What Is the Most Effective Way to Warm Up for an Audition?

It’s been many years since I was in the market for a new violin or bow, but I still remember how self-conscious I’d be when playing in front of the shop owners.

Why so self-conscioius?

I was worried about being judged.

How would I compare to others who had tried this violin? What would the people in the store think of my playing? What if they didn’t think I was good enough, or worthy of playing on this violin?

Pretty Woman

I’d feel a bit like Julia Roberts in that scene in Pretty Woman where the ladies in the clothing boutique made it clear they don’t think she deserved to step foot into their store.

Anyhow, with all this self-imposed pressure and impressing to do, something rather peculiar would happen. Namely, my entire repertoire would suddenly evaporate, and the only thing that would come out of my instrument was a 2-octave G major scale and the opening of the Bach G minor Sonata.

Rather than really listening to the violin, putting my ego aside for a moment, and playing whatever would help me decide whether I and the fiddle were a good match or not, my brain would freeze up and I’d find myself going through the motions.

Not surprisingly, the same thing would happen when warming up for auditions or competitions. In the presence of my competitors, I’d get self-conscious and fail to warm up in a manner that would best prepare me for my performance.

A tale of two warm-up routines

It doesn’t look like it’s just me with this peculiar problem. I’ve been watching my students warm up lately, and have observed the same curious phenomenon.

When I ask if this is how they warm up at home, they smile, admit that this is not at all how they typically warm up, and proceed to do something that is often slower and sounds nothing at all like music.

Yet whatever weird idiosyncratic warm up routine they have, whether it’s some combination of long tones, super slow scales, or a single note varying bow speed and pressure, it is infinitely more effective at helping them get connected to their instrument, quiet their mind, turn their ears on, and settle into the right mental state for performing well.

Resist the temptation to impress the wrong people

In an audition situation, whether you are auditioning for Juilliard, a local TV voiceover spot, or the LA Phil, you will be surrounded by others who are auditioning for the exact same spot you are going for. There will be a tendency for the self-consciousness to kick in, and for you to go through the motions of warming up, or trying to impress those around you by playing something that sounds difficult.

Resist this temptation, and begin by warming up the way you do every day. In the way that you know is going to be most helpful – even if it makes others snicker and shake their heads in amusement. We all have different ways of getting connected to our instrument and getting into the right state for performing well. Warm up the way you know works best for you and enjoy the last laugh.

Besides, it’s not their opinion that matters, it’s the committee, the audition panel, the audience, and YOU that matter.

Take action

Like everything else, remember to practice warming up this way around others. Go to orchestra rehearsal early, and instead of flashing the tricky bits of your concerto, warm up the way you do when you are at home in your PJ’s.

Train yourself to become more comfortable sticking your head in the sand and doing what you need to do, no matter what others will think. I guarantee it gets easier with repetition, not to mention when you begin to experience more success as a result of warming up the most effective way you can – the way you do every day when you want to connect to your instrument and start the day off on the right foot.

photo credit: SpecialKRB via photopin cc

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11 Responses

  1. Dr Kageyama, do you have any advice for someone who has developed a phobia for auditions? As soon as I step into the audition studio, I’m tempted to scream and jump out the window. Then I sit down to play while all I can think about is that window and how bad and stupid I am for being there, wasting everyone’s time. Anyone I know can tell that I’m so not likely to be that person. I believe in myself, but the auditions kill me and months before and months after is just a long process of feeling smothered when I think of them. I read “Audition Success” last year and felt better afterwards, but then I had my worst audition ever. It feels like I’m just digging a deeper whole for every day in this fear.

    1. Hi Lynn,

      For better or worse, your feelings about auditions are probably not going to change until you start having a different experience of auditions. Meaning, the basic plan of attack would be for you to develop your performance skills, like anxiety regulation, focus, etc., and then find ways to build up little tiny victories, from performances to really small low-stress auditions. As you begin accumulating positive experiences, you will start to feel differently about future auditions, making it easier to eventually build up to bigger auditions. As far as books go, Audition Success is a helpful introduction, but I think you’ll find Performance Success (the titles aren’t indicative of the content) to be a more structured, action-oriented book that will help you develop stronger audition skills and facilitate these micro-victories that are so key. Let me know how it goes!

