How Can We Embrace Auditions and Thrive When It Counts?

Right up there with the SAT’s and trips to the dentist, auditions seem to be among the least enjoyed activities that we encounter in the course of our musical careers.

More so than performances, auditions (and competitions) tend to make us feel like we’re being judged, evaluated, and compared, with every little detail put under a microscope. Which naturally leads to more of a “threat” mindset than the more performance-enhancing “challenge” mindset.

But whether it’s for youth orchestra seating, admission to college or conservatory, summer festivals, or a professional orchestral position, auditions are an inevitable part of the path we’ve chosen.

So what are we to do?

Well, one approach is to dread them, debate their merits (or lack thereof), complain about how unfair the system is (which may very well have some validity), or how the process discourages individuality, and become resentful.

Then again, as a wise person1 once said “If someone comes along and shoots an arrow into your heart, it’s fruitless to stand there and yell at the person. It would be much better to turn your attention to the fact that there’s an arrow in your heart…”

Another approach?

So another approach might be to to approach auditions as a game, or a challenge. An opportunity to learn the rules, leverage our strengths, and use the situation as a way to grow and evolve and make strides towards becoming better musicians. And maybe…even grow to enjoy (or at least appreciate) them over time.

After all, sometimes it’s easier to be motivated to put forth our best effort, when we give ourselves a big, juicy challenge to meet. Like improving your tennis game by playing real matches against players better than you – instead of limiting yourself to working on your skills with only a ball machine or a hitting partner who doesn’t challenge you.

So…how can we turn auditions into a more positive challenge?

Enter YouTube

Apparently, there are ~500 hours of video being uploaded to YouTube every minute2.

A third of which are cats3. But hidden amongst videos of dramatic chipmunks , Mentos and Diet Coke experiments , and kitten-inspired book readings , are some gems that can provide us with actionable insights into becoming better musicians and auditioners. But that can feel like looking for a needle in a haystack.

So, I thought it might be fun to tap into our collective internet browsing histories, to identify the most helpful and inspiring audition/performance advice videos on the line  out there.

Prizes – apps & gift cards!

To make this video hunt more fun, there will be prizes!

Download Practice+Courtesy of Practice+  – the popular all-in-one metronome/tuner/recording app – 3 readers will win iTunes gift cards, enabling them to upgrade to the full version of Practice+ (the app’s metronome functions are fully functional in the free version; a $3.99 in-app purchase unlocks all other features) and purchase a couple additional apps too.

(Full disclosure: I have no financial interests or ties to the app. I’ve found it to be pretty handy when practicing with my kids, so reached out to the developer4 to see if he might be willing to help out with this contest.)


How to enter

In the comments below, include two things:

  1. A link to the video
  2. Your top insight or takeaway

Feel free to submit more than one video if you’d like, but please do so as a separate comment. Each comment will get you one entry into a random drawing, which will take place on Saturday, March 5 at 6pm PST.

To give you an idea of how this might look, here are a few videos that I found:

Noa’s picks

1. Mindset

Video: Joshua Bell on whether competitions are useful or not

Takeaway: Competitions can be useful in the sense that they are “a very concrete goal we can work towards.” Which reminds me of the Bruce Lee quote “A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at.” So if we can approach auditions in this same way – by adopting mastery goals instead of ego goals, we can come out ahead in the long run, regardless of the outcome of that particular audition.

2: Basics

Video: Clarinetist Ricardo Morales on the role of etudes and basics in audition preparation

Takeaway: It can be tempting to start obsessing about our repertoire from day 1, but working on our fundamentals (like articulation, bow control, etc.) gives us a stronger base to work from, since these skills are going to come into play no matter what we are working on. Basics might seem boring at first glance (and are, if you’re just going through the motions), but great players are great because they have such a firm grasp of the fundamentals.

3: Score study

Video: Jorja Fleezanis on score study

Takeaway: We don’t play in a vacuum. Whether we’re performing a sonata, concerto, or orchestral excerpt, the greater our awareness of the role we play in the whole of the piece, the more compelling and convincing a performance we can give. And, the more we will stand out, because informed listeners can totally hear the difference between someone who really knows the score and someone who only knows their own part.

As in this Barenboim master class which illustrates what it means to develop clearer ideas.

Or as Met clarinetist Jessica Phillips explains in this video on ''phrase mapping.''

4: Rhythm

Video: Jorja Fleezanis on the importance of good rhythm (skip ahead to 1:47)

Takeaway: Knowing the score and having good rhythm go hand in hand. It’s critical to know where you fit in the context of the rhythmic jigsaw puzzle of the piece, and develop a strong individual sense of pulse, so you can be in sync with an ensemble (even if it’s just you in an audition). And while this may require practicing with a metronome, it does not mean playing metronomically. See the following videos, if that seems like a contradiction:

As Leon Fleisher explains here . And Fleisher and Pamela Frank explain here . And as Fleisher, Frank, and Yo-Yo Ma explain here . And as Fleisher demonstrates here .

