I have spent the last decade plus preparing high school double bass students to audition for youth orchestras, competitions, All-State Orchestra, and college. A lot of my students have done very well in their auditions for these events, and I have always tried, through observing how my students do in these competitive situations, to refine my approach as a teacher.
The best piece of advice that i can give to any young auditioner is that your outcome is almost solely based on how much time you sound thoughtfully (that’s the key word!) preparing your materials. When a student doesn’t play well in an audition, they may mistakenly assume that they are not a good auditioned or that some outside force intervened to sabotage their efforts, when the reality is that they simply didn’t put in the time, or they put in the wrong kind of time. To me, the most frustrating kind of student is one who doesn’t prepare, doesn’t play well as a result, then offers up a litany of excuses for themselves rather than taking responsibility for their preparation and musical growth.
As a teacher, I can offer advice on how to prepare, take students through the process of effective practicing, show them how to be analytical, and demonstrate quality playing of specific techniques and repertoire. I cannot, however, magically appear and play all the notes for them. It’s on them to do that, and while I will always try my best to guide students through this process, it’s ultimately in their hands.
Here, then, are a few assorted nuggets of advice from an old guy on how to effectively prepare for an audition:
- Practice early and often – With rare exceptions, you cannot start preparing audition music too soon. People worry about burnout on a specific piece, and this may occur from time to time, but 95% of the time a student has under practiced rather than over practiced.
- Listen to recordings of what you are playing – A bass teacher once told me that listening to one or two recordings of a piece was just screwing around, but three or more recordings constituted research. Whether or not this is actually true, I do believe that the more interpretations you can find and absorb, the better. If you don’t like a recording, then you at least know what you don’t want to do, but don’t be too quick to write off a particular performer or performance. As students develop the skill of being able to discriminate quality, they frequently become overly quick to judge. Listen with open ears to everything you hear–you’ll be surprised what you’ll learn.
- Sectionalize your music and write down a plan – I always smile when I see a student come into a lesson with a practice log and a written practice plan–these people usually end up doing very well at whatever it is that they’re trying to prepare. It’s amazing to me just how powerful a written plan really is to the practice process, and I’m amazed that more people don’t do it. Perhaps one in ten students to whom I suggest that they do this actually does it.
- Get a three-ring binder and some protective sheet covers – This may seem like a strange suggestion, but vie found that the best way to prepare for an audition is to photocopy all the materials and put them in a three-ring binder using plastic sheet covers. You can also use this system to hold your practice journal sheets, mock audition comment sheets, info from the college or group for which you are auditioning, and even selected inspirational articles and quotes (if that floats your boat).
- Create technique exercises out of the repertoire… and write them down! – Again, setting pen to paper and getting this kind of material out of your head and into your practice binder makes a massive difference.
- Practice performing the music – Make sure that you practice playing the entire repertoire list for your audition in front of other people. Both musicians and non-musicians (i.e. your mom) will help. Do this frequently, but be sure to take note of what doesn’t go well and focus on that in your practice sessions.
- Use a variety of practice techniques – Explaining these is much easier in a lesson setting, and my shorthand may not make sense to everybody, but I encourage students to use methods like acceleration, non-vibrato equal note practice, vibrato equal note practice, rhythmic patterns, shift isolation, building from the back, adding a note, isolating problem moments and fanning out, and sets/reps on isolated small sections.
Any additional suggestions for auditioning high schoolers? Feel free to leave them in the comments.