Teaching Students to Perform Their Best at Auditions

A major aspect of begin a musician is learning to perform for others. Being able to play an étude by yourself at home and being able to play an étude in a high-pressure audition are two very different things. Teaching students to perform their best at auditions is an important part of their preparation. Here are 5 tips to get you started.

Start having students perform early in the year
Have students play alone as often as possible. Play down the row in sectionals and in full band. This might be one note, one measure, one scale, one phrase or one etude.

If your students are not used to performing alone, you could begin integrating it into your rehearsals slowly. For example, have the students play by section, then mini-section (1st clarinets, 2nd clarinets) and then start playing down the row one at a time over the course of a few weeks.

One fun idea of a way to divide up the band and have different groups of students “perform” for each other is with the Would You Rather…Band Version game.

Another idea that is perfect for beginning band, but can be easily adapted for advanced band is Performance Day.

Increase the intensity as you get closer to the audition
As you get closer to the audition you’ll want to increase the intensity (and excitement) by creating a more realistic ‘high-pressure’ environment. You can raise the level of intensity in playing alone by having the performer stand up. You can increase it even more by having them come to the front of the room and stand up.

These three articles have specific ideas for holding kids accountable for their preparation and increasing the intensity:

Drop Out Contest is perfect for scale preparation because students all start playing together so they need to be able to play in unison.

The Jar of Doooooom can be used for scales, but since students are called on individually, they can play études as well.

Performance BINGO can be used to help even more with preparing for auditions. (This post about Performance BINGO has a free downloadable bingo card!)

Help students be physically prepared
Remind students to get a good night sleep the night before the audition, eat a banana (for nerves) and protein prior to the audition. Students should wear layered clothing to be prepared for any temperature and, assuming it is a blind audition, comfort trumps style. Encourage students to go to the restroom and stretch during breaks (jumping jacks, jog in place, shoulder shrugs). This printable sheet, Reminders For An Awesome Audition, includes these tips and more.

In order to help students experience the physical reactions they may feel at the audition (increased heart rate, shallow breathing etc.) you can have them run a lap (or run in place) right before performing for you or a group of students. Explain to them that because of the increased pulse, it may be tempting to play faster than they practiced, and they need to consciously counteract that temptation. Be sure students have all breaths marked on their music and consistently use them.

Be sure reed players have many good reeds and have selected their best 2-3 choices. Reeds often get broken during the course of an audition day, so a strong backup (or 2) are necessary. Be sure students have copies of their music. Playing from someone else’s music (without their markings) can ruin an audition experience.

Give students tools to stay focused during the audition
Help students develop a ‘routine of audition’. For example, do they play a warm-up note before each exercise? Do they finger 1 measure? How do they get the correct tempo in their head? When they mess up, what do they do? Don’t assume that students (especially younger students) have any type of audition routine. Knowing what to expect and having a solid plan will help them feel more in control and focused and, hopefully, help them play more confidently.

It is important that students keep their head in the game on the day of the audition. Students need to be told to focus on their own playing and not be distracted by listening to others play. Be sure students are comfortable with their tempos and know not to be swayed by the students performing before them.

The ‘survival kit’ below is an example of what I give my (private lesson) students for their auditions. (Their region auditions can last 4-5 hours and are physically and mentally exhausting.) Adapt this to your needs. Even a generic note and a small candy can be meaningful.

Teaching students to perform their best at auditions

Included: Bottle of water, banana, small candy, granola bar (not pictured), coloring sheets, markers, ear plugs, Reminders for an Awesome Audition, hand-written note of congratulations on their hard work.

Remind students of what they can control
Help students understand that their goal to have their best individual performance. They can’t control how others play. They can’t control whether or not they make the band.

But they can control their preparation and their focus. Remind the students of how hard they have worked. Remind them how far they have come. Remind them that they are learning a very valuable life skill – performing under pressure. They will be asked to do that their entire life in many different ways.

Remind them that this is supposed to be fun. Listening to music is fun, playing music is fun and performing music is supposed to be fun. This is their chance to enjoy their craft. Yes, it’s an audition. But more than that, it’s a performance. And performing music should be FUN!

If you would like to hear more detail on some of these ideas, you can listen to this podcast about Preparing Students for Auditions.

Need a good story to share with students who didn’t do quite as well as they had hoped? Read them this story – The Race. It’s about getting up when you fall down.

Need to inspire your students to start practicing for an audition early – not waiting until the last minute? Read them this story – Be the Tortoise.

If this article was helpful to you, please consider SHARING it on Facebook so others can learn as well!

A 1999 music education graduate of WTAMU, Tamarie Sayger held band director positions in Plano and Odessa, TX for 5 years. As a private clarinet instructor in Texas for 16 years, she has taught hundreds of students from grade 6-12 in classes, sectionals, and individual lessons. She has presented at district in-services and co-presented at the Texas Bandmasters Association convention. Her website, CrossingTheBreak.com, provides resources for clarinet teachers around the country. Mrs. Sayger is also a core contributor for BandDirectorsTalkShop.com, primarily on the subjects of clarinet and private lessons. Her podcast, Crossing The Break, can be found on iTunes.

Related Reading:
5 Things You Should Say to Your Band More Often
8 Ways to Get More From Your Lesson Staff This Year
How Using Lanyards Can Help You Listen to Every Student in Beginning Band

If you would like to receive our weekly newsletter, sign up here
Don’t forget to like us on Facebook too!

Learn. Share. Inspire.


Leave a Reply