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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

Filtering by Category: Audition Advice

How to Prepare for an Audition

Andrew Hitz

"One might say that the ability to evaluate one's own ability is the most important skill of all. Without it, improvement is impossible. And certainly ego makes it difficult every step of the way."

—Ryan Holiday in Ego is the Enemy

Many years ago I was supposed to be giving a joint master class with Joe Alessi in Banff but instead I was making him do most of the talking and taking notes!

One student asked him what the key to winning an audition is. Joe told him that he really didn't like answering that question but then proceeded to precisely put it into words:

"You have to be brutally honest with yourself and know exactly what you can and can not do on your instrument."
—Joe Alessi on the key to winning an audition

That's it. You need to do the equivalent of staring at yourself in the mirror while completely naked. No clothes to hide behind. No flattering camera angles. No beautiful scenery in the background to distract us. Just you and your glorious naked self.

He then went on to say anyone preparing for an audition should spend an equal amount of their practice time listening to themselves as actually playing. To hammer home that point, he said someone spending four hours in a day preparing for an audition should spend a full two of those hours listening to recordings of themselves.

This is how you get brutally honest about what you can and can not do.

And you need to do this every single day. Federal holidays. Your boyfriend's birthday. Your anniversary. The day you graduate.

The women and men who are on the short list of people who really have a good chance of winning any given audition are all doing this level of prep. So you'd better be.

Lance LaDuke Discusses How He Prepared for his Successful US Air Force Band Audition

Andrew Hitz

A few years ago Boston Brass came to where I teach, George Mason, to rehearse for a few days before our season started. After a performance for the school. my former Boston Brass colleague Lance LaDuke took the time to come to the lesson of one of my graduate euphonium players.

My student began questioning Lance about how he went about winning a job with the United States Air Force Band in Washington DC. Within a few minutes I realized that the content was gold and started recording.

Lance goes into great detail about his successful audition preparations. Talk about a guy with a plan that he executed over and over again over time.

This is a master class on sight reading, goal setting, time management, practice technique, and many, many more things.

This is a must listen for anyone preparing for any professional audition on any instrument.  After listening to his preparation process, it is easy to see why he won.

Below are the quotes that stood out to me for one reason or another, although there are far too many to include all of the good ones.

  • "I personally don't like playing out of the Barbara Payne book because I like to see the band parts. I assume that when I show up they're going to make me play off of a regular part."
  • "There were going to be things that were out of my control. Everything that was in my control I was going to prepare for."
  • "Every day, 7 days a week, my job from 9 pm to 3 am was getting ready."
  • "I was intense from 9 until 3 but it wasn't all horn on the face time. So whenever my face would get tired I would do score study."
  • "If you're not in tune and in time, you're not going to win."
  • "It's way harder to get a gig than to keep a gig."
  • "You've got to be fearless."
  • "On one hand, you have to play like your life depends on getting the gig. And on the other hand, you have to play like you don't care if you get the gig."
  • "You have a bigger advantage because you're (in DC.) You can drive over and listen to these bands."
  • "I always pushed sight reading to last. When I was completely shot and tired and wanted to go to bed, that's when I did sight reading."
  • "The rules for me for sight reading were I wasn't allowed to stop and when in doubt play the rhythms."
  • "If I knew the key and knew the roadmap, all I'd focus on were the rhythms and following the shape of the line."
  • "If you are sight reading and do the stutter thing, I'm faced with a question: Is this guy doing this because he's uncomfortable with the piece or because his time sucks?"
  • "I was strong as an ox. I could play all day."
  • "Make sure you can play swing style. Make sure you can play funk and make sure you can play rock."
  • "If you can't play popular styles it's nice that you can play marches, but it isn't just about the marches. You have to be able to sound credible on all that stuff."
  • "Basically I just learned how my body reacts under pressure, how my mind reacts under pressure, and how do I prepare for that."
  • "I had 18 different ways to chill myself out if I got stressed."
  • "I did 50 successful auditions (in my mind) before the actual audition."
  • "My favorite book at the time on performance anxiety was 'Notes from the Green Room'."
  • "What are your triggers and how does your body react?"
  • "Who in the industry do I know that I can go talk to?"
  • "Make sure you're at every minute of the Army Band Tuba Conference because it's free."
  • "Tell them 'I'm a broke college student. Are you giving any master classes in the area?'"
  • "The warm-up to me is part mental and part physical."
  • "Maybe they won't notice? They're gonna notice. If you noticed it's got to be fixed."
  • "Even if it sounds better but I use force, that's not a solution."
  • "How loudly can I play with control? How softly can I play with control? And you don't know at which point a note spreads until you spread the note."
  • "My teacher at Akron had a picture of a hand grenade up on his door and a sign that said 'Just because it's loud doesn't mean anybody wants to hear it.'"
  • "They are going to put sight reading in front of you until you fail."
  • "How I play in Boston Brass is different than how I play in a brass band which is different than how I play in a large concert band."
  • "If I was playing with the clarinets I would try to play with the clarinets."
  • "I played like I like to play and if they liked that that's good for me. And if they didn't like that that's good information for me."
  • "There was nothing that surprised me (on audition day.) There was not a single thing I wasn't prepared to deal with."