5: Stage presence

Video: David Kim with an interesting perspective on stage presence (and how it probably affects the jury – but not necessarily in the way you might think)

Takeaway: How you present yourself before playing a single note, and after you play the last note, is all part of the performance. And the research seems to bear this out too, as this study and this study both suggest.

It’s on!

Ok! I may have gone a little bonkers with links, but now it’s your turn. Good luck – I’m looking forward to watching your favorite finds!

Update: Congrats to the winners of the random drawing – Karis, Christine, and Chris!


  1. Pema Chödrön
  2. Source
  3. No, not really.
  4. Joe LeBlanc, who is a professional musician (clarinet) himself.

Ack! After Countless Hours of Practice...
Why Are Performances Still So Hit or Miss?

For most of my life, I assumed that I wasn’t practicing enough. And that eventually, with time and performance experience, the nerves would just go away.

But in the same way that “practice, practice, practice” wasn’t the answer, “perform, perform, perform” wasn’t the answer either. In fact, simply performing more, without the tools to facilitate more positive performance experiences, just led to more negative performance experiences!

Eventually, I discovered that elite athletes are successful in shrinking this gap between practice and performance, because their training looks fundamentally different. In that it includes specialized mental and physical practice strategies that are oriented around the retrieval of skills under pressure.

It was a very different approach to practice, that not only made performing a more positive experience, but practicing a more enjoyable experience too (which I certainly didn’t expect!).

If you’ve been wanting to perform more consistently and get more out of your daily practice, I’d love to share these research-based skills and strategies that can help you beat nerves and play more like yourself when it counts.

Click below to learn more about Beyond Practicing, and start enjoying more satisfying practice days that also transfer to the stage.


21 Responses

  1. When I find myself looking for advices about this, I always go first to Joyce Didonato. She gives great advices both for our musical and personal sides.

    Joyce Didonato’s advice to audition


    Takeaway: Have your fundamentals ready (great language, musicality, presentation, it should look like you put some thought in it) and be yourself. Do not try to imitate anyone else!

    “and when you are at that audition, remember why you to love to do it”.

  2. Video: Joyce DiDonato Q&A Master Class

    Takeaway: This video contains a variety of helpful hints that help prepare one for an audition or starting a musical career with confidence. Mainly, controlling the negative, nagging voices in your head, so you can preform your best. Also, have confidence in your abilities and know that everything is going to work out.

  3. Video: by Alex Kerr

    Takeaways: The committee is trying to hire someone. Give them a good reason to hire you.

    Aim for a balance between body “bored” (relaxed) and mind “frustrated” (clear and focused) – trying to re-create the music rather than feel the music (a little objective distance?).

    “Take enjoyment in being able to calm yourself down and execute your plan exactly the way you wanted to…”

  4. Video : (between 20m to 26m30)

    Takeaway: In order to reach our full potential, they is not short trick that will spare us from hours of deliberate practice (according to research on expertise in many fields, 10 000 hours). This is one takeaway from this video in which immensely creative and wise people are participating in a discussion about creativity: the ‘vehicule’ i.e., the musician in our case, has to be ready to receive the inspiration. Then, it is not the creative power of the ego, but the energy that is egoless (if we can reach a ‘half-egoless’ performance that would be already quite good!) which can be set free.

    Thanks so much Noa for your great and inspiring website!

    Nathalie from Montreal 🙂

  5. Video:

    This is part of a series of videos called Morgensterns Audition Masterclasses. The videos are short compilations of clips from various classes with British orchestral players, each focusing on a subject or theme. This one shows a demonstration of an exercise to clarify and distill the intention for each excerpt by playing the first 1 or 2 notes of each piece in succession, with exactly the desired sound. The teacher says “I want to know, from how they breathe in and how they play that first note … which one it is.”

  6. The only thing that’s ever helped me in stress judgment situations — not auditions, but in the typical situations of a career professional, interviews, times when you are suddenly called by the Big Boss to talk to a room full of bigwigs, etc. — is to remember that they need my help. That is the only thing that has ever made a dent in my almost everpresent anxiety and fear of judgment.

    I think it’s a version of the other way that people react to stress — there’s fight-v-flight, and then there is another less well researched reaction called tend-and-befriend. That really seems to help, when I go into the room to tend to the people who are going to judge my performance. They need me to solve a problem for them, and that’s what I’m there to help them do. Nothing else seems to help in the slightest.

    1. BTW, my apologies for not having a video, but … there is so little done with this idea that I see pretty much nothing of use on YouTube. If you search on this, you get a lot of oogly-googly Men-are-from-Mars-Women-are-from-Venus new age crap that doesn’t really treat the idea with the rigor it deserves. 🙁 I stand by it, though — go out there, and think to yourself that the poor jury is sitting there for nine hours or whatever, they need to find someone to pick, and you need to help them do it. The jury is under stress, and they need your help. Go do your best to solve their problem for them.

