10 Tips for Youth Orchestra Auditions

Viola Head & Bow

This is the time of the year when my violin and viola students start to receive audition times for various youth orchestras. They are excited yet nervous. Being prepared musically and non-musically is important for having a successful audition as well as a positive experience. The key is to anticipate any situation and be prepared. I have been on every side of auditions from the nervous student, to the professional musician, to the teacher, and to the one listening and evaluating auditions. Although each organization is different in their audition process, there are aspects that are important no matter where you audition. Being a string player and teacher, my tips are focused around string students, but there are universal suggestions that apply to every musician. Here are some tips!

1. Know Your Scales and Perform Them

Scales are usually the first thing you play in an audition, and therefore, the first thing that those who are listening and evaluating your audition will hear.

They need to be clean, precise, have consistently clear intonation, and a beautiful tone. I often hear to my own students start with a nice sound with long bows, but as they get into the last octave, the bow strokes shorten and the sound disappears as they reach the peak of the “nose picking” portion of the fingerboard. Remember, each note is important. Each note must sound good. Each note must be consistently played from top to bottom. So, what do I mean by “perform” your scales? Aren’t scales those boring items on our check list that our teacher makes us practice and play every week? You aren’t alone if you feel this way, but you don’t want them to sound boring when you play them! Listen to your scales. REALLY listen to them. Do they sound like a series of notes, played one after another? Or are they an excellent example of your playing? Do they show that you can play with consistent intonation and shift effortlessly, while providing a beautiful, gorgeous tone? Does your first note ring the way the first note in your piece does? Having the mindset that you are performing your scale in an audition is a way to ensure a good first impression of your playing ability. Don’t just play the notes!

2. Choose an Appropriate Piece

This is such an important part of a successful audition. Choose a piece that is appropriate for your level. Yes, it is good to learn challenging pieces that push you, but there is nothing worse than listening to a student struggle through a piece that they simply aren’t ready for. As a result, those listening to the audition don’t have a true picture of his/her playing. Playing something that is level appropriate will allow you to show off your dazzling musicianship! Even if you don’t get accepted into the orchestra of your choice, it will leave a good impression and allow you to spend another year improving your skills so you can play a more challenging, level appropriate piece the next year!

3. Know about your piece

Well, of course you should know your piece, but I’m not talking about notes. Know the details of your piece and composer. Do you know how to pronounce the composer’s name? Do you know when the composer lived and what musical period it’s from? Do you know what key it’s in? There are a few reasons for knowing more about your piece. First, you might be asked in an audition. You might not, but be prepared either way. Second, it’s great to know about your piece to help understand how to play it stylistically and musically.

4. How to Dress

Although there might not be any requirements listed on your audition form as to what to wear, I have developed guide lines for my students that will not only impress the laid back auditioner, but will receive approval from the pickiest conductor. This is not a recital so don’t wear a showy, multi-colored taffeta dress (or multi-colored tuxedo, of course). When in doubt, keep it simple. It’s more important for them to remember how you played at your audition then what you wore. It doesn’t mean you have to wear all black. A bright-colored shirt or blouse is fine. You can show a little personal style and personality, just remember it shouldn’t out-shine your instrument. Busy prints can be distracting. You want their eyes on your wonderful left hand technique or straight bow, not your eye-catching polka-dotted shirt. This doesn’t mean prints are off-limits, just keep it in mind when choosing your outfit. No flip-flops. Preferably no open-toed shoes. No jeans. Dress pants, slacks, or modest length skirt or dress are good choices. If you have long hair, keep in mind your hair should not be falling in your face while you play, so wearing it up, part up, or back might be a wise decision if necessary. Absolutely NO FINGERNAIL POLISH!!! If this sounds like suggestions for a job interview, well, auditions are just that. You are interviewing for a spot with an orchestra.

5. Musicality

Make sure with the hours of practicing for accuracy that you don’t forget to add musicality! If ten other musicians auditioned with the same piece, what would make your performance stand out? Phrasing, bow planning and vibrato are all important aspects to work on with your teacher but try to take it a step further and connect with your song. I encourage my students to come up with a story for their song. I always enjoy the creativity and adventures they take me on!

6. Sight reading

Be sure to add even a few minutes of sight-reading to your practice time every day. Like anything else, it takes practice to improve and develop this skill. If it is not part of your regular practice, talk to your private teacher about adding it a few months before your audition.

7. Practice Auditioning

Ask family and friends to listen to you play through your audition material. The more opportunities the better! Unless you are preparing for a blind audition, practice introducing yourself and musical selections. Be confident and speak clearly.

8. Don’t Cram for an Audition! 

It. Does. Not. Work. A successful audition comes with consistent time, practicing and planning. It’s one thing to put in extra practice time leading up to an audition, but suddenly trying to learn what your teacher gave you 6 months ago in a few weeks will more than likely lead to a negative experience. Setting goals on a timeline can take the stress out of preparing and help you achieve a positive audition experience.

9. Poise and Confidence

From the moment you walk in, have good posture. If you make a mistake, keep going. Don’t make the “I can’t believe I messed up!” face. There’s a chance they didn’t notice, and if they did, they will remember it more if you point it out by grimacing or making another negative visual reaction. Smile and enjoy the audition! Remember, they are on your side! They want you to have a good audition. Being confident, standing tall, and “going for it” in your playing will aid in a positive experience for everyone! Have fun!

10. Don’t Give Up!

There are no guarantees that you’ll have the superb audition you hoped for, but preparing with purposeful practicing will definitely put the odds in your favor. If you’ve had a negative experience in the past or have received disappointing results from an audition, don’t give up! Try again! We have all had auditions we were not happy with, but let those experiences turn disappointment into motivation.

Whether this is your first audition or a re-audition, think about being prepared as a whole musician and not just learning the notes on the page. Happy practicing and good luck!

There are multiple opportunities for young musicians. Check out what’s in your area. Here are some in the Portland Metro area:

-Lori Givens

Lori Givens has a Bachelor of Music in Viola Performance from the Indiana University School of Music where she studied with Allen DeVeritch, former principal violist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and Rainer Moog, former principal violist of the Berlin Philharmonic. Currently involved in chamber music with both the violin and viola, Mrs. Givens has performed professionally with the Richmond Symphony, Evansville Philharmonic, Owensboro Symphony, Columbus Pro Musica, Columbus Symphony, Terre Haute Symphony, and Bloomington Pops Orchestra. Lori and her husband, Nathan, are the owners of Music Man Studio in Wilsonville, OR. They both enjoy teaching private students, chamber coaching and group classes. In addition to teaching and running their music studio, they also teach in the West Linn-Wilsonville School District Strings Program. They have a passion for sharing their gift of music and connecting with other musicians, teachers, students and parents.