I’ve been doing a podcast about the double bass for the past decade.
While I didn’t realize it at first, what I was really doing was creating an oral history from the best in the business.
I interviewed new bassists each week for my podcast. Soon, I had talked with hundreds of people. Principal bassists from major orchestras and world-renowned teachers shared their approaches to audition preparation. When a bassist won a major job, we scheduled an interview and talked through their preparation process.
I decided to compile this audition advice into a 4-part series called Winning the Audition.
I divided the series into four parts:
Through this process, I discovered 10 strategies that came up repeatedly in these talks with audition winners. I hope that you find this list useful!
NO. 1 – SLOW PRACTICE
This is a fundamental technique for all audition winners I’ve spoken with. Like analyzing golf swing, slow practice allows you to hone in on all the details that you might glaze over at a faster tempo.
Audition winners are methodical in their slow practice and map things out over a long period of time. Here’s a quote from my interview with Andrew Raciti (Milwaukee Symphony, Northwestern University) about what slow practice does for him:
NO. 2 – RECORD YOURSELF
Every audition winner I spoke with spent a great deal of time with a recording device. A recording is objective. It separates the act of performing from the actual sonic result. It shows exactly what needs to be practiced, and it builds confidence.
Ira Gold (National Symphony, Peabody Conservatory) shared this with me about recording:
NO. 3 – NEVER PRACTICE, ALWAYS PERFORM
If you wait until all technical details are perfect, you’ll never end up practicing like you’d actually perform a piece. Audition winners practice everything—even scales—as if they’re performing.
Alex Hanna (Chicago Symphony, DePaul University) shared his thoughts about practicing versus performing with me:
NO. 4 – DEVELOP TEMPO CONSISTENCY
How consistent are you with tempos when you play an excerpt? Gaining control over your consistency is crucial for taking auditions.
Jack Budrow (Michigan State University) has a great technique for establishing tempo recall for excerpts:
NO. 5 – PRACTICE IN A LARGE SPACE
How much of your practice time is spent in a tiny space? Probably a lot.
Musicians communicate using sound waves. These sound waves behave differently in a small and a large space. In a small space, the sounds we create bounce back to us immediately. Therefore, we need to take every possible opportunity to play in a large space.
Here’s Brandon McLean (Pittsburgh Symphony) on this topic:
NO. 6 – DEVELOP YOUR STYLE PALETTE
Do you play with the same concept of sound for each of these composers? Do you change your articulation style, phrasing, and vibrato?
Developing a stylistic approach for each composer is critical. Jack Budrow advocates developing different sounds for each composer, and practicing playing one composer in the style of another for flexibility:
NO. 7 – VISUALIZATION
Mental practice, or visualization, is a powerful practicing technique. In fact, many find it to be almost as effective as physical practice. Combined together, visual and physical practice are incredible.
Ed Barker (Boston Symphony, Boston University) encourages his students to use visualization when preparing for auditions:
NO. 8 – ADVERSITY TRAINING
Adversity training puts you in non-ideal performing situations in order to learn how to manage yourself physically and mentally. It’s a similar concept to basic training for the military. Even though music is not a life or death situation, our primal “fight or flight” instincts kick in when we feel under pressure. Our stomach starts to churn, our muscles tighten up, our breathing gets shallower and we start to sweat.
How do we learn to deal with this? Ian Hallas (Lyric Opera of Chicago) describes what he does as the audition nears:
NO. 9 – PLAY FOR PEOPLE
This is one of the most important techniques for successful audition. Every single audition winner I spoke with stressed the importance of playing for as many people as possible.
Matthew McDonald (Berlin Philharmonic) describes how important it was for him to play for people as he prepared for his Berlin audition:
NO. 10 – BALANCE
It’s easy to become obsessive in your practicing. I have struggled with this many times. But practicing to the exclusion of everything else in your life is more likely to harm you than help you. Keeping a healthy perspective and making sure to do other things outside excerpt practice is important.
Ju-Fang Liu (Indianapolis Symphony, Butler University) shares how she finds balance in her preparation:
I hope you find these strategies helpful! Here are Rob’s five steps for prepping auditions–I hope you find them useful!
Here are a few more resources to take your auditioning to the next level.
- my interview with Don Greene (author of Audition Success and Performance Success)
- auditionhacker – Metropolitan Opera Orchestra percussionist Rob Knopper’s awesome site
- Performance Success – Don Greene’s manual for developing audition skills
- Audition Success – a fascinating series of interviews with Don Greene about auditioning
- Fight Your Fear and Win – another great book from Don Greene to develop audition skills
- Flow – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s seminal text on peak performance
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