  7. Hello, there is no study this week but I take keywords away from the article : mindset, basics, score study, rhythm, stage presence, video. 🙂 (in the Noa-reviewed journal) 🙂

  8. Dr. Kageyama -Thank you for everything!! As you so well know, the comparisons between sports psychology and music performance psychology are endless….

    Here is my mentor from CSU Fullerton, the esteemed Dr. Ken Ravizza, summarizing his philosophy and main points in 5 minutes:

    (We will be at Julliard for my son Will’s oboe audition on Thursday – would love a minute to shake your hand and thank you in person!)

    Chris Stevens

  9. This is not a music-related video, but one that I have taken away as great inspiration for when one thing does not work, keep experimenting and you might get some great results! In this video from 1930, Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller’s teacher, explains how they figured out how to help Helen speak. For someone who was deaf, blind and mute, this was absolutely incredible. I find it so inspiring because sometimes when we perform, we might try something that we think will work (memorizing the difficult places of a piece and filling in the rest), but in the long run we find that every piece is different and we might have to memorize each piece a different way. Like Helen and Anne, we also need to remember that few things can be learned quickly in life. Problem solving and patience – a major aspect of performance.

  10. Body Language Shapes Who You Are:
    This does not directly relate to musical auditions, but I’ve found this immensely helpful in helping with overall confidence in everything we do, whether it is a job interview or an audition. This video is less about audition preparation and applies to the way we carry ourselves in auditions. The main point of this talk, is we tend to think out body language is a result of our thoughts, but the reality is that it is often our body(how we carry ourselves, facial expressions) that makes us feel a certain way, and just by striking a “power pose” we can improve our confidence and change the chemicals in our body. 20 minutes may be a long video to watch when we are always busy, but I think it is inspiring to take a break and watch this to see how simply moving our body and pretending to be confident can actually become a living truth! Even if you don’t feel in control, force yourself to move your body in a confident way (broaden shoulders, smile, sit-up straight) and maybe it will help.

  11. My apologies, I need to amend my previous post of Dr. Ken Ravizza because I didn’t include the takeaway piece. He is talking baseball but any musician can very easily transfer the situations to music by substituting pertinent words…

    Takeaways are several, but my favorite starts at about 3:50 in….

    “Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Being in The Zone is overrated.”

  12. I found these incredibly helpful.

    Towards the end of last year I became increasingly obsessed with number of hours I was doing. This video (although it is short) gave me the little push I needed to stop doing that. Funnily enough, this year’s practice has been much more fruitful! It has also been thoroughly enjoyable too.

  13. How to make stress your friend –

    Takeaway: Found this very helpful for understanding how our body tries to help us in (any kind of) stressful situations. Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist, talks about if we believe that stress is bad for us, it will be… and how stress can actually give us access to our hearts. Very useful in any audition situation (as described in your article) to build up stress resilience and understand our body functions instead of fighting them°

  14. Bryan Cranston on Auditioning –

    Two really big takeaways here.

    1. Don’t forget you are a musician. You are an aspiring musician, not an aspiring audition-er. Present your musicianship on stage. Don’t try to win the job, just be a musician on the stage.

    2. You only control what happens on stage, not what the judges think or the results after are. Just walk away, and appreciate it for what it was.

    “You aren’t going there to win a job, you are going there to present what you do”

  15. Hey Guys!
    I wanted to share with you this vlog in which Tara Styles who is a yoga teacher tells you about this sensation of finding the ease. #MINDSET #EASE
    She says : And I know you always talk about finding the ease, it’s not just connecting with your breath, mind, body, it’s doing all of that, and breathing and existing, your whole life in a very easy way. So whether the pose is challenging or simple, or whether you day is frustrating, or easy-brizzy, how you sort to came to this idea of findng the ease is you can pick life, you can chose to run your way through walls and doors and bash down things you want to have this big motivational I can do it approach or you can take the softer motivational more inspirational the I can do it with a little bit of more grace, a little bit of more lightness. A lot of people come to strala and see how a lot of people at STrala move and they don’t think like they are working very hard but they are doing all of these kind challenging poses so
    The reason that we do hard things easily is to be able to do hard things it’s not just to be able to laze around, and relax.
    I wanted to remind you guys to keep trying to finding that ease in whatever you are doing (work , works, relationships), all of this stuff, there is no separation with the practice of yoga with the practice of everything you can’t separate who you are, how you are, all the time so if you do yoga one way, you are going to live in the world that way, if you do yoga forceful or kind of giving up to much, or forcing yourself into a pose, or kind of doing it and then kind of feel oh well I did that pose I am so cool, kind of feeling ego after that, that’s going what you are practicing and that’s fine, but that’s going tro be how you walk out of the studio and how you interact with everybody in your life. and the practice, is a practice a great opportunity to practice how you want to be, so finding the ease has been really interesting for me in my life, as soon as I really clicked in into that practice and taking classes everyday at Strala. WHen I am not practicing teaching, I am practicing practicing. I you don’t do it it doesn’t work.

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