by Clay Johnson
It is very important to continue fundamentals growth during the summer months. Daily routines should continue throughout the summer and should include not only physical practice but also mental practice. A daily practice routine should contain but not be limited to long tones, lip slurs, breathing exercises, articulation and technique exercises, scale and arpeggio studies, and sight reading (etude books and solo repertoire). In addition to physical practice, you should use the summer time to listen to professional artists on your instrument. It is very important to realize that a large component of your playing comes from mental preparation. When you know how you want to sound, it is much easier to achieve that goal. Comparing artist’s styles and imitating their performance characteristics are great ways to improve your musicality and your overall concept of sound. For any audition, it should be your number one goal to play with your very best sound! The bottom line is that preparation is the key to a successful audition process.
Practicing for honor band/orchestra auditions should begin the first day that the music is available. When possible, obtain recordings of professionals playing the audition music. Once again, it is very important to realize the significance of listening to professional recordings and how mental preparation deserves as much attention as physical preparation. In addition to practicing the required etudes, keep other repertoire in the mix. Pick a fun solo to work on during the process. You may find musical ideas within the solo that you can apply to the etude(s).
Private instruction is a huge component of thriving in the audition process. When searching for a private instructor, you should choose someone who will push you to be your best every week. It is important that you respect and trust your teacher. Your teacher will provide you with weekly accountability that will allow you a structured plan of how to practice each day. In most cases, the teacher will be able to demonstrate the style and technique of each etude. The teacher will help guide you through the process with their years of personal experience in teaching and their own audition practice.
Practice time should be consistent each week. Determine your practice goals and schedule for each week and treat it like it is your homework. It is great to practice in your rehearsal hall before and after school, but try to also have private practice space available. Although it is convenient to leave your instrument at school, your practice time at school will not be as focused as it might be at home. Make sure you are comfortable when practicing. Take frequent breaks and never practice when you are frustrated. Practice in 15-20 minute sessions. Remember, it takes a certain amount of daily practice just to maintain the progress of previous practice days. It is only during extended practice time that you will see improvement and grow as a musician. Practicing is more than notes and rhythms; it is high functioning thinking. You are in charge of making every practice session a rewarding experience.
When the music is first released, divide each etude into small chunks (perhaps 20 measures). Then begin practicing the etudes one measure at a time, under tempo and with a metronome. Practicing one measure at a time may seem impractical, but if this method is considered from the beginning, you will notice improvement at a much quicker rate than normal. Diligent practice with a metronome from the very beginning of the process will help you achieve your final tempo goals much more quickly than without meticulous metronome work. The most important components of a successful audition are playing with your best sound, playing the music cleanly and evenly, and showcasing musicianship.
Performing in public is a great way to help prepare mentally for audition day. When possible, play in front of your directors, peers, and family. It is great to practice in a large space while other students are practicing. However, create opportunities in which you are the center of focus and can receive constructive criticism. It is also great to have a practice buddy or a small group of friends with whom you can have mock auditions or just practice sessions where critical feedback is given. A practice buddy can be chosen with the understanding that you will give each another honest and strict feedback. Try to play in front of other directors or private teachers in your community. People that do not hear you play every week can help isolate problems and offer their advice on how to fix them. Never get complacent with your playing. Remember that there is something that can always be better than the day before. Even professionals are constantly growing and striving to be better musicians.
The physical preparation is done; audition day is when the mental preparation becomes the primary focus. It is important to eat a healthy breakfast and warm up. Hydration is extremely important. Dry mouth can be a huge problem in performance anxiety situations. When you are 100% hydrated, your body will work for you properly. Avoid caffeine during the day of the audition. Adrenaline will be plentiful and you do not need to add to jitters that you will already have.
Because you have been practicing for months, a long extended warm up is not necessary. Arrive to the audition location early. The warm up location will be full of students trying to cram for the audition. It will also include students that are showing off for intimidation purposes. If you have prepared adequately, the warm up location should be a calm, low, and slow warm up. Find out if cuts in the music have been chosen and make sure that you are prepared to start and finish in new places. A cut of music that is in the middle of a phrase can cause you to falter very easily. Start each etude based on the cut, but do not practice the entire cut. It is a good idea to play through tricky parts of your etudes, but realize that the preparation is over and that audition day is the payoff.
In the audition room, make sure you have a plan. It is important to be comfortable while you are auditioning. Dress appropriately. Your outfit should always be professional but still comfortable. You may choose to sit or stand depending on your preference for each etude. Never do something that is out of the ordinary or different from your typical performance routine. If you hear another student playing the excerpt in a different way, do not try to imitate them. Stick to your plan and be diligent. Start each etude calmly, collectedly, and concentrate on playing with your best sound – you only get one shot! If allowed, take a metronome into the room with you and check your tempos using the silent function on the metronome. Take a deep breath and make sure that your body is as relaxed as possible. Then, imagine counting yourself off and starting the etude as if your director or private instructor was conducting you. One of my college professors encouraged me to imagine him there during not only my practice sessions but also my auditions. I have done this ever since and it is a great reminder of all the years of advice from teachers in my past. Trying to imagine your teacher in the room with you will help calm your nerves as well as give you confidence in the audition performance.
At the top of each etude, write words that indicate style and musicality. Most students that audition will play all the notes and rhythms correctly. However, the students who showcase musicianship with style and dynamics will easily rise to the top. Mistakes usually happen. When mistakes occur, it is best to continue on as error free as possible. Keep your mind focused on the music coming up and not the mistake from the past. Keep your emotions in check and never make groaning sounds or say anything negatively that may affect the opinion of the judge. The judge understands the process and knows that mistakes happen. It is how you recover from the mistake that is most important.
Be selfish…today is your day! Avoid socializing with friends from your school or other schools until the audition is over. There will be plenty of time to relax and socialize once the auditions are finished. Do not compare yourself to other students that you hear in the audition room or warmup area. Some aspects of their playing may be better than yours, but your overall package may be drastically better than that other student’s. Let the judges make the decision and just trust in yourself to do your best.
Once the audition is over, relax! Have fun with your friends and await the results. If you put in the time and detailed practice prior to the audition, you will see results. But remember, no matter what happens, be courteous and never have regrets. When you have done your best, that is all that you can expect of yourself. The lessons that you learn from diligent practice and organized practice will help develop skills that will assist you with many areas of your professional life beyond your schooling. Always remember to thank those people that have helped you along the way.
Clay Johnson is currently serving in his tenth year as band director for Cooper High School in Abilene, TX. Mr. Johnson received his Bachelor’s Degree with Distinction in Music Education from the University of Oklahoma in 2000 and the Master of Music degree in Euphonium Performance from the University of Michigan in 2003.
Under Mr. Johnson’s direction, the Cooper High School Marching and Concert Ensembles have received multiple division one ratings and have received the Sweepstakes Award numerous times over the last ten years. Mr. Johnson’s ensembles have performed at the Alamo Showcase of Music festival, Disney’s Magic Music Days Parade, Pearl Harbor, Cowboys Stadium, and Liberty Island in New York, NY. In the last five years, four former CHS Band students were chosen as drum major for the Texas Tech Goin’ Band from Raiderland. In 2010, Mr. Johnson was selected by the Cooper High School faculty for the 2010 “Spotlight on Teachers” Award.