This article was published in the January 2018 SEMFA newsletter.
Audition season is rapidly approaching and in preparation, I have been reading a lot of books and articles that contain various tips and tricks teaching you how to calm nerves and feel super prepared. The books "Audition Success" by Don Greene and "Six Weeks to Finals" by Sharon Sparrow have been especially helpful throughout this process. If you are anything like me, experiencing nervousness before auditions has the potential to drastically alter my performance. In an attempt to "cure" my own nerves and learn how to practice positively and mindfully, I have discovered some methods of preparation that work very well for me when preparing for auditions. I have compiled a short list of the 5 most effective audition preparation tips based on my readings and past audition experience.
I first learned about this technique by reading the book "Audition Success" by Don Greene, where he worked directly with clients auditioning for various major orchestras. An easy way to sum up the concept of centering is to first come up with "cue words" for each piece in your audition repertoire. These words or short phrases should capture the way you feel when you listen to this piece or excerpt, or the way you wish to feel (i.e. flowing and relaxed, light and bouncy). Before a run-through of a specific piece or excerpt, do something to get your heart rate up (jumping jacks, running in place, running up and down a flight of stairs, etc.), and then try to reduce your heart rate and "center" yourself within nine breaths. The first three breaths should focus on lowering your heart rate, the second three focused on relaxing all of your muscles, and the third to focus on your cue words for the excerpt you are about to perform. The goal is to eventually reduce the amount of breaths you take before you begin an excerpt, but it is beneficial to practice with nine at first.
2) Mock Auditions
Mock auditions are, in my opinion, perhaps the most important tool for audition preparation. In Sharon Sparrow's book titled "Six Weeks to Finals", she describes many different types of mock auditions that you should schedule before your audition. She discusses "visual" mock auditions, where you close your eyes with your flute in your hands and visualize yourself entering the audition room, acknowledging the panel if it is an open audition, playing through each of your pieces successfully, thanking the panel if appropriate, and exiting the stage. She also describes performing mock auditions in front of people that make you nervous, such as a professional flutist or friends you look up to. Have your put-together panel ask you as many realistic questions you could receive during the real audition, have them choose which pieces they would like you to play, and have them stop you in the middle of a piece as a panel may in a live audition. You could also try to find out what type of room you will be auditioning in (i.e. a large concert hall, a small recital hall, a classroom, etc.) and schedule a mock audition in a similar type of room at your current school or in your hometown to practice entering and exiting while visualizing that you are at the audition. "Six Weeks to Finals" contains a six-week audition preparation guide that has proven to be successful with many professional and pre-professional musicians.
An element that I typically add to my audition preparation process that has proven to be very beneficial is taking five minutes out of my day to meditate. beginning a few weeks before the audition. Taking this short amount of time to "center" myself and train my mind to set an intention for my practice session or my day overall has allowed me to hold a more positive mindset while in "training mode" for auditions. It is very easy to think negatively about yourself in times of stress, which can be harmful to your progress. Practicing to set a positive intention at the start of your day will translate into your practice sessions and eventually your audition, and positivity contributes to successful performances.
4) Have a Plan
I have recently signed up for Rob Knopper's auditionhacker newsletter, which included a downloadable PDF of an "audition cheat sheet". One of his tips on this cheat sheet is to mark your calendar with a plan for every practice session between now and the audition. In Sharon Sparrow's book "Six Weeks to Finals" and in the book "Audition Success" by Don Greene, they both discuss the importance of planning out each practice session in preparation for an audition as well. Something that has worked well with me in regards to planning out my practicing is to first create a list of the required repertoire, playing through each of them and ranking how comfortable I feel when playing each piece between a scale of 1-10. I then sort each piece into three categories: 1) very prepared, 2) moderately prepared, 3) work in progress. It is very important to keep each category labeled positively to ensure that the "category threes" do not trigger any negative practicing or "cramming". From there, I write a practice schedule and devote the most time towards my works in progress, devote slightly less time to my "category 2s", and be sure to get at least one run through of each of my most prepared pieces every session to keep them fresh. As my practicing progresses, it is possible for my most prepared pieces to now need more work. It is important to gauge your progress on your repertoire each week and note that the ranking may change based on the amount of work you have put into your pieces that needed it the most. Having a practicing plan can help keep you motivated and can be rewarding as you see yourself progress each week.
5) Be organized
If your auditions require travel, have your travel plans set weeks in advance. Have your flights and hotels booked, and be sure to refer to the travel recommendations page on the university or conservatory's website before booking. Sometimes local hotels offer discounts for auditioning students, and that information can be found on the travel recommendations page on the school's website as well. I like to print out any audition confirmation, information for auditioning students document, and even sometimes email confirmations from prospective teachers for any private lessons you may take with their rates included. I keep these in my "audition binder" along with copies of all of my music and a list of repertoire requirements for each school. Staying organized and filing all of your information as you receive it may save you some stress as you get closer to the audition itself so that you can focus on being prepared to the best of your ability!
Below are links to the resources I have cited in my article as well as many other sources for your reference regarding the audition preparation process:
Don Greene: Audition Success
Sharon Sparrow: Six Weeks to Finals
Rob Knopper: Audition Cheat Sheet
The Bulletproof Musician: 7 Preparation Tips for Successful Auditions
The Bulletproof Musician: Start Your Audition Off on the Right Foot!
By: Francesca Leo