The SECRET to a great audition (or at least some things that might help)
Many times, I get the sense that people feel like there's a secret to auditioning. Having sat on a number of auditions with the Marine Band, and having another tenor trombone opening on the horizon, I thought it might be helpful to discuss a few points that might pertain to potential candidates, or anyone wanting to improve their auditioning skills.
Now, I am a firm believer that auditioning is a skill. I prepare, and prepare others, for auditions differently than I would a recital or other performance. Time accuracy, intonation, and sound quality are all preliminary round "biggies". If anything is going to get you cut at an audition, those are the three most likely!
Let's start by talking about time. To me, this is the number one reason that people don't advance past the first round of a given audition. In an age where personal recording devices are everywhere (on your phone!), there is absolutely no excuse for inaccurate or inconsistent time and rhythm. What I mean is that when you are playing a given excerpt alone, does your listener hear that your time is rock solid, that there is no variation in the placement of the beat? This sounds simple, but it is absolutely stunning how few players can do this on a consistent basis.
I chatted with an excellent player the other day, and as we were discussing this, I asked him, "do you know how many people out of 100 will show up to an audition and play Bolero with excellent time?" He was stunned when I told him, "maybe two or three"!
So, what to do? Well, here's the answer... it's super exciting, super fun, and I'm sure you've never heard about this method before....
Yep, that's it. It is truly that simple. Oh, and you have to subdivide.
Everyone pays lip service to recording, but here's the secret... NOBODY does it. Plenty of people record themselves every once in a while, or weekly, but I am positive that hardly anyone records themselves EVERY TIME THEY PRACTICE. Yes, that's right... every time. Until you have learned to subdivide in your head, and maintain time throughout an excerpt, you should record that excerpt every time you go through it. If you're not, you're wasting your time. "But Chris, that will take so much time, and my practicing will take forever!!!" Yep, it will. There are tremendous advantages to doing this. First, it gets the horn off your face frequently and keeps you from beating your chops to oblivion in the rush to do more practicing. To me, auditions are like a start-and-stop athletic event, where you have all out sprints with frequent rest periods. Second, you will hear your inaccurate time, and many other things you are doing that aren't ideal, right then. And, you can fix them RIGHT THEN. How many times have we practiced something for a period of time, then taken it to a lesson or played it for a friend, only to discover we've been doing something wrong the whole time? I don't know about you, but I want to practice less, and get more done!
Regarding subdividing... when you turn on your metronome, learn to feel a subdivision of the metronome pulse (usually 8th notes) in your head. You really have to make this feeling a part of your body and mind. Joe Alessi used to tap my shoulder in lessons to get me to feel, in my body, the pulse I was trying to internalize! (I use the term "tap" lovingly - :)
Next, breathe in time. Tap your foot in time (yeah, really). Move your horn with the beat occasionally. Do whatever you need to do to feel the pulse in your body, and keep that pulse going constantly. It is so apparent, when listening to an audition, who is subdividing and who is not! If you are depending on blindly following the metronome, but you aren't internalizing that pulse, then the metronome is really just a guide dragging you along. When you turn the metronome off, guess what happens? Yep, right back to the old habits and poor time.
So, your assignment is to record yourself as you practice your excerpts. Record, listen, fix. Rinse and repeat. Next, subdivide like a maniac. Turn on your metronome during your warmup, and practice this way first. That takes the difficulty out of just trying to play the music, and allows you some time to learn subdividing in a simpler environment.
It kind of sounds like I feel pretty strongly about this, right??? Right!!! Really, this is a simple concept, proven by my own practicing and learning, but primarily through listening to many auditions and hearing the same deficiencies over and over. So, I hope this has been helpful!
Do me a favor.... let me know via the comments if this is a concept you work on, or if this is something new to you. Keep me posted on how the practice is going, and as always, ask questions!
Stay tuned for some more posts in this series dealing with skills needed to play a great audition, coming soon...
Thanks for reading,
The Virtual Trombonist