Prescreening and audition season is just around the corner.

My last November as an undergraduate student preparing for my graduate prescreenings was a complete blackout of stress and crying. As a high school student preparing for undergraduate auditions I was utterly baffled as to how anything worked and whether or not I was sufficiently prepared. Here is some advice to help keep you on track this audition season:

The organizational requirements…

  • What are the audition fees?
  • Is there a prescreening required (are there rounds)?
  • Can it be in person or can it be a tape?
  • What are the audition dates (is it during the week or weekend)?

Planning how many schools you apply to – planning your budget for school fees AND audition fees. Keep in mind that usually the school of music has a separate fee from the university you are applying to – don’t stretch yourself too thin.

Know if there is just one round of auditions or if you are required to send in a prescreening. If there is… do you need to have an accompanist? Is there specific repertoire for prescreening? Do you have or need to get equipment for a high quality prescreening (nowadays phones are pretty good, but you might want to invest in a good microphone to present your playing in the best light. Here is one mic recommendation (Zoom iQ6) that is compatible with iOS.

Do you need to plan to travel? If the school is out of state/international are you eligible to send in a tape? With COVID schools are more likely to accept tapes than live auditions so you may be able to forgo unnecessary travel. Also with planning look ahead at your schedule – what are the specific dates for your instrument? Clear your schedule 3-4 months in advance to avoid issues during audition season.


The music requirements…

  • Is your instrument in good shape?
  • What scales do you need prepared?
  • What repertoire do you need prepared?*
  • *Two contrasting pieces or movements is a very commonly asked requirement. Clarify with the faculty at the school you are applying or your teacher what would be appropriate.

The first thing you should consider before preparing for auditions is the condition of your instrument. You do not want to have your instrument break down or put off a much needed service during audition season. Get it taken care of BEFORE you start preparing (at least 3 months) before your auditions so that you have one less thing to worry about!

Ask the faculty (if not abundantly clear on the audition list) what scales you will be required to play. What kind of articulation? Is there a preference for tempo and rhythm (band style v. straight eighths)?

Again ask the faculty if you have any confusion about the repertoire listed. Is there a specific edition asked for?


Mental preparation

  • Remember: The faculty are not looking for someone who is perfect, they are looking for someone they can TEACH. If you make a few mistakes that is fine, it’s how you handle them and respond to feedback that is so much more important!!
  • Practice tip: Work on starting pieces/excerpts once you feel like you’ve got a piece down. If you are able to get yourself centered, comfortable with the opening of pieces it will help maintain stability throughout. If you are nervous starting a piece, you may start to snowball.
  • Practice tip: Closer to the audition date (1 month or so) practice with the increased heart rate, high energy. Go run up/down the stairs; do jumping jacks; etc. before you run a piece to help acclimate to the way your body responds under stress.
  • Plan out your day of the audition so that you know what to expect. Will there be exams (theory/ear training)? Will you have an interview? Knowing what to expect can help alleviate some of the audition day anxiety.

What tips do you have for college auditions? Share them in the comments below!

Approach

The first time I see an excerpt I have never played before the first thing I do is look into the composer and work. I look for specific details that will help inform how the excerpt should be performed, here is a very basic outline of what I research:

  • WHEN the composer was alive (What musical era and style were they studying)?
  • WHERE the composer lived or frequently traveled (Regions play a large role in performance style, so this will directly play into the “when” through a better understanding of the era and style).
  • WHO the composer listened to, worked for, or was close to (Who influenced this composer)?
  • WHAT were this composer’s notable works (Is the excerpt being requested well-known and/or frequently heard)?

You can look at the wikipedia page for a preliminary search, however, I STRONGLY recommend looking for reputable sources to verify any claims. Academic journals like JSTOR, Google Scholar, EBSCO, ProQuest, or your own school’s library can be used if you are not familiar with music history or have resources on hand to verify what you see on the wiki page.