      1. Lynn and Dr. Kageyama,
        The advice offered above is brilliant in it’s simplicity. I stumbled onto the same principle with my problem of TERROR about performing without music. I was playing major repertoire, but had not developed the tools necessary for memorizing at all. Then, in a Suzuki Teacher Training, I had to memorize Suzuki Book 1 quickly. I found that practicing solid memory on SIMPLE tunes really built the skills I needed for “memory and recall under pressure”, and my terror is more like just normal nerves now. I think the suggestion of doing small, low-pressure auditions will be VERY helpful. Great post.

      2. Here’s how it went:
        First audition, really was low-pressure. My emotions? Unbearable. I took beta-blockers, and had a few times spoken to a counselor to prepare myself a bit… yet – I did a bad performance and suffered every single second. But I got to callback! So that was a small success, and indeed, it helped. Second audition, went better. After the third audition, I was unhappy with my performance because I knew that this time, it was my subconcious who ruined it for me – not my nerves. The part of my brain who refuses to let myself shine, because it’s safe to fail, you know? Now that I’m used to failing, I would be a fool to think I could just getting things done easily!

        I came home and contacted a friend of mine, who’s a sports coach. I asked him how to prepare for the last audition. He described visualisation techniques to me, with emphasis on details, I need to put details into my brain as I see myself nail it, details of feelings, sensations, smells, sounds, seen from my body, seen from the audience, and nothing less than a peak performance…

        With three days left until the last audition, and with such a big fear of it, I must say I wasn’t completely sure that this would work. But I sat down and visualised for 2-5 minutes three times a day. I created the scene before, during or after the audition. Then the day came. Result? WOW! I “forgot” beta blockers. Jumped into the studio with a smile on my face. And then – I did the best performance I have ever done! With an extremely technically difficult repertoire, I was amazed that I could even ENJOY playing it, and to feel good about myself while playing. I really nailed it!

        Unfortunately(and unbelievably) I didn’t get in to that school, but I am not sorry! I was there. I proved what I needed to know about myself! Also, I got in to a school that’s even better! Most of all, I feel amazingly happy to be able to feel that good about performing, it’s been many years since, if ever. Psychology saved me!

        I am so grateful for this blog, it’s the best support a musician can have! One can tell your goal is to genuinely help. Thank you!

        1. Hi Lynn,

          Thanks for the update! Sounds like you have really figured out some things about what it takes for you to do your best under pressure. Be sure to write down your personal formula/gameplan, before it seeps out of your memory!

  2. Thanks for the great post! Focusing on the psychological side of performance is a big part of the battle, and routines are one thing that really help me get in my groove before I go in front of an audience. Good reminder to set the ego aside and pay no mind to what others think.

  3. Great reminder! I also like to try and remind myself that the folks on an audition panel (or the audience, or whoever) aren’t out to get me — in fact, they really want me to succeed. I dunno, somehow it helps me get into a less stressful state, I think, if I can see auditions as situations where the jury’s not just sitting there waiting and hoping for me to make mistakes so that they can strike me down, and instead remember that these are folks who love music and would love nothing more than to hear me play something beautiful and interesting for them.

    Love your site, btw — always so helpful. Thanks a lot!

  4. I’m an adult amateur who would have to repeat an entire lifetime of piano study in order to qualify to audition for anything 🙂 However, I’ve recently discovered a mini-audition experience that seems to bring out my worst playing. As a prelude to my eventual retirement and ramping up my music study, I’ve been shopping for a new or rebuilt Steinway B or similar piano to replace my Yamaha G-2. This means playing current repertoire in dealers’ showrooms, with or without the score, with or without onlookers, to evaluate a variety of instruments. Not only am I mangling pieces I’ve already performed successfully, but I haven’t been getting to a mindset where I listen critically to the pianos I’m playing. Mechanical tasks-repeated notes, scales, octaves, etc., work better, but there really isn’t a substitute for playing through all or part of learned pieces. Your reminder to avoid trying to impress anyone is timely–thanks for this and all advice!

  5. I love this blog so much! I mainly use all the tips that are given for my own instrument– my voice– and it works wonders no matter what! Getting email alert every week that there is a new post is one of the things I look forward to most. Keep doing what you’re doing!

  6. I loved this post as well (and the entire site!)
    I’ve experienced the self-consciousness described when testing violins in certain high profile shops.
    I also wanted to add: I think it’s a sort of pscyhological warfare that takes place at auditions, and when people are sitting around firing off pyro-technics, they are trying to get under your skin and “psych” you out. It’s an intimidation thing.
    By refraining from joining the psych-out game, in a way, you are putting up a fortress against the impact of this intimidation.
    I’m sure the online course covers in depth how to cope with this, but refraining from engaging in it is probably a good start!

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