A Guide to Practicing Auditions [Step-by-Step]

I’ve listened to lots of auditions over the years, and two things that seem to separate the auditions that go well from the ones that don’t are:

  1. An audition plan
  2. Practicing the plan

This means that you not only practice your music, scales, and sight-reading, but you also practice the act of auditioning.

Practicing the Audition Itself

While the specifics of practicing the audition can vary (depending on your experience level and what you’re audition is for), for most middle, high school, and college-aged students, here’s what I suggest:

  1. Set aside 15-20 minutes to only do the audition.
  2. Audition at the beginning of your practice session.
  3. Find a few ways to simulate audition stress.
  4. Plan your playing
  5. Review your audition immediately after.

Audition Practice: Before You Start

The first two steps in this process are hopefully obvious.

When you’re getting ready to audition (or to practice auditioning) be focused on that single task.

Warm-up smartly (don’t play a solo from last year, or marching band music), and not too much. Also, don’t try and practice the audition music now – it’s too late. You may run a small trouble spot or two, and you should be doing lots of mental practice, but playing the music over and over is going to only make you tired.

When you’re doing this practice audition, you want to do the same thing. Get your horn out of the case, warm-up for 5 or 10 minutes, and then put the horn down (and maybe even leave the room) for another 5 or 10 minutes.

Remember all that time you spend waiting before you play? You want to factor that into your practice

Audition Practice: Simulate Stress

This is one of the main reasons to practice auditioning.

Almost everyone gets more nervous for an audition or performance than a rehearsal or practice session.

But remember that in order to improve on playing under stress, you need to practice it. Here are a few ideas, but definitely come up with some that work for you:

  • Play for people (other students, teachers, friends, and family, etc.).
  • Visualize the entire audition process (waiting outside the audition room door, walking inside the room, sitting down, etc.).
  • Do some light exercises to get your lungs and heart pumping (a few pushups or jumping jacks, run up and down the stairs for a minute, etc.).
  • Record your audition.
  • Livestream your audition.

I’m sure there are other techniques that you can use, but these are all good starts.

Audition Practice: Plan Your Playing

While you can’t plan for everything, make sure you do plan as much as you can.

Have a consistent routine that you do when you sit down to play your audition. Make sure it covers things like getting your music in order, emptying your water, going over your tempo, finding your first note, etc.

Here are some things I suggest, but this list is not complete:

  • Always empty at least your main tuning slide between audition pieces. It only takes a few seconds, and it’s a good way to get a bit of mental space between pieces. If you need to empty other slides, definitely do that, but do not run from one audition piece directly into another.
  • If the order of the audition pieces is up to you, have a preference. Don’t just pick randomly. Sometimes you don’t get to pick the order, but if you do, make sure you figure out what works best for you.
  • If you’re allowed to find your first note before you start (and between pieces), do it. There is nothing worse than missing the first note and feeling like you’ve ruined the piece before you’ve started.
    • That’s not true – the worst thing is to miss the first note and not realize it, but let’s assume you’ve practiced enough to know your notes!
  • Related to the above, have a short routine to find your first note for every audition piece. Don’t just play random notes – have a plan. You can use a scale, arpeggio, alternate fingerings, or something else, but make sure that whatever you play is consistent. Practicing this is also important.
  • Like finding your first note, make sure you have a reliable way to find your tempo consistently. If it’s something easy (like 60 or 120) you can use a clock. If the tempo is close to the tempo of another song you know, that’s another option. Otherwise, find a measure or two that are challenging (for you), and make sure your opening tempo is a tempo that works for those measures.

Audition Practice: Reviewing the Audition

This is likely the most important part of the process.

Once you’re done with the practice audition (including audition pieces and scales/sight reading), you’ll want to make some notes about what did and did not go well as soon as possible.

One of the most challenging parts of this is being constructive and emotionally detached from your playing. Pretend that you’re giving comments to someone else, and you’ll often be much more constructive and get more useful information.

These comments should cover a few things:

  • How did you feel before you started the audition?
  • What did you do to simulate being nervous?
  • How did your audition plan change?
  • What went well (this is important) and what did not go well?
  • How are you planning to practice the things that didn’t go well?

The last step is very important – if you do two or three mock auditions and you have the same problems and the same solutions then you’ll pretty easily be able to see that they are not working. This means that you need to change something in your preparation.

After you do a few dozen of these, you’ll start to see patterns that develop to make your audition process more consistent.

Closing Audition Thoughts

Remember that auditions are only a snapshot of your playing and preparation in a moment.

A catastrophic audition does not mean you are a bad player. It doesn’t even mean you prepared badly. Sometimes things just all go wrong.

However, usually, things go wrong because we avoid them. If you get nervous, and you didn’t practice making yourself nervous, then the solution is obvious – practice getting nervous and playing anyway.

Of course, the first time you do this, it goes badly. But the second time is often a bit better. And the fifteenth time is even better. But if you only practice auditioning at the audition, it’s going to take a very long time to be comfortable.

If you work on an audition not as a single event, but as a long process of planning and preparation, you’ll likely be surprised at how much better you perform.