These are all great quotes but the real reason Lance won was his quote at 43:13 which you just have to listen to for yourself.  It sums the whole thing up.

Thank you, Lance!

Norman Bolter on Orchestral Auditions

Andrew Hitz

"Interesting that the uniform of the orchestra is black and white just like a keyboard. And basically a person is auditioning to be a key on the orchestral keyboard."

-Norman Bolter (former 2nd Trombone of the Boston Symphony)


This is why it so imperative to know the excerpts you are playing backwards and forwards.  The people who win auditions can play a recording of the entire orchestra in their heads.  That includes a number of bars before their excerpt begins and several bars afterwards.

Few people on your committee (if any) will play your instrument.  They will be hearing their "key on the orchestral keyboard" while you are playing.  If what you are playing does not fit with the part they are hearing in their heads you will be sent home.  It is that simple.

David Zerkel on Choosing College

Andrew Hitz

The following was a note that David Zerkel, tuba and euphonium professor from the University of Georgia, posted as a note on Facebook.  He is one of the premier brass teachers in the world and seems to always have students from his studio winning jobs of all kinds.  I thought his words summed up perfectly what any music student looking to choose a college should consider.

Reprinted with his permission.

On Choosing College

It's audition season for high school seniors across America, so In the spirit of public service, I am posting an essay from the past. Good luck with your searches!


“So, You Want to be a Music Major?”

Some Ideas on Selecting the Right Music Program

The time has come--You’ve reached the ripe old age of 16 or 17 and it’s time to answer that pesky question that someone asked you way back in Kindergarten: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” A rather daunting question (one that many of my friends in their thirties and forties still haven’t answered!), but one that needs to be addressed before you shuffle off to college.

I’ll go ahead and make the assumption, since you’re reading this, that you might be considering pursuing a career in music. Congratulations! Being a musician is a wonderful thing. It is a pleasure to wake up in the morning when you can spend the whole day doing something that you LOVE to do. Having said that, it is important for you to realize that you are at a very important crossroad-- your decision of where to pursue your musical education will shape your life for the rest of your days. So, before we decide where we’re going to go, we might want to think back to the Kindergarten question--“What do I want to be when I grow up?”


Choosing a Degree Program

Most universities and conservatories offer several choices of degree programs for undergraduates. Typically, the three degrees that are most often pursued are the Bachelor of Music Education (B.M.E.), the Bachelor of Music in Performance, and the Bachelor of Arts with a Music Major. Additionally, some schools will offer specialized programs in Music Therapy, Music Business, or Arts Technology.  Which degree is right for you? Let’s see if we can figure that out.

The Bachelor of Music Education is perhaps the most common undergraduate degree. It is, essentially, what it says it is: a program that will prepare you to teach music. After completing an Education degree from most schools, you will be certified to teach music K-12. (If you wish to teach music at the college level, you will need to pursue a Master’s degree and then, most likely, a Doctorate degree.) While pursuing the B.M.E., students are required to complete a thorough course of study in music, to include courses in music theory, music history, keyboard skills, ear-training, instrumental techniques, conducting, and private study of the student’s major instrument. Students in the B.M.E. program are also required to perform in large and small university ensembles. In addition to the music courses, students will likely be required to complete coursework relevant to basic principles of education and applications of teaching. The good news for education majors is that they are acquiring a very marketable degree and are almost guaranteed employment after graduating. Mom and Dad love this degree!

