Music auditions: The ultimate guide for how to prepare

Welcome to the electrifying world of music auditions!

You’re about to embark on a journey that could have a huge impact on your career in music. Whether you’re a virtuoso violinist, a future rock legend, or a master of mixing beats, this guide will be your backstage pass for preparing for those music auditions for universities, colleges, and specialized programs.

With a decade of experience as an Associate Professor at Berklee College of Music and as a proud member of the Berklee A&I (Auditions and Interview) team, I’m here to share my expertise in order to help you make your music audition journey the best it can be.

Let’s dive in!

How to prepare your skills for music auditions

Before we get into the details of audition prep, it’s crucial to understand why your musical skills matter when applying to a music school or program.

When you’re trying to pursue these opportunities, it’s a big plus if you can play an instrument reasonably well and have a basic grasp of concepts like melody, harmony (even at a basic level), and sheet music. It’s also beneficial if you can recognize things like musical intervals and chords. Being able to listen to a piece of music and sing it back is important too.

These skills are all important, even if you’re not planning to become a professional performer. Whether you want to compose music or produce it, these basics are like the building blocks for your musical expression.

So, what’s the next step?

If it’s a possibility, it can be a good idea to consider taking music classes well before your audition. And we’re not talking about a casual thing here—it’s a commitment of at least a year. These classes will teach you music theory and give you plenty of practice with your chosen instrument.

Think of it as laying a strong foundation for whatever you want to do in the world of music. Now, with all of this in mind, let’s dig into the details of how to prepare for a successful audition.

How to prepare for your audition

1. The art of selection

Before you hit the practice room, let’s talk about repertoire selection.

This is your chance to shine, so if you have the freedom to do so, choose pieces that not only showcase your skills but also reflect your unique musical personality.

  • Diversity matters: Mix it up! Include contrasting pieces that demonstrate your versatility. If you’re a pianist, balance the classics with contemporary tunes. Show your range as an artist.
  • Stay true to you: While variety is crucial, don’t forget to play or perform what you love. Your passion will resonate with the judges, so pick pieces that genuinely move you.
  • Be unique: Sometimes, a smart move can be to prepare a piece that’s familiar to you, which can showcase your skills in an area that might not be very common within the institution you’re trying to get into. For example, playing a new instrument, exploring a new discipline, or showcasing something not widely practiced in that particular school. In other words, bringing your unique musical flavor to the table can set you apart and make a memorable impression during music auditions. It’s like adding a splash of color to the canvas, creating a musical masterpiece that stands out from the crowd.
2. The practice zone

Now that you’ve got your musical ammo, it’s time to hit the practice room. This is where the magic happens, and a well-structured practice routine can make all the difference.

  • The practice: Remember that improving your musicianship is something that occurs over time and takes patience. There’s no shortcut. So, audition preparation can’t happen just a few days before; it needs to be planned well in advance. The last-minute preparations just before the audition should be the finishing touch to your overall preparation. In essence, success in music auditions is a gradual process that demands dedication and consistency. It’s like building a strong musical foundation brick by brick, with each step contributing to your growth as a musician.
  • Set clear goals: Define what you want to achieve in each practice session. Is it nailing that tricky passage, or perfecting your dynamics? Break it down and conquer it step by step.
  • Quality over quantity: Practice smart, not just hard. Focus on your weak spots, and use techniques like slow practice and metronome work to build precision.
  • Record and review: Grab your recording gear and capture your rehearsals—it’s your personal musical diary. Listen critically, identify areas for improvement, and fine-tune your performance.
3. Musicality and artistry

Now, let’s dive into the soul of your music. It’s not just about playing notes; it’s about conveying emotions and telling a story.

  • Dig deeper: Understand the historical context of your pieces. What was happening when this composition was created? How can you convey those emotions through your performance?
  • Interpret with flair: Put your own spin on the music. Experiment with dynamics, phrasing, and tempo to create a unique interpretation. Be the artist, not just the performer.
  • Express yourself: Connect with your audience through your music. Let your passion shine. Show the judges that you’re not just reciting notes; you’re sharing a piece of your soul.

How to approach the actual day of your audition

1. Dress to impress

On audition day, your appearance is part of the performance. It’s time to channel your inner rockstar or classical virtuoso.

  • The power of confidence: Choose an outfit that makes you feel confident and professional. Confidence is your secret weapon.
  • Respect the venue: Check the school’s dress code and adhere to it. Show that you respect the institution and its traditions.
  • Practical considerations: Ensure your attire allows for comfortable movement, especially if you’re performing on an instrument. Practice in your performance attire to get used to them.
2. The rehearsal ritual

The hours leading up to your audition are critical. You need to find your groove and get in the zone.

  • Arrive early: Get to the venue with ample time to spare. It’ll give you time to warm up, acclimatize to the space, and settle any pre-audition jitters.
  • Warm up thoroughly: Spend quality time on your warm-up routine. Get your fingers, vocal cords, or drumsticks ready for action.
  • Mental prep: Engage in some mindfulness exercises or visualization techniques. Picture yourself on the stage, owning your performance.
3. The audition experience

When you step onto that stage, it’s your moment to shine. Here’s how to own it:

  • Stage presence: Walk on with confidence. Make eye contact with the judges, and let them feel your passion for your craft. Remember, you’re not just auditioning; you’re performing.
  • Nail your opening: Start strong. Your opening bars should grab the judges’ attention and set the tone for your entire performance.
  • Connect with your audience: Pretend the judges are your biggest fans. Engage with your music emotionally, and let that connection shine through your performance.
4. The post-performance moment

You’ve given it your all on stage, but the journey isn’t over yet. There’s still a curtain call to make.

  • Thank-you notes: After the audition, if possible, send a heartfelt thank-you email to the judges. It’s a professional touch that leaves a lasting impression.
  • Stay positive: Regardless of the outcome, keep a positive attitude. Audition results can be unpredictable, and your journey as a musician continues no matter what.
  • Use this opportunity: Consider the audition as an opportunity for self-improvement. It’s important not to dwell too much on what didn’t go well in a destructive way. Rather, use those moments as valuable checkpoints in your learning journey—in essence, view the audition as a stepping stone on your path to growth. Be kind to yourself and see it as a chance to learn and evolve as a musician.

What comes next?

1. The waiting game

The period after your audition can be a mix of excitement and anxiety. But remember, it’s all a part of the process.

  • Stay active: Don’t put your music on hold while waiting for results. Keep practicing, exploring new pieces, and evolving as a musician.
  • Prepare for alternatives: Consider backup plans. If you don’t get into your dream school, think about transferring or exploring other programs. The world of music is vast, and opportunities are abound.
2. Embrace the journey

Music is a lifelong adventure. Whether you’re accepted into your dream school or not, your path as a musician is just beginning.

3. Rock on

No matter where your musical journey takes you, remember that every great musician started somewhere. Whether you’re performing in Carnegie Hall, jamming in a garage, or producing beats in your bedroom, your passion for music is what truly matters.

So, gear up, tune in, and let your music speak volumes—your audition is just the opening riff of an epic musical journey.

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September 14, 2023

Renato Milone Renato Milone is a music producer, composer, engineer, drummer, and educator. He has worked for artists such as Whitney Houston and wrote jingles for national and international television. He is currently a co-founder of THE BOOM HOUSE and an Associate Professor at the Contemporary Writing and Production Department of Berklee College of Music.