Auditions can be scary. They are packed full of nerves, which in turn makes you do the two exact things that are counterproductive to playing music: 1) losing your sense of time, and 2) not breathing. How do you combat that? Well, you might think “duh,” play slower and breathe more.
Yes, but there’s much more to it than that. The thing is, no matter how many rituals you do, the difference between winning and losing an audition is usually how well prepared you are. That means you just have to practice.
So, you’ve worked hard for months to prepare. The big day is coming and you’re getting excited but also very nervous. This is normal. The thing about auditions is that nerves can actually be a good thing if you control them and therefore use them to your advantage.
Here are the methods I’ve found work best before, during and after an audition:
Be committed to your rituals
What do you do before a big test or sports game? Get a good night’s sleep and eat a good breakfast. Exercise to get out pent up energy, Do deep breathing (something I swear by) to relax, slow your heart rate, and give your brain and heart fresh oxygen.
Warm up correctly
When you wake up on the morning of the audition, do NOT just grab your instrument and zoom through all your repertoire really fast. Why? Because it allows mistakes to creep in. There’s nothing worse than practicing for months only to start making unexpected mistakes the day of the audition.
Instead, warm up and play through everything SLOWLY. Why? This reminds your fingers what they need to do when you need them the most and controls the tendency to rush.
Arrive early…but not too early
We’ve all had the nightmare of showing up late to an important event like a test or audition. Arriving early is a great remedy, but listening to your competitors play for an hour before you go on can feel like torture. My best compromise is to arrive 30 minutes before audition time. That allows you to settle in, warm up a little, and get your bearings without getting antsy.
Embrace the space
When you arrive in the audition room, get comfortable by speaking to the judges if that’s an option. Smile! The judges are just people, and they’re genuinely rooting for you.
Tell the judges that you’d like to play a few notes to test out the room. If you like, turn in the other direction and play some notes throughout each register of your instrument. End on the note you’ll start your piece or scale on if you know what it will be.
Treat it like a performance
Bring the instrument up, hold it there for at least 3 seconds. During those 3 seconds, breathe in and also envision the first measure or two of the piece (how it sounds, what the notes are, and what tempo you’ll take). Those 3 seconds can feel like 3 hours but believe me, you’ll be glad you took them. Don’t be afraid to go slower than you normally might when practicing. In reality, you may not be going all that slow. This is one way to control your nerves.
Remember: you’re making music. It should be fun. When you focus on the piece you’re playing and how it feels, nerves can turn into wonderful musicality, and bring out qualities you never knew you had as a performer.
End it well, no matter what
Just like how you began, end your performance by holding the instrument up for at least 3 seconds after the final note. It is a subtlety that allows the last notes to linger and shows your poise as a performer. Smile now too.
Then comes sight reading. Want to know how to do that? Read this post.
Training for an audition is a lot like training for the Olympics. The more you practice and the better you practice, the better you’ll do in an audition. Play for people you know to simulate the real audition. Record yourself to see how you really look and sound.
After all your preparation, go in and leave the audition feeling proud of your hard work, that you gave your best, and all that you are learning from this experience.
Lastly, remember that you’re just there to make music. So forget about all this stuff, and just play.