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13. Can you give any tips specifically for high school students who are preparing for district/region and all state solo auditions?
I've been a part of junior and senior high school district/region and all state solo auditions from just about every angle. When I was younger, I took many such auditions in both New York State and New Jersey, and I enjoyed the incomparable experience of playing in region orchestra, wind ensemble, band, all state band and orchestra, the All-Eastern orchestra and the McDonald's All-American band. As a former high school band director, I have worked with many students on all instruments who have prepared for such auditions. Finally, my two daughters (who play bass trombone and trumpet) auditioned for and were accepted into many such groups over when they were in middle school and high school.
Playing in these kinds of groups is great fun for the young player, and participation is almost always a result of taking a solo audition. Elsewhere in this web site, I speak in very detailed terms about taking a professional orchestra audition in my article Symphony Auditions: Preparation and Execution. However, young players often ask me if there are any specific things they can do in preparation for junior/senior high school solo competition auditions. Here are a few of my thoughts.
1) Learn your scales. They are not difficult and they will help your playing in many ways. Getting your scales right at the audition should be a no-brainer, and a way to get a jump on your competition and make easy points. Learn them all - learn chromatic scales for the full range of the instrument - learn them legato, detached, tenuto - major AND minor scales - just do it. Don't put it off.
2) Practice sight reading. Every day, sight read something. Open exercise and etude books to new exercises and just read one down. Every day. Go to your band director and ask him to pick out the hardest band pieces he knows for your instrument - sight read them. Every day. Get some piano music and sight read (on your instrument) any line of notes. Every day. When sight reading, take about 15 seconds to look over the piece - always observe clef, key signature, general rhythmic patterns, accidentals, dynamics. When playing sight reading, I suggest you concentrate on everything in the following order:
It is important to get the rhythm right so you will give the impression that you have the "feel" of the piece. Don't convince yourself that you're a "bad" sightreader. You MUST learn to sightread well, and if you practice, you can develop the skill. Think about it - when you graduate from school and hope to enter the music free lance pool, the kind of work you will MOST LIKELY get called for is to substitute at short notice for someone who can't make a gig. Your ability to sightread may determine whether or not you get called back to the job. Work on it!
3) Play "mock auditions." If the first time you ever play your solo piece for someone else is when you walk in the audition room, you have no idea how your body reacts to the stress of an audition. Be sure to play your solo for friends and other teachers so you get the feel of how YOU feel when under pressure.
4) PRACTICE every day. Any person serious about improving on his instrument should warm up at home every day for about 15 minutes before heading to school. If band period is the first time of the day that the instrument hits your lips, you're going to damage your embouchure and you will NEVER reach your potential as a player. Doing a proper warm up will help your face muscles ease into playing each day so they do not undergo "shock" during band/orchestra period. Then, when you get home from school, practice 30-60 minutes EACH day. Practice. Work on solos, exercises, ensemble music. Stop and work out the problem spots. I have a rule - if I can play a passage 10 times in a row perfectly, I know I KNOW it. If I play it 6 times and then mess up, I go back to number 1. The result is that I will play most problem passage hundreds of times. But when I finally get it 10 for 10, I REALLY know it!
5) PLAY every day. Most people don't know the difference between practicing and playing. PRACTICE is when you work on specific parts of pieces, thinking about every litle thing that needs to be done, all the nuances, tempo, intonation, articulation, releases, phrasing, style - everything. You are WORKING to get things right. When you PLAY, you simply trust what you have learned and enjoy the fun of reaping the rewards of your work. When you are at an audition, you are no longer practicing - you are playing. If you don't practice how to play (that DOES make sense!), you won't know how to do it.
6) Little things count. While the audition focuses primarily on your playing (as it should), little things do count. Dress nicely for your audition. Be polite to the judge or judges. Never be rude, don't say or do stupid things in the audition room. Don't chew gum, burp, slouch in your chair, have an "attitude." While you're at it, don't show off in front of other players in the warm up room and don't listen to other people's auditions. Play YOUR game at the audition. Don't change things in your playing because you hear someone else do something differently than you - the judge might just be dying to hear it the way you prepared it.
7) Have confidence. If you have worked hard, you can go into an audition hoping to represent yourself well. Have confidence that you can do well. Don't think about winning or losing - think about doing the best you can - try to make your audition represent the very best of your playing. If you can accomplish that, regardless of the ultimate outcome, then you will have become a better player through the process. You cannot control how other people play at the audition - the only person you have any control over is YOU.
