Perspective, Part 2: Auditions

I’m not really into video games. Have you ever seen those ‘tips and tricks’ magazines that are filled with secret codes and features to all the new and hip games? Sometimes I feel like bass magazines and the like do the same thing with auditions. Everything from yoga to mental games to play with yourself are prescribed as ways to help you win an audition. Now, I’m sort of speaking from ignorance, seeing that I’ve never taken a professional audition and I can’t talk about that daunting and grueling process firsthand, but, I’ve been doing a great deal of thinking about this subject, and it seems to me things you need to do to prepare for an audition are simple, practical, and maybe even somewhat cliche.

I really love listening to Jason Heath’s podcast Contrabass Conversations because it’s so interesting and informative on subjects such as this. In the last few weeks, he’s had on Larry Hurst, who is the bass professor at Indiana University, and Brad Opland, who is a section bass player in the Chicago Symphony. Both of them talked a great deal about the audition process, and the different things one should be doing to prepare for one.

Mr. Hurst talked about the practice regimen one should be using when preparing for an audition, which included,

1.) Having a predominance of orchestral excerpts in your ‘bag’.
2.) Not only practicing the excerpts. Be working on solo stuff as well, like concertos and the Bach Cello suites.
3.) Play for other people, and not just bass players. Wind players are particularly good, because, “If it sucks, they’ll tell you right away. They take no prisoners.”
4.) Play along with recordings!

The real key to his advice encompasses those 4 points, and in a sense, is those 4 points…

Be prepared.

I’m one of those players who struggles with playing in front of people. It’s really quite awful sometimes, to tell you the truth, and many times in the past my nerves have crippled my playing ability. I’ve noticed a correlation between my nerves and the amount of time I’ve invested in practicing, though. When I’ve practiced enough hours to where I can stop and think, “That’s all I can do on this (excerpt, concerto movement, etude, etc.) tonight,” then I feel comfortable putting down the bass for the day, and picking it up the next knowing that I did everything I possibly could to be prepared the last time I practiced. This is probably old hat information to most experienced players, but it’s something that I’ve managed to overlook for years. I would always put in my hours of practice, but I’d regard those hours as irrelevant when the nerves would kick in, and I’m staring at an audience or an audition committee that expects me to do something with this awkwardly shaped piece of wood.

I had never thought of the satisfactory amount of practice time invested for a performance or audition as a confidence platform to stand on…and that’s what I should have been doing all along.

Of, course, you’re still going to be nervous come audition or performance time. That’s only natural. Mr. Hurst made the comment,

“You’re going to nervous even if you are prepared. But once you’ve started playing, that’ll go away. If you haven’t prepared, those nerves won’t.”


Brad Opland’s advice on preparing for an audition were similar in this very practical sense. He talked about believing in yourself, and how that is the key to doing your best, not some special trick. Know that you’ve worked hard, and that you’re ready to go out and do what you need to do.

That’s what I meant when I wrote earlier about some of the things one needs to do to be prepared for an audition are somewhat cliche. Everyone’s heard the saying,

“If you just believe in yourself, you can do anything.”

I think we hear these sayings so often we sort of begin to dismiss them as having no practical application to life. I know that was certainly the case with me. When I’d hear this from my parents or orchestra conductor, I’d be thinking,

“Yeah yeah yeah. That’s nice and all, but I need a special sort of trick to help me get this done.”

I definitely think things like breathing exercises, stretching, meditation, and all those sorts of things are very useful when dealing with performance and audition jitters, but for any of those to be helpful, I think we as musicians need to establish 2 things in our minds:

1.) I’ve worked hard. I know this music. I’ve played it a thousand times in practice. I’ve done everything I can do to be ready. I’m prepared.

2.) Since I’ve done all the work, and I know that I’m prepared because of that work, I believe that I have the ability to go out there and do the job.

Of course, that heightened sense of awareness that we call nerves is going to come performance or audition time. As Mr. Opland said in his interview,

“You can’t go into an audition and really want the job and NOT be scared.”

Different people are going to experience different levels of nervousness. Whether it’s a lot of nerves or a little, believing in yourself and the preparation that you’ve done are essential.


As I write this, the one-month-away marker from my auditions at Roosevelt University and DePaul University draws near. I’m still nervous about the auditions, but the above advice from Larry Hurst and Brad Opland helped me to get my head on straight about this whole thing. I keep telling myself,”You know this music. You’ve played it a thousand times. You’re practicing as much as you can. That’s all you can do.”The more that I practice and the more that I think about all of the above written, this sense of confident peace begins to settle over me. Of course, I’ll have to ‘Practice What I Preach’ come audition time, but I really think it’s going to be just fine.

~ by benjamin86 on December 20, 2007.

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