


You are being observed from the moment you walk into the room/hall/auditorium. How do you want the faculty to think you are feeling?


Singers, know the text of the songs you are offering. Know proper pronunciation and know both the word-for-word translation and the general mood and meaning.


Instrumentalists, if playing programmatic music, be able to describe the program and be able to say what it means to you intellectually and emotionally.


Know what the school is best known for. If it’s a demanding academic environment, be ready to answer “Are you a good student?”


Know the differences between small, liberal arts colleges, conservatories, and schools of music.


If there is a particular faculty member with whom you would like to study, contact that person before coming to campus and ask to meet with him/her. Don’t talk about this during the audition. Don’t quote your private teacher at the audition, especially his/her opinion of the teachers at the school.



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