Paul Kemp, a friend of mine who is a trombonist in the Chattanooga area, works frequently with young players to help them prepare for contest auditions. His comments below, reprinted with his permission, originally appeared as a post to the trombone-l email discussion group. Paul has some great advice for young players.
No matter how simple it may seem, LEAVE NOTHING TO CHANCE AT AN AUDITION. PRACTICE EVERYTHING. I've seen it happen before--the things that you don't practice are the things that will trip you up in the audition. Here's a quick check list--I'm sure that I will leave some things off, but if I do, and you know what they are, practice them as well.
REMEMBER---YOUR SOUND IS THE FIRST THING THAT THE JUDGES HEAR.
Subdivide everything to make sure that everything is given the proper note value. This fits hand in hand with your time. Show the judge that you know the difference between a quarter note-eighth note triplet and a dotted eighth-sixteenth. Be sure that the dot on dotted notes receieve half the value of the note.
This should be a no-brainer, but make very sure that each note is absolutely correct. Particularly on the things that you prepare, there are no excuses for wrong notes.
The key word here is contrast. If you go from forte to mezzo forte, make sure that there is a difference. It is necessary to exaggerate everything so that the listener (the judge) can perceive that you know what is written on the page.
There's so much that I can say here, but show the judges that you know to play a phrase, not just play the notes. Play your scales as passages from a concerto, not just mere technical exercises. Be prepared to play anything they ask you to play any way they ask you to do it.
I'm sure I've left some things out, but this is a good start. Auditions do not have to be the frightening nightmares they many times are. Just do the best you can, and remember--if you don't win, it's not the end of the world. If you've been honest and prepared well, you should not feel ashamed of how you play, whether you win or not.
My friend Wayne Dyess has also come up with some suggestions for young players who are taking solo auditions. The comments below, which originally appeared as a posting on the trombone-l email discussion group, are reprinted here with Wayne's permission - as a music teacher himself, his advice is the product of years of experience in a state where music is taken VERY seriously - Texas!
This is intended for those who are about to audition for All-Region or otherwise are on the road to an honor band or All-State experience. At age 50, I can vividly remember my days in the Texas All-State Band with Frederick Fennell conducting the band. It remains one of my musical highlights after all these years.
The intent of these comments is to help you in these last few days before the big audition.
I worked with a talented young person this week who displayed great potential. He had one glaring problem, however. In the piece with 6 flats, he was omitting the Cb's. The piece is rather fast and technically challenging in other ways, aside from the key. This young person seemed amazed that I was able to hear the C naturals after only 2 measures of playing.
POINT: Be sure you are playing all the right notes and the right rhythms. This should be a given at this point in time, but it doesn't hurt to check these things. This is especially true if you don't have the benefit of a private teacher.
These are the things I would recommend you do the entire week prior to the audition (let's assume the audition is on a Saturday). Different teachers will recommend different routines. That is OK. This is what I have found to work for me and many of my students over the years. Consider it. If it doesn't fit your particular time constraints and you find it strange, then don't do it. But there might be some things here that could help you. I hope so.
This should be your last BIG practice session. I would have been doing the following routine the entire week prior to the audition on Saturday. This is a methodical and logical approach leading to a confident performance at the audition.
Go through each etude 3 times exceedingly S*L*O*W. Ridiculously slow. Long-tone slow. All the way through, but each time a little faster than the time before. Center each pitch and get your best sound on it.
After a rest, go through each etude 3 more times. This time, in tempo, and with a metronome. Metronome practice is very, very important. This time, we are concentrating on one thing only -- TIME placement. Don't neglect good sound and intonation, of course, but concentrate primarily on keeping things placed EXACTLY where they should be placed within the beat and within the measure.
Rest again... this time, if possible, rest longer. You are only going to go over each etude 3 more times.
1) Concentrate only on your phrases and breathing. And by the way, even when playing slow tempo's, try to maintain the integrity of the phrase. If you can do it at the slow tempo's, it becomes a SNAP to play at the right tempo!
2) Concentrate ONLY on the dynamics this 2nd time through. Over-do every dynamic change. Make sure to over-do them so they are easily heard by the listener. What you FEEL and what the judges HEAR may be two different things. So over-do dynamics. Never go past the edge... never a blatty sound... but don't be afraid to play with a good forceful loud, either. And you can never play soft enough. On the other hand, don't play so soft that notes don't speak.
