How Can We Embrace Auditions and Thrive When It Counts?
By Noa Kageyama, Ph.D.
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…”
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?
Apparently, there are ~500 hours of video being uploaded to YouTube every minute2.
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!
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:
A link to the video
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:
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.
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.
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.
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 .
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.
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!
Performance psychologist and Juilliard alumnus & faculty member Noa Kageyama teaches musicians how to beat performance anxiety and play their best under pressure through live classes, coachings, and an online home-study course. Based in NYC, he is married to a terrific pianist, has two hilarious kids, and is a wee bit obsessed with technology and all things Apple.
After Countless Hours of Practice, Why Are Performances Still so Hit or Miss?
It’s not a talent issue. And that rush of adrenaline and emotional roller coaster you experience before performances is totally normal too.
Performing at the upper ranges of your ability under pressure is a unique skill – one that requires specific mental skills and a few tweaks in your approach to practicing. Elite athletes have been learning these techniques for decades; if nerves and self-doubt have been recurring obstacles in your performances, I’d like to help you do the same.
Click below to discover the 7 skills that are characteristic of top performers. Learn how you can develop these into strengths of your own. And begin to see tangible improvements in your playing that transfer to the stage.