After researching the context, I will collect recordings and gradually sift through them to determine which ones reflect either my own or one of the faculty’s preferred interpretations. I listen for things like:

  • Tempo – this is a big one, you want to get your goal tempo in your ears if you are listening to 2 very different recordings (one that takes the minimum and one that is pushing the max) it will make it more difficult for your to internalize the pulse.
  • Balance/ensemble – how clearly can I heard the solo in my excerpt AS WELL AS the accompanying voices. Or rephrasing that: can I determine my own role in relationship to the other instruments?
  • Tone/intonation/quality – is the recording something I want to emulate? Does it sound good?

Finally, I will start to analyze the score (similar to how I was critically listening to the recordings) and determine my role in the excerpt. Having an understanding of music history (and the theory concepts that were used during that era) help immensely.


Peter and the Wolf

Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) was a Russian pianist, conductor and composer. At this time, the music produced was heavily restricted/moderated by the government. Prokofiev wrote for a wide array of music genres: Ballets and Operas, Symphonies, Concertos, Piano Sonatas, etc. And some of his most known works include “The Love for Three Oranges”, “Lieutenant Kij√©”, “Romeo and Juliet”, and “Peter and the Wolf”.

Peter and the Wolf was commissioned in 1936 to be a musical symphony for children. In this work, the flute plays the role of a bird; the other instruments take on the role of Peter and the other animals. The REH. 2-4 excerpt the first time the bird is featured, and is frequently requested in auditions. The narrator says, “”All is quiet,” chirped the bird…”

Below the flute solo is highlighted in yellow while the reduction (violas and oboe) is on a grand staff.

The 4 measure, opening bird call is completely alone. The solo repeats from REH. 2-3 to 3-4 with only one small difference in the flute part, but the real change happens in the accompaniment. The chords and tonicization aren’t of major emphasis in this solo, however, Prokofiev does ends each section of the solo with a prolonged G Major 7th chord. The G Major chord is reinforced by the accompaniment which places G on the stronger beats (1 and 3) while adding chromatic neighboring tones such as Ab and F# to lead back to the note G.


Leonore Overture No. 3

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) was a German composer and pianist. When talking about Beethoven, scholars refer to his music and life within the boundaries of 3 distinct periods shaped by life events and can be tracked through Beethoven’s compositions. The years are estimated, but have been though to be as follows: Early Period (ending 1802), Middle Period (1802-1812), and Late Period (1812-1827). Beethoven was an influential Classical composer, however, as he matured be began pushing the boundaries for his time (for example, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was not well received by early audiences – particularly for the use of the choir in the final movement). And the year of his dead informally marked the switch between the Classical and Romantic eras.

The Leonore Overture No. 3 was composed c. 1805 for his only opera, Fidelio which had 4 overtures (3 Leonore overtures and 1 Fidelio). The Overture No. 3 is placed before the curtain rises, overshadowing the plot before the final scene. This work fits into Beethoven’s middle period which is also referred to as his “Eroica” or heroic period as referenced in his 3rd (Eroica) Symphony. In Leonore Overture No, 3, the flute has 2 commonly requested excerpts in this one being the opening while the other is m. 328-360.

The first 4 bars of the overture are tutti – it is essential to be aware of the context since intonation, dynamics, and control are on full display here.

Skipping ahead to the 2nd excerpt, the use of tonic (G Major) versus dominant (D) is on full display – which was common during the Classical period to use the I to V/ V to I progression. The flute solo is highlighted in yellow while the response/answer from the bassoon is highlighted in purple.

Leading up to the flute solo, Beethoven creates tension with tutti Major 2nd (C to D) before the flute ascends with eighth notes from D4 to G5. The pedal D from m. 324-329 (as seen by the Ds placed on beat 1 and 3) switches to the “tonic” G pedal from m. 330-339.

Briefly, m. 340-341, the pedal goes back to the dominant as flute restates m. 336-337 up a Perfect 5th. Then, returns to G pedal as the solo line transitions to the triplet section. Similar to the Peter and the Wolf excerpt, Beethoven uses neighbor tones to lead up and down to the tonic and 3rd (G and B).

