“Under pressure, you don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training” – Navy Seal
I have yet to meet a single person who didn’t want to play well for their audition or year-end jury. I have, however, met quite a few people who simply didn’t know how to prepare for these stressful performances. Many of them practiced in a haphazard fashion, ended up with a less than satisfying experience, and didn’t understand why.
The following steps should help you achieve better results. It all begins by understanding that audition committees want to hear confidence, musicality, stylistic differences, steady tempos, precise rhythm, accurate intonation, and good tone. Your goal is to practice in such a way that you can deliver the best that you have to offer on the day that counts.
“Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up”- A.A.Milne
- Listen to and understand the setting/style of each excerpt/piece.
- If you are auditioning for an orchestra, familiarize yourself with the “style” of the orchestra.
- Understand why each excerpt is being asked.
- Use a metronome every time you play until the day of your audition/jury. If you can play musically in tempo with accurate rhythm you are well on your way to success.
- For each excerpt, set a “tonic drone” to check your intonation. Are your 3rds low enough? Are your 5ths high enough? Are your octaves in tune?
- Record and listen to absolutely everything you play. You hear more accurately if you are removed from the physicality of playing.
“Plan your work everyday, and then work your plan” – Margaret Thatcher
Group your excerpts/passages into three categories and create a practice chart:
- Technical/difficult excerpts that need attention every day in order to build long-term motor memory
- Excerpts that you are familiar with that need some detailed work every other day
- Excerpts that are in good shape that should be played every third day to maintain consistency
“Practice puts brains in your muscles” – Sam Snead
Rotating Practice Techniques
Detailed, mindful, deliberate practice (peeling the onion)
- leads to improvements that last, and helps prevent you from turning mistakes into bad habits
- involves taking the time to analyze what went wrong, why it happened, and how you can correct the error
- must include using your recording device (cell phone) to monitor your progress
- is the opposite of mindless, trial and error practicing that leads to making mistakes
“Practice doesn’t make you perfect if you practice mistakes. Save time, learn to practice error free” – Unknown
Peeling the Onion
- Begin by addressing the most noticeable and egregious mistakes, one at a time, in the passage you are working on (note mistakes, counting errors etc.) and search for ways to fix them permanently (you’ve just peeled one layer of the onion).
- Once the most noticeable errors are gone, you will begin to hear more errors (articulation problems, uneven fingers, improper dynamics etc.). Again, search for solutions to these specific problems and fix them forever (another layer of the onion gone).
- You now will notice even smaller mistakes (hitting phrase endings, intervals that are not quite right). Continue to follow the same procedure etc… until all the errors you can hear are eliminated.
“It’s not the amount of time that you spend at practice that counts, it’s what you put into the practice” Eric Lindros
Facilitates learning and retaining information
Divide your piece of music into 3 (4) “chunks” that make sense – example: exposition, development 1 (development 2), recapitulation
- Practice chunk 1 for 15 minutes
Take a 5 minute break – REALLY – walk away from your instrument and do something else
- Practice chunk 2 for 15 minutes – take a 5 minute break
- Practice chunk 3 for 15 minutes – take a 5 minute break
- (Repeat process if you have a chunk 4)
Pack up your instrument and return later the same day to repeat
“The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is practice” – Vladimir Horowitz
Promotes storage in and retrieval from long-term memory because it forces you to return to a passage you have already practiced
Promotes performing to your potential the first time
- Choose 3 problem passages you’d like to work on – A, B & C
- Set a timer for 5 min and work on passage A
- When 5 minutes are up, begin working on passage B
- When the next 5 minutes are up, begin working on passage C
- When those 5 minutes are up return to passage A and repeat the entire process two more times for a total of 45 minutes, or 3 sets of 3.
Note: Your passages could be from the same piece or not.
“Don’t practice until you get it right. Practice until you can’t get it wrong!” – Unknown
Ensures that the second half of your piece/excerpt is as strong as the first half
- practice and refine the closing phrase – we’ll call it – z
- then, practice and refine the penultimate phrase – y
- practice both phrases together – y and z
- practice and refine the preceding phrase – x
- practice the three phrases together – x, y, & z
“You never get a second chance to make a first impression” – Oscar Wilde
Reduces anxiety and nerves
A learned, consistent routine that is applied every time just before you perform. It can include:
- Breathing exercises
- Consciously releasing tension held in your body
- Singing the opening bars in your mind, imaging how you want the first phrase to sound
- Walking on stage with the same prescribed actions
A situation that simulates an audition, 2-3 weeks in advance of the real audition
- Find 2-3 people who are not your friends, but who understand the audition process and can give appropriate feedback
- Record the mock audition for later assessment of your strengths and weaknesses
Is there an emotion or image that helps you focus? Find out.
- Do you play better when you are happy, angry, calm, sad etc?
- Are you more confident if you visualize the audition committee in their underwear, if you convince yourself you are in your practice room at home, alone, etc.?
Tiring your large muscles by running, cross training the day of your audition can sharpen/focus your mind while reducing physical tension.
THE BULLETPROOF MUSICIAN blog is by far the best online source for practice and performance information that I know. Do yourself a big favour and familiarize yourself with the content presented there – you won’t regret it!