3) The last time through, you want to put it all together. I usually do TWO more times after this, though... just for good measure.
You could rest again... and these last 2 play-through's are ONLY if you aren't too tired. Two more times through each etude (OK, I lied before when I said we would only play them 3 times. So sue me!). First time, THIS time -- increase the speed to its limits -- push the limits to beyond where you are comfortable. I'm talking tempo again. And the last time? Again, relax back to the performance tempo. And again, things should start to feel really comfortable for you. Relaxed. This is a good thing.
This should be a more relaxed practice routine. Relaxation is a key word here. I would precede this routine (as I always do), with a good solid 30 to 45 minutes of fundamentals. The Remington daily routine is the standard that most all great trombonists have used since the 50s!!! Hickey's has this book (http://www.hickeys.com/). I highly recommend this book, published by Accura Music. Be sure to get the one edited by Donald Hunsberger as it explains how these warm-ups and daily routines should be approached.
Following the warm-up session, rest. Rest as long as you play, if possible.
Go through each etude 4 times.
1. Don't over-do this final practice routine. Rest regularly... use aslittle pressure as possible.
2. Be sure your instrument is in good working order. My band director used to tell us not to clean our instrument the night before a tryout. I usually forgot to do this earlier in the week and would clean it anyway. Your slide should be in its best form. If this means a cleaning, then by all means -- clean it. I highly recommend Slide-o-Mix. There is nothing better in my opinion. Clean off any old cream, oil, or old S-o-M and put a fresh "coat" on. Then, don't reapply it on Saturday at all. Just add water, if needed.
3. Visit Doug Yeo's web site and read what he has to say about auditions . If time is a problem, go straight to the audition day itself. He has a lot of wonderful, insightful, and helpful information about the psyche of the audition process.
In summary, you should remain focused on the task at hand. You can have fun and clown around any other day. Saturday, keep your mind on the music and the audition process. Visualize yourself in that first chair position and moving on up to Area and the All-State Band. You play well enough to do this, though you aren't ready for Area just yet. But few people are. There is time for this later. Take one task at a time. Set your goals on making the band, on being first chair, on progressing to the next level, on All-State, on first chair All-State, on a big college scholarship, on replaying Mr. Big in the Great City Symphony.
I hope these comments will be helpful for you. Call it a VIRTUAL lesson. Now, get off the computer and get back to your music! Good luck for a terrific musical experience.
The discussion continues. In response to specific queries made on the trombone-l email discussion group about aspects audition preparation, Daniel Di Cesare recently offered some excellent practical advice for young players taking auditions. With his permission, his insightful comments are offered below:
Question 1. I know that you are supposed to dress nice, but how nice? Going to work, casual dress? What?
I think "conservative, casual, comfortable" is what you should keep in mind. As a Low Brass Player, your ability to breathe freely is paramount. Wear something with a loose collar, and avoid anything which restricts free arm movement or prevents a full, relaxed inhale. Avoid denim, t-shirts, sweatshirts, and try not to show too much skin. Pick the blandest colors you can, not too dark, not to bright. You want them to notice your playing and your personality, not how you appear visually. By the same token, avoid smelly perfumes, deodorants, hairsprays, and bad breath. You do not want to be remembered afterward for any of these things.
Question 2. What kind of questions are you allowed to ask about sight reading? Is it all right to ask for a tempo?
You will more than likely be provided with a tempo one way or another. I should hope than anyone you audition for will be on the ball enough to put something in front of you which is as self-explanatory as possible. They do WANT you to sound good, so if you feel it absolutely necessary to ask a question before you can proceed confidently, you're probably best off asking. In my experience, the standard procedure is to stick the sight reading in front of you, give you a tempo, wait thirty seconds while you look over it for key changes, etc., and then it's just up to you to go for it.
Question 3. Any recomendations on things to do to make me stand out a little, besides cleaning my horn?
Play confidently. Yes, I'm serious.
Question 4. What shouldn't you do in an audition? (besides the obvious)
Do not think too much. Try not to think at all - just play. Do not ask questions, make statements. Don't wonder what they think of you - you'll find out soon enough. Take chances. Make music.
Whatever auditions you have coming up - good luck!
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