Graduate School Part 1: 7 Things I Wish I Knew Prior to Auditioning

by Sean McQuaid

I still remember vividly when I was entering my senior year of college and I was trying to decide what my “next step” would be. I had two options, either to pursue a job in the music products industry or to apply to Graduate School. It was incredibly difficult for me to come a decision, however, I had received some FANTASTIC advice from a colleague of mine. He said “there will be plenty jobs out there after you graduate, but the opportunity to work with some of these Jazz Giants is a once in a lifetime opportunity.” So after thinking it over for a few weeks, I decided to apply with the stipulation that I would only go to Graduate School if I received a scholarship; if not, I would try to pursue a job in the Music Products industry. My logic behind this was that if I were meant to pursue this passion of mine, I needed to feel like the universe was pushing to follow through. This might sound a little tacky, but it ended up working out for me quite nicely. I ended up receiving a scholarship to attend SUNY Purchase and study with Jon Faddis, and I couldn’t be any happier with my decision!

When I finally came to the conclusion I wanted to pursue a Master’s Degree in Jazz Studies, I quickly became overwhelmed by the amount of things I had to do. From the prescreening requirements to getting the required amount of recommendation letters, I knew this would be an immense under taking. I thought to myself “had I thought about this even a month earlier, this would be MUCH more manageable.” Which is exactly why I’m here, to show you where I went wrong throughout my audition process.  

1- Choose Pieces that Reflect YOU Well

Don’t pick something you think the faculty will want to hear, select something that you enjoy working on and that you think shows your strengths. Keep in mind, you will be working on these pieces for a LONG time so be 100% happy with your choices! Consult your current teacher and colleagues for advice, they know your playing best and can help guide you towards the right pieces for you. 

2- Don't Listen to your Own Preescreening/Taped Audition After You Have Sent it in

This may not apply to everyone, but there will be some schools you can’t travel to or that will require prescreening tapes be sent prior to receiving an invitation for a live audition. DO NOT go crazy in selecting which “take” of your prescreening/ live audition you will send in……This is arguably the worst thing you can do, you will just nitpick yourself to death and reflect on how poorly you think you performed. If anything, have a colleague or a teacher help you make this decision, they will be more objective in their decision than you will ever be. 

3- Take an Audition Prior to your "Top Choice" if Possible to Help Get your Nerves Out

This isn’t to say the school you audition at first is not a priority, but if you have a top choice that you REALLY want to attend, give yourself a chance to get your nerves out prior to the audition. If you go into without any idea how your nerves will kick in and how you may compensate, you may put yourself at a disadvantage. You NEVER know what can happen in the middle of an audition that could trip you up and potentially not allow you to perform at your peak. Also, this gives you a chance to gauge how much you should warm up prior to the audition, over warming up is never a good thing!

4- Get as Far Away from the Audition Room as Possible

It may be tempting to try to listen to other people’s auditions, but DON’T. You will just cause yourself to get even more anxious than you already are, so why you would you do that?! Just focus on being the best YOU can be and don’t worry how everyone else does in their audition. Instead of doing this, find a quiet place to do some deep breathing and meditation to help clear your head and allow yourself to focus on the audition at hand. 

5- Don't Listen to Other Auditions Students Talking about Their Audition, it Will Just Psych You Out

Sadly, with competition comes a certain level of underhanded tactics. Some other prospective students might try to discourage you by bragging about how well their audition went or tell you how hard it was. For example, “They had me sight read a full Arban’s Characteristic Study” or “They told me I already got in and they are only accepting 2 people this year, GOOD LUCK WITH THAT!”…….Once again, not helpful at all, you’re better off just listening politely and not taking what they are saying seriously. 

6- Don't Read Too Much Into How the Faculty React to Your Audition

Some faculty members may show no reaction to what you played, others might be incredibly positive / negative. You really never know how they are as people, so don’t overthink how they react. In fact, some professors use the audition as an opportunity to not only get to know you musically, but to try and get to know you as a person. Which brings me to my final point……

7- Have a Good Attitude, Professors Pick Up on This!

I think this also applies to just being a good person, but TRY to have a good attitude during your audition. Yes, auditioning is stressful, but if you show these professors that you have a good attitude, they are more likely to want to work with you. Attitude is DEFINITELY a strong consideration when they accept new students, remember, they will be working very closely with you. They don’t want to work with someone who is extremely cocky, is very negative or doesn’t have any social skills. They want to be able to hold a conversation with you! Especially as a graduate student, you will get to know these teachers VERY well.

My next article will be about what I wish I knew prior to arriving to graduate school. Until next time, happy auditioning!

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