Preparing For A College Audition

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Hey Jazz Guy,
I want to major in music, and my college audition is coming up. I have no idea what to expect and what to prepare. Can you give me some tips? -Auditioning in Austin

Dear Auditioning,

This is a great question and I’m glad you asked it. I’m sure it is on a lot of people’s minds.

The goal of the college audition is to evaluate you on two criteria:

1) How strong is your foundation?
2) How great is your potential?

Foundation is refers to a number of different things. The first is your technical ability on your instrument. This is why most colleges will ask you to prepare a song to play. It is a way for them to judge how well you can perform something that is already out there as a (recorded) piece of music. For example if you were to play a Van Halen solo or a Charlie Parker solo it would be pretty obvious how well you could play it in comparison to the original version. The best way to build your technique is to practice every day – exercises, scales, patterns, right hand, left-hand exercises, all that jazz, and work on your sound.

The second foundational element that many auditions include is a sight reading element. You’ll be given a piece of music that you have not seen. You might be given a few minutes to look at it before the audition (or not) but then you’ll have to perform it to the best of your abilities. Well this can be frustrating, it measures a number of things. It measures how well you are familiar with reading music on a staff written the traditional way. It measures your ability to feel rhythms and to look ahead. When reading chords, it measures your knowledge of music theory and what types of voicings you are able to play. The best way to become better at sight reading is to practice sight reading every day. This does not mean you should work on a piece of music until you’re able to play it well. This means pull out a piece of music you have never seen, put on a metronome, play through the piece and DO NOT STOP TO CORRECT MISTAKES! When you finish, look it over, looking for places you know you made a mistake. Then read it one more time, trying to make fewer mistakes than you made the first time. Then pull out a new piece. This is the process. Rinse and repeat this every day for months and you will be amazed by how much your reading has improved. Don’t forget to read the chords too!

The next part of the foundation test on a music school audition can often be just having the instructors call out things that they want you to play. This could be chords, scales, arpeggios… Anything that tests your music theory knowledge on your instrument. There is no way to prepare for this except for learning as much music theory as you can. There are certain basic books that are very good, I happen to favor the Jazz Theory Book by Mark Levine. (We are also working on our own the official Hey Jazz Guy music theory book, but that will come later.)

The final part of a college music audition is very often a test of your improvisation abilities. This is designed to not only test your foundation, but also your creativity and your intrinsic ability to create music and connect with an audience. It is very likely that they will give you a choice of certain songs on which to improvise. This is done so that they can compare students improvising on the same piece of music. It would be wise to practice on this piece of music as often as you can, at least once every day. However this alone will not build your abilities as an improvisor. You must improvise all the time on as much music as you possibly can find. Do not worry or stress too much about this particular part of the audition. They will assume that you want to be at music school for the purpose of developing your abilities in this area. If you were already a world-class improviser then it is highly unlikely you would be auditioning for music school. You must take into consideration the style factor here. If you’re improvising on a jazz standard it will be expected that you will be familiar with the jazz language at least at some level. If you happen to be improvising on the blues or rock tune then I would highly suggest that you use that type of lexicon in your playing. You want to acknowledge to the instructors that you are familiar with the style of music that you are improvising in.

My best advice and preparing for college is to take yourself to a mock audition as often as you can. Play your prepared piece, do three songs worth of sight reading, and improvise on your chosen song all in a row once a day meeting up to the addition. This way nothing will catch you off guard. Dion that don’t only focus on your upcoming addition continue to go to your normal practice routine whatever materials you are starting this way you won’t be “cramming for the test” so to speak. Keep in mind this is a performance, so treat it like one! Show up early, dress to kill, and show some passion in your playing. If you do that, I’m sure the judges will fell positive about what you can contribute to their school.

So take a deep breath, practice a ton, Jazz Hard and most importantly good luck!

-Jake Hertzog

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Categories: Philosophy/Technique

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