Preparing for College Auditions

by Tom Ervin

Originally published to www.tom-ervin.com



Here’s a re-posting (to the trombone-list) of something from last year, for students preparing auditions for college. Or scholarships. Or transfers, or even Grad school. It’s a bit long, sorry if it clutters your mail, but it is seasonal. Download it, copy it, share it as you wish. Tom Ervin, University of Arizona.


A student requested advice on college auditions. 2 cents here. This is my 27th year, gosh, of teaching college trombone.


1. Practice more than you eat. Every day, or you are not going to be a competitor.


2. Make a tape of your Best Playing. Please don’t cheat with many splices; the tape should be a true representation of your Best Work. It does not have to be done in recital; a studio or living room is fine. But I recommend the tape, over a live audition, because you can fix a tape and make a better first impression.


3. Nothing bad on the tape, of course. And the Best Stuff First.


4. What literature? Might depend on the professor you hope to impress. From incoming freshmen,we are used to hearing Voxman and other All-State etudes, Rochut, Blazhevich etc. Accompanied solo literature is not absolutely required, but we are favorably impressed IF the ensemble (togetherness) is excellent, both players played great, and the piano is in tune (with the player, too).


5. Show a variety of style(s) in Not Too Long a tape. (Some years we get 30 of these; 20 minutes should do it.) A half-page of this, half page of that, plenty of keys, ranges, tempos, variety of articulation and musical flavors.


6. Select the best material you can really Play Well; don’t over-reach and Crash.


7. It is not easy to make this tape (for most folks). Give yourself time, start early, start now, many sessions, to get many selections “in the can.” Then assemble the casette master and make duplicates.


7a-insert. Send the tape to the prof (or the right address) of several schools in Plenty Of Time. November/December/January (for a fall start) works best in this part of the USA. We do Most of our recruiting work, and scholarship work, in the Spring. The applicants who “have the act together” early can get an early offer. Thosewho show up in April will likely wait for leftovers, on a list. I suppose that calendar may vary in other states; you find out. It is quite all right to phone the prof 2 weeks later to learn if the tape was received safely. (It is wise to apply for “admission” to that school at the same time. Early. There are schools which will not consider tapes, or at least will not offer scholarships to students who have not yet applied for admission. We have few awards to give, really, and if, for instance, the high school grades are abysmal, much time is wasted…


8. How will it be judged? Same way you’d judge it, usual things. Good voice to the instrument, clear articulations, solid rhythm, nearly spotless intonation. Control. No (unintended) smears or holes in the legato. Accurate execution. Dynamics and nuances may be hard to record well, but go for it.


9. Include orchestral excerpts only if you know how they go, please! Indeed these are the standard fare for orchestral auditions of course. But I’d advise students not to volunteer these parts if you are still scuffling. 10. Utilize vibrato cautiously, and only if it is clean and tidy and gets many compliments from your teacher. Some teachers, only a few, have some very strong thoughts about vibrato (When, How, etc.). No teachers want to hear much nasty vibrato, irregular and out of control, out of tune . . . lotsa ways to offend someone here.


10. Don’t include duets with a friend, or a quartet with yourself playing lead (or bass) (or second). Go naked. Even a brass quintet, it’s just too hard for the listener to make the judgement.


11. I don’t mind jazz on an audition tape… If it is Good! Only a very few high school players (will this start a fight, I hope not) play trombone well enough, technically, to play jazz at Audition Level. Solos I mean, improvisation. And there are some professors still, who don’t want to hear your jazz at all, even if it Is Good.


Now, the live audition, either for scholarships/admission (in advance) or for ensemble placement (once you’re on board).


1. Be in shape, fit, best you’ve ever played.


2. Be warmed up. All Ready To Go.


2a. Much deep breathing and self-talk will help your confidence. Learn to do this; do it often, it is a valuable tool often ignored by youngsters. 


3. Bring in music you would like to play, and then knock their socks off,
politely! (Ideally) this should be music that you have prepared for weeks or months, recorded often, and played in Pretend Auditions for your teacher and parents and buddies repeatedly.


4. Probably you will be asked to sightread. Honest sightreading of music you have never seen before. Practice doing this, every day between now and then. Reading duets is good practice too.


5. Clean instrument, clean mouthpiece. Clean clothing, shoes with socks, clean shirt probably with a collar. I think coat & tie only if you are comfortable in them. Girls, anything nice.


6. If you prefer to stand, stand; sit, ask to sit. Want the stand higher, adjust it yourself. Water your slide.


7. Probably (if not behind a screen) you will introduce yourself, so practice doing that (name etc. and a good First Impression). If you are not used to doing this, it may contribute to some nervousness.


8. Don’t talk too much at first; I mean Too Much. Simply get on with it, play well! The longer you delay, the harder it might become.


9. Likely this will not be your “best take” of the music. Expect a stumble or two, smile when they occur, just keep playing. Don’t say Damn, just play on. Thanks.


10. Don’t spit on my floor without asking. Probably there is a wastebasket or a rug or a rag . . .


11. Be ready to answer questions. What would you ask a kid? Where you from, what school, what teacher(s), how long ya played, what books and literature are you working on (have worked on), what plans do you have for a major field, what do your parents do, have you applied for admission, have you been admitted, what brings you to this school, etc. And then, Do you have any questions you need to ask? (One earlier reply cautioned profs not to ask questions about the family, or money/income, since that might imply that decisions were being made based on other things than merit and quality. Maybe, good point. But I do hope to “get to know” the person a bit.


12. Know what Questions You Have to ask. (Not: how did I do?) How often and how long will my lessons be, What opportunities are there for financial aid (or where can I find out), any feedback, how can I meet my academic advisor to decide what courses to enroll in, where is the bathroom, can I go now 🙂 Really, ask them if you get the chance. Ask the prof for a card or his/her number so you can follow up if needed. Be sure he/she has your numbers for future needs. If you have e-mail, offer it. Have it all printed on a card to leave.


13. Your applied teacher is one of Only A Few with whom you will meet alone, weekly or so. Start immediately to build a good relationship with this mentor.


Surely I have left some things out.

Let me append some short thought on taking lessons.

We have a deal. My job (in a nutshell) as your teacher is to show you everything I can about the instrument, the literature, the business, exercises, your own playing, etc. Your job is to prepare the assigned materials (so Neither Of Us dreads your next lesson) and Much More. Preparing the assigned material (3-4 etudes and some solo?) is less than half of your task. You really must practice Loads of stuff, regularly, that you will not perform (probably) in your lesson, If you wish to develop as a player:

Scales and arpeggios. Sightreading. Power. Flexibility. Sheer speed. Long tones. High range. Endurance. Special exercises. Yes, plain technical work. And focused listening. And reading books, mags, journals.

If/when the student does not practice diligently, expect the teacher to resent it and perhaps give less.

Gotta go practice.


Read the original publication here.

Join the conversation