The Bachelor of Music in Performance is a degree for those students who wish to pursue a career performing on their major instrument. Acceptance into this program is usually contingent upon passing a highly scrutinized audition for the major professor. Students who are admitted to this degree program should be able to demonstrate not only a highly evolved development on their instrument,but a very strong commitment to their craft. Not unlike professional athletics, the competition curve for performing jobs is incredibly steep. There are a very large number of highly qualified candidates competing for a very small number of full-time positions. Obviously, there are no guarantees for employment at the completion of this degree and many students will choose to continue their studies in graduate school.

There continues to be some pretty spirited discussion about whether or not students should enroll as performance or education majors if their ultimate goal is tobe a performing musician. While some folks feel that the performance degree is “worthless” because it leaves one with a lack of “marketable” skills, others who may have no interest in teaching feel as though they’d be doing a potential disservice to future students by pursuing a “fall-back” career. Both points have their merit. While it is important to pursue one’s dreams with gusto, it is also important to envision a future that includes some sense of career security. It is worth noting at this time that many, if not most, leading orchestral musicians and university professors hold music education degrees. 

Finally, the Bachelor of Arts in Music is essentially a liberal arts degree with a concentration in music. This is frequently a choice for students who still want to have a concentrated study in music, but wish to have more flexibility in taking classes that might prepare them for Professional School, such as Law School or Med School. This degree offers the most academic flexibility and allows the student to really use their undergraduate experience to "find themselves". If you wish to Double Major (daunting, but possible!), the BA may be your best bet. Choosing one program over another will have little or no bearing on the most important factors in your development -- your willingness to work and your desire to realize your potential.


Choosing a School

There are many factors to consider when learning about your potential home for the next four years. Below are some important considerations in selecting a school ofmusic that will be a comfortable fit for you.


Applied Faculty

Who will teach you private lessons on your instrument? What is their background? Do they have substantial performance experience? What is their track record in placing students in teaching and playing positions? Is there any possibility that you might end up studying with a graduate assistant rather than the applied teacher? How is the strength of the other faculty within that area? If you stop to think about it, your applied teacher will be the one constant in your four years of college. You will have more one on one contact with this person than you will with any other faculty member. This person will likely be your biggest fan, your toughest critic and will likely be your musical mentor as your life continues. Consider this aspect of your decision carefully!



How strong are the school’s performing organizations? This question is important on several fronts: it will indicate the strength of the conductors, the strength of the students, and can be a good clue into the esprit de corps of the program. It is important that the ensembles are well balanced and that there enough slots in the ensembles for all of the students. In this digital age, most schools will have compact discs of their performing organizations available for distribution to inquisitive prospects. Ask for these and draw your own conclusions.



How are the physical facilities of the music department? Are there an adequate number of practice rooms? How are the performance halls? How are the rehearsal halls? If you’ll be living a distance from the music building, is there adequate storage space for your instrument? Will you be able to have the type of access to the building that you think that you will need? How is the music library? How are the library’s holdings for your particular discipline? Is the technology up to speed? Most importantly, is this a place where you can see yourself comfortably spending a vast amount of time everyday?


Financial Considerations

How is the school set up for financial aid and scholarships? Do you need to fill out an extra application for scholarship consideration? What percentage of music students are receiving some form of financial assistance? If you have been offered a scholarship, what is the impact of this award on your bottom line cost of attending that school? Sometimes, even if you receive no scholarship assistance from one school, it may still be less expensive than attending a more expensive school that has made a huge scholarship award. Every schoolwants to offer you a scholarship. Don’t become too despondent if your top choice does not come up with an offer. Check your ego at the door and take a good hard look at where you really want to be and whether or not it is financially feasible.


The Vibe

When you have narrowed down your list of schools to two or three be certain to visit those schools on a day when school is in session. Go to a class. Sit in with an ensemble. Take a lesson with the applied teacher. Talk to students and ask them questions. Is there a feeling of optimism? Pride? Apathy? Try to summarize the feeling that you get from being a part of the scene at that school for a day.  Can you see an environment conducive to growth? Can you see an environment that is conducive to fun? Read the University newspaper. Drive around the town. While this is a decision that needs to be made based on logic, it is a decision that must also be driven by how you react to what you see and experience.


The Audition

A very important part of the application process for any school of music is the audition. Your audition may be held in front of a committee of faculty or perhaps with only the applied professor. It is very important for you to know that everyone in the room who is listening to you play is pulling for you. You are playing for a bunch of people who have experienced the sweaty palms, the dry mouth and the anxiety of the moment dozens of times. Relax. Breathe deeply. Now, play your best! Here are some things to consider in preparing to present your best product.