To end the solo the flute has to hold D6 for 8 measures – whilst maintaining good intonation, tone, pp, and minimal vibrato. The line highlighted in purple, are predominantly strings which take over the melody as the flute tapers off the solo.


How do you approach orchestral excerpts? What are your favorite excerpts to study or play? Share in the comment section below!

My first collegiate ensemble was in no conceivable way the best showing of my talents…

That summer I had been studying with an alumni of the flute studio I was joining. Unbeknownst to the both of us, the audition requirements had changed since her time out of school (which had only been 3 years at that time)…

The audition list for the semester called for Beethoven Leonore No. 3 overture, Hindemith Symphonic Metamorphosis, Brahms Symphony 4, Bizet Carmen Entr’acte, and the exposition to the Mozart Concerto in G.

The audition packet just included the PDFs of the excerpts, and no clear directions… at the time I decided to give the list directly to my teacher and work through it with her. During her time at the school, students could choose which excerpts to prepare – specific ones were not required (can you guess where things went horribly wrong?). I prepared Beethoven, Brahms, Bizet and Mozart.

When the day of the audition came, to my shock and dismay, I learned that the process had changed and that I was expected to play Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis…. which I did… poorly. And don’t even get me started on the sight-reading (I’ve repressed the memory). Here’s what I’ve learned since that scarring day…


I am going to separate this article into two sections: one for incoming college students and one for seasoned veterans looking to just do better in auditions. After looking at both demographics, I’ll give some suggestions for sending out virtual recordings since covid-19 has already began to change how auditions are being held. Let’s get started with the incoming students:

Tips for Incoming Students

  1. COMMUNICATE with the faculty and current students.
    • Ask for clarification – unsure about articulation? Markings? Tempos?
    • Learn more about auditions – how does the scoring work? Is there sight reading? How many rounds are there? Is there separate Fall and Spring semester auditions?
    • Nail down exactly what you need to prepare – and DOUBLE CHECK.
  2. Find recordings – be selective!
    • Just because it’s available on YouTube doesn’t automatically make it good or bad. Be an active listener and compare recordings. If you are completely unsure, you can always ask someone which one they prefer and use that as a starting point!
  3. Be aware of the audition day protocol.
    • Is it a blind audition? Should you dress up?
    • Who will be on the panel? (Area teachers? Ensemble directors? Mixed?)
    • Should the excerpts be memorized? Will there be sight reading?
    • Sign up for time slots? How early should you be prepared to go in?
  4. 2020 Video Auditions???
    • Determine if there will be a moderator and how the panel will be judging.
    • Dress up.
    • Don’t leave recording the audition to the last minute – you may not get a good take that reflects for playing.
    • Don’t worry about getting all excerpts in one take.
    • Be honest with yourself and listen back – if the judges can hit replay so can you.
  5. Record yourself.
    • Listen multiple times each for different qualities (rhythm, intonation, expression).
    • Be active, and write down or mark any mistakes.
    • Positive mindset, you can start to spiral if you get to critical – there are ways to correct yourself that aren’t negative. For example, instead of staying DON’T RUSH, you can say maintain a steady pulse or slow down. Both these alternatives are giving purposeful action and directing you to change.
  6. At the end of the day… a bad audition does not reflect your playing. Have a plan for the day following your audition. Treat yourself for all the work you put into preparing!

