My private lesson students are in their final week of preparing for All-State and All-Southern auditions.
Here’s what I want to remind them of before they step into the room to perform.
Students may play perfectly in lessons or when practicing by themselves, but putting them on the spot can sometimes bring out all sorts of interesting idiosyncrasies.
To put on the finishing touches, we held mock auditions during their class time this week.
We lined up the instruments, marimba, snare, and timpani, and had them play straight through each etude as if it were the audition.
Students that had a chance to perform duplicate runs showed a drastic improvement from the first to second attempt.
For them to taste that immediate improvement just by doing multiple performance runs showed them the importance of taking time practice performing on their own.
Students that weren’t auditioning this weekend contributed by writing comments on a feedback form that would be given to each performer.
Creating environments for students to perform under positive pressure should be the norm. They may struggle at first, but as they gain experience, it will elevate their performance. It will give purpose to their practice sessions. It teaches them how to provide feedback to their classmates and notice things they may want to adapt and incorporate into their own playing. It builds community.
Feedback instructions were to provide at least 1 positive and 1 constructive piece of feedback for each player. Some of the capacity to provide more. I typed comments into a google doc as they played that could be easily shared afterwards.
Feedback should be specific and targeted, “Left hand is lower than the right hand” or “piano dynamic can be softer at m. 9” and not vague like, “it was good” or “I liked it.” Be encouraging to your colleagues. Help them notice the things they can improve before going to auditions. Be confident in using your voice to share your ideas.
The longer I teach, the more I realize the value in verbalizing things that may seem obvious, whether through observation, intuition, or experience. I narrate the things I notice so they begin to pick-up on what’s important.
Looking back at my own personal experience, even the simplest pieces of advice are elevated when a teacher highlights something for you. It’s valuable in helping students raise their self-awareness.
Here are some quick takeaways I shared with them after watching them play in class today. This is what I’d remind them to consider during the week and right before going into the audition room this weekend.
Auditions are not behind a screen in California. Smile, say “good morning,” introduce yourself, shake hands if appropriate, create a feeling of camaraderie. You only get one shot at making a first impression.
No time for doubt, walk in and showcase your preparation and work. Don’t make excuses – nobody cares. “Hope” is not an effective performance strategy.
Have your music marked and easily accessible in a binder. Bring your stick bag, take out your mallets and put them away as you go, don’t throw sticks or mallets on the ground. Look and sound like you know what you’re doing. Think and act like a professional.
Have a clear idea of exactly which excerpts and the tempos you’ll be playing. Choose a tempo that will allow you to play with expression and confidence. Faster is not necessarily better. I repeat, faster is not necessarily better. The point is to demonstrate your artistry and breathe life into the music.
Pause and take a moment to notice the equipment and room. The variables may affect your dynamics, tempo, how long you hold a note, etc. Make the conditions within your control perfect. For example, take the extra 7 seconds to adjust the chair or stand to fit your set up. Raise or lower your snare stand. Set yourself up for success.
Breathe and Think
Again, pause and think before you start. Mentally prepare for what’s about to happen. Hear the opening to the piece in your head so the first sound isn’t a surprise. What do you want it to sound and feel like? Take a deep breath in an exhale any nervous energy or tension. Be still, and then execute.
If you make a mistake, keep going. If your recovery skills are fast and good enough, the audience/judges may not even notice. You have to practice performing so you can also practice recovering in the instance of a wrong note, memory slip, or dropped mallet.
Is the mock audition something students can replicate and prepare on their own? Sure – get your friends together and hold your own. Video record yourself and watch the playback afterwards. Anything you can do to practice performing will help you feel more physically, mentally, and emotionally ready for your live audition.
CLOSING THOUGHT The success or failure of the audition should not be predicated on your final placement. It should be judged on your personal preparation, how well you played, and its consistency relative to how you’ve been practicing. Don’t worry about the other stuff or anyone else. Just focus on what you can control, which is you.
Good luck and play well!
Thanks for reading
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Huei-Yuan Pan is a Los Angeles based professional musician and content creator.
He is currently the Director of the Jumpstart Young Musicians Program at The Colburn School, a performing arts institution in the heart of downtown LA. He spends his time as a digital content creator providing live streaming video lessons, vlogs, and more.
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