1.     Before you go to your audition, play for as many people as possible. Play for your teacher, your friends, your parents, anyone who will listen! As far as audition prep goes, there is no substitution for live performance. This will help you to get a grip on your nerves and will make the process seem less intimidating. No one at your audition wants you to feel intimidated. (If you sense that someone there does want to intimidate you, you might want to reconsider if you really want to subject yourself to that for four years! Yikes!)

2.     Try to arrive on campus a day before you have to play. Travel tends to make people feel a little funky. Arriving a day ahead of time will allow you to find out where you’re going and to get a good night of sleep before you perform. If you are an easy drive from your audition and arriving a day early seems like overkill, just allow plenty of time to get lost and to find parking.

3.     Please don’t assume that the higher, faster, louder mentality has a whole lot of appeal to your audition committee. They would rather hear a thoughtful, controlled performance of music that you can play well than to hear a shoddy performance of a piece that you think might knock their socks off. Plan your program accordingly. If a school has a prescribed audition program, don’t stray from that literature. If there is not a specific list of requirements, it is usually a good idea to prepare two solos of contrasting style that will explicitly demonstrate both your technical and musical abilities. If you are unsure what to play, e-mail the teacher and propose a couple of options. They will point you in the right direction! It is always a good idea to know ahead of time whether or not you will be required to perform any scales. It is not a coincidence that the “luckiest” players are usually the most prepared!

4.     Ask questions. If you are asked questions, answer them thoughtfully. There is more to your audition than what comes out of your instrument! The committee wants to learn about you and whether or not you’d be a good fit in the studio and in the department. Be prepared to talk about what you’ve done in school and what your plans are for the future. Remember, you should be evaluating the school just as much as the school is evaluating you!

5.     Above all else, try to demonstrate that you love music and that you are serious about your pursuit of a musical education. The last thing the world needs is another wishy-washy music major! Enthusiasm turns teachers on and is infectious in the studio! Sell yourself!


Good Luck!!

Words courtesy of David Zerkel. Visit his website at

Own Your Mistakes

Andrew Hitz

This quote from Dr. Mickey McCale reminds me of a time I heard a student ask Joe Alessi about how to prepare for a professional audition.  Joe told that student that they needed to get "brutally honest" with themselves about what they could and could not do on the horn.

First you have to recognize your defects as a player, conductor or communicator.  Then you have to own those defects until you turn them into strengths.

Great Insights Into the Audition Process

Andrew Hitz

Yesterday, I stumbled upon a great article by euphonium player Dave Werden on taking and preparing for auditions.  There's enough information in this post that he easily could have broken it up into 3 or 4 parts.  But instead, he gave it to us all at once! This article is a must read for anyone trying to win a gig.  A lot of it is common sense and stuff that we all need to hear over and over again.  For example:

"Is your f louder than your mf? And is your mp softer, and your p softer yet?"

"Not only are you trying to be better than all the other players, you are also trying to be better than the ensemble's expectations and standards. Set your sights accordingly."

"You will be distracted during an audition, so practice with distractions."

He goes on to give some suggestions of how to practice with distractions, how to solidify rhythm and groove, how to present yourself at an audition and lots more.  Anyone trying to win an audition must read this article:

Dave Werden: Audition Advice - Part 2

You should also listen to this great conversation that Lance LaDuke had with one of my graduate students at George Mason about his preparations for the Air Force Band audition he won years ago.  Again, it is not a coincidence that he won that audition when you listen to him discuss his preparation.

Lance LaDuke on Audition Preparation

Good luck on your own audition prep!

A Musical Enlightenment

Andrew Hitz

"If I could define enlightenment briefly I would say it is the quiet acceptance of what is." - Wayne Dyer

I once heard Joe Alessi, in response to a question about taking auditions, tell a student that they had to get brutally honest with themselves about what they could and couldn't do on the horn.  This is the musical enlightenment that all successful musicians experience.  Once you realize what you can and can't do on your horn and quietly accept it as so, you can make a plan for conquering that which falls into the latter category.

This of course applies to what you can do on a podium, in a classroom, as an entrepreneur, as an interviewee, to any pursuit.  Face and accept your strengths and your weaknesses with brutal honesty and you too will experience the enlightenment.

© 2013 Andrew Hitz