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8 Audition Tips for Prospective Music Majors

Well-tested survival advice, from lucky socks to flight scheduling


Students working in music room at college campus
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Would-be music and drama majors are easy to spot at this time of year. They’re the ones chewing their nails down to the quick and nervously consulting their phones to make sure they haven’t scheduled auditions in Nome and Miami on the same day. Although audition advice is handy at any time of year, college and conservatory auditions can reduce even the most confident young artist to bundles of nerves. So check out these well-tested tips from parents, musicians and experts, including former Juilliard admissions director Carole Everett, as well as this College Admissions 101 for Music & Drama Majors guide.

  1. Plan Your Flight: Try to avoid flying on the day of the audition, particularly if the venue is at higher altitude than your family is used to - and your child is a wind or brass player, or singer. Traveling is tiring, and airplane travel in particular can dehydrate, affect ears, or cause swelling in the joints. Plan to travel with your teen, if at all possible. Auditions are stressful enough without the added anxiety of negotiating a strange city - and if he's underage, he can't rent a car. With you there for moral and logistical support, your young artist can concentrate on the high stakes performance ahead.

  2. Pack It All: Have your child read the audition materials carefully before going, then bring them – along with copies of the music or script, the audition schedule letter and ALL his equipment. (One classical guitarist, says Everett, arrived at his Juilliard audition with an empty guitar case.)

  3. Sleep Well: Make sure you both get a good night’s sleep. Avoid caffeine, which is dehydrating. Have your child drink lots of water. Yawn – it relaxes the jaw, neck and shoulders, releases tension and tells your body there’s no danger. Breathe. Smile. It will help both of you. (You'll find more parental audition survival tips here.)

  4. Dress the Part: Your child's clothes convey how serious he is about this audition. Female instrumentalists should wear a nice skirt or dress slacks, blouse, and low or medium heels. Young men should wear dress slacks, a nice shirt, tie and comfortable dress shoes. Jackets are optional. (Sopranos can get away with wearing a vivid ballgown or concert dress to an audition. Violinists, not so much.) Check the fit of collar and sleeves to make sure your musician can still play comfortably. Do not wear brand new clothes or shoes for the first time at an audition. Even a small heel variation, for example, can dramatically throw off a harpist's performance and a too-tight skirt can sabotage a cello audition.

  5. Wear the Lucky Socks: Whatever superstitious totem your child favors - whether it's lucky socks, green underwear or a troll doll tucked in a corner of the tuba case - indulge it. Many artists find eating a banana calming. Some swear by a meal of complex carbs several hours beforehand, while others find the very thought of food nauseating. Find what works for your child, then stick to it.

  6. Plan to Get Lost: Arrive an hour early so you have time to get lost, get found, locate parking, find the audition room and warm-up space, and allow some of the adrenaline to seep away.

  7. Exude Confidence: Tell your child to walk into the audition room with confidence and a positive attitude. He can expect to face three to 16 faculty members. One will act as coordinator of the audition, so he should take his cue from that person. They may start by asking him some questions - assure your child that these are not trick questions. They're meant to set him at ease.

  8. Start Strong: Most schools let students start with a piece of their choosing. Have him select it carefully. First impressions are critical. It need not be the most difficult piece, but it should be something he really loves and that shows him off to his best, right from the very start. Sounding good on page two is much too late. Tell him to stay focused and play from the heart. And finally, it may feel like a lifetime in there, but it’s just 10 to 15 minutes. Good luck!
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