Tips for Returning Students

  1. DON’T WAIT UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE. The more you progress in your program you may start to shift towards a more comfortable bubble where auditions feel less stressful – that’s great – but that doesn’t mean that you will achieve your personal best if you skimp on preparing in advance.
    • As soon as the list is out, the LEAST you can do is compile a list of recordings to start sifting through. Listen to them and begin to separate quality recordings to study and listen to more intensely.
  2. Record yourself! The first day you get the audition list, record the excerpts (it will be nice when the audition is close to see how much progress you’ve really made).
    • And keep recording yourself throughout the preparation process. You don’t need to record every practice session, but you will benefit greatly by listening to yourself and breaking down the same criteria as the judges.
  3. Know what to listen for… Rhythm is FIRST. Intonation and tone is second. And musicality/expression is last.
  4. Find scores whether you buy them or find them on IMSLP or elsewhere.
    • woodwindexcerpts.com was a LIFE-SAVER during my undergraduate ensemble auditions!
    • Knowing the context of what your role is and what the rest of the ensemble is doing is ESSENTIAL to properly preparing.
  5. Practice slowly – you don’t need to have the goal tempo down a week after the audition repertoire is posted. Moderate-tempo, clean technique is better than fast, muddy technique.
    • Take half the tempo on the first read and see how comfortable it feels. Gradually bump it up until you reach a tempo range that it becomes challenging. Don’t be a champion, stay objective to see the best results!
  6. Have a consistent warm up and mental preparation for the audition day. You want to be focused and centered so that you can project that energy in the audition room.
    • There’s no ‘right’ warm up or preparation, figure out what will make you feel the most confident. And don’t forget to treat yourself after the audition.
  7. Prepare for sight reading… you don’t have to jump in blindly.
    • Know what the judges are looking for, most often, they are listening for: rhythm, pitch/tone, intonation, style/articulation, and musicality/dynamics/phrasing.
    • Practice sight reading – use other instrument’s (ie violin or oboe) repertoire and focus on the elements they judges will be listening for.
      • Rhythm: If they notes happen at the wrong time, they pitches have no chance at being correct. Get comfortable with as many rhythm variations as possible.
        • Once surefire way to do this is by practicing “rhythm-cells” which is just taking a single rhythm and repeating it over an over until you are comfortable.
        • Also, practice different meters – practice in duple, triplet, quadruple! Practice simple and compound meters! Even practice odd meters!!
      • Pitch/tone: Practice. Your. Scales. (and arpeggios and 7th chords) You won’t know what key or pattern the sight reading will be in, but if you are proficient in all your scales then you will be able to put more energy into rhythm, dynamics, etc rather than working about getting all the right fingers down in a key signature that has 5 flats.
      • Intonation: Know your tendencies. This should be an ongoing process, be aware what pitches tend sharp or flat and figure out how you should be adjusting (the answer is not always to pull out the head joint).

Tips for Recording

If you were a music student during the beginning of the pandemic, you may have already began to troubleshoot issues that arose last Spring. Issues like peaking audio, recording equipment, placement, framing, etc.

If you have a virtual audition coming up, FIRST figure out what type of audition you will be taking. Will it be asynchronous or will you actually be in a video conference? If it is asynchronous will the audition be blind (aka will there be a moderator to keep the auditions anonymous) or will the panel be watching the videos?

  1. Take a lesson with your primary teacher. And/or do a mock audition with your peers. This is a MUST, first it will provide you with an objective perspective – both with your actual playing as well as how well your playing translates through technology.
  2. Figure out if there are any technology issues in the case of blind auditions mainly audio issues. If your current equipment isn’t cutting it… your laptop or phone is just not getting good results. RESEARCH affordable and quality options. (As of writing this, the Zoom or Snowball microphones are the most accessible – the Zoom one can be plugged into a phone and the Snowball connects to a laptop with a USB).
  3. Experiment, how does moving the camera/microphone effect the sound quality? Move around the room and figure out where you get the best results.
  4. If the audition is going to be a conference or the panel will see you – practice getting comfortable in the space you will be recording/streaming.
    • Make sure the part of you the camera can see if presentable – dress to impress!
    • And make sure you feel free and just as capable in your playing as if you were on stage or in an actual audition room.
  5. If the audition is going to be asynchronous…
    • Figure out if the audition needs to be entirely one take or if you can do individual takes for each excerpt.
    • Communicate with a faculty member or moderator how the recording should be formatted…
      • Should it be in a specific order? Can you send multiple clips or one long clip? When and where should be clip be submitted?
    • If you need to make a long clip (compiling all the excerpts into one video) look into free, accessible movie editing software. For iOS devices, iMovie on either a phone/tablet/laptop can take less than 5 minutes to just put individual excerpts together and save to your camera roll.

What are you best audition preparation tips? Do you have any audition horror stories that you learned from? Feel free to share your thoughts below!