How to Successfully Prepare for a College Music Audition

by Mitchell Estrin

Date Posted: June 29, 2016

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Part I: General Strategy

Start Planning Early

Make a list of target schools at the beginning of your junior year of high school. 4-6 schools are an ideal number. Visit the various websites to learn about the schools. Email the professor of your instrument to express interest in visiting the school for a recruiting visit. See if you receive a timely and cordial response. Most university teachers enjoy receiving contact from prospective students and will answer in a timely manor. If you do not receive any response after several attempts, this should send up a red flag. You should proceed with caution and may want to consider eliminating this school from your target list.

Make Appointments to Visit Your Targeted Schools

Schedule appointments to visit each school during the spring semester of your junior year. Schedule an appointment with the director of music admissions to discuss the application process. Ask to schedule a private lesson and an interview with the professor of your instrument. Include your parents in the interview sessions. Prepare a list of questions. SAMPLE TOPICS:

  • Describe your curriculum.
  • Where have your students been accepted for grad school recently?
  • What professional musical positions do your former students hold?
  • Tell me about performance opportunities at the school.
  • What scholarships are available for me to apply for?
  • What will you expect me to perform at the entrance audition?

On Campus Visit

Have a lesson with the professor. Remember this is their audition for you, not yours for them. Decide if this is a person you can trust, learn from and relate to. Four years of studying with someone is a long time. If you are truly interested in attending this particular school, express this to the professor and show enthusiasm for the program. Request to speak to some of the current students in the professor’s studio. Ask them questions about the professor, other faculty and life at the school. This is very important, as the school’s faculty and administration cannot offer this valuable viewpoint.

Try to schedule your campus visit to coincide with a performance by one of the student ensembles that you can attend. This way, you can hear the quality of the performance by some of the current students.

Follow-up your campus visit with brief thank you notes or emails to those at the school who offered you their time and expertise.

Keep Your GPA as High As Possible

This will make your application much more desirable to the various schools and will increase your chances for receiving a good scholarship offer if you are accepted.

Take the SAT and/or the ACT Repeatedly (if necessary)

The higher your scores, the better your chances are of getting in to your targeted schools and receiving a good scholarship offer.

Play Live Auditions

This is always preferable to sending a recording. Faculty members prefer to meet prospective students and hear them perform in person. This also gives you a good opportunity to observe the school in action. Ask yourself: Were the auditions well run? Were the faculty and administration cordial? Was I treated like a person or a number? How are the facilities? Can I see myself going to school here?

If you have no choice but to send a recording, send a high-quality CD or DVD. Make a professional quality recording, not something recorded in your dining room with the dog barking in the background. Include a cordial and carefully proofread letter listing your audition program. You can’t believe some of the typos and mistakes that people often send in these important materials. Label the recording as professionally as possible.

"Decide if this is a person you can trust, learn from and relate to. Four years of studying with someone is a long time." - Mitchell Estrin

Part II: Musical Strategy

Here are some musical tips for preparing your audition material and on how to decide which school is the right choice for you:


Major, minor, and chromatic. Be prepared to play them from memory at the auditions.


Review the audition repertoire requirements of your targeted schools. Play as close to the same program as is feasible at each school. Pick two or three pieces and focus in on them. Do the same for your etudes. Standard pieces and etudes are always good choices.


Be extremely organized and systematic in your approach to your applications and auditions. Make a planning calendar with regular attainable goals. (I'll have the first movement learned by this date; I'll complete and send in my applications by this date, etc.)


Get your letters from well-respected musical and academic experts who know your work, your work ethic and your personality. Amass 3-4 letters before you need them. During application season, popular teachers and administrators can get inundated with writing multiple recommendations, so give them ample notice (one month). Fill out as much information as possible for the recommender, for both electronic and written recommendation forms. If the recommendation is to be sent by snail mail, provide your recommenders with self-addressed stamped envelopes. They will appreciate this!


Don't limit your options exclusively to your number one choice. You never know how many openings a particular school will have in a given year.

6.DON'T BE AFRAID TO AUDITION FOR A PRESTIGIOUS SCHOOL. Again, you never know how many openings a particular school will have that year. Each professor listens for different things when hearing auditions by prospective students. Example: You may have exactly the tone or style that is most desirable to that professor, even though your technique is not as developed as some of the other auditionees.

7.PLAY MOCK AUDITIONS in front of other people before going to your auditions. Choose people to play for whose opinions you respect (your teacher, band director, local professionals, fellow students, etc.) and ask them for feedback. Doing mock auditions will also help your nerves on the actual audition days, as you will have experienced the process before.

8.RECORD YOURSELF regularly during the entire preparation process. Listen for your progress. Ask yourself: Is my rhythm accurate? Am I playing with sufficient contrasting dynamics? Is my interpretation musical and stylistically appropriate? What can I do to sound better? A quality digital recorder is both inexpensive and indispensable. You can record on your Smartphone until you get a digital recorder.


See a professional technician to be sure your instrument is in top working condition. If you are a reed player, make sure you have a selection of several good reeds to choose from.


Once you have learned your repertoire, the hardest part is over. Remember that everyone is nervous at college auditions and you should expect to feel those butterflies in your stomach. Sometimes that extra adrenaline rush can actually make you play better!

"Each professor listens for different things when hearing auditions by prospective students." - Mitchell Estrin

Part III: Audition Strategy

- Warm-up before going to the audition. Warm-up facilities may be unavailable or crowded.

- Take a bottle of water and some light snacks along. I like bananas.

- Get there early so you do not feel rushed.

- Dress for success. Look professional and you will be taken seriously.

- Be prepared for the auditions to be running early or late. There are often no-shows and/or unexpected circumstances which are out of your control. Don’t allow this to phase you.

- Try to smile and look relaxed (even though you will be nervous) when you go into the audition.

- Keep your focus and concentrate exclusively on playing well. You have spent many months preparing, so focus your attention on playing your music well. Give it 110%. Take a few deep measured breaths to calm down.


Estrin Circle

About Mitchell Estrin

Mitchell Estrin is Professor of Clarinet at the University of Florida and Music Director and Conductor of the University of Florida Clarinet Ensemble. He was the past President of the International Clarinet Association and author of the biography Stanley Drucker Clarinet Master published by Carl Fischer. Estrin performed as a clarinetist with the New York Philharmonic for over twenty years in hundreds of concerts and on 19 tours. As an international concert artist, he has performed in 37 countries on 4 continents. As a studio musician, Estrin has recorded dozens of motion picture soundtracks for Columbia Pictures, Walt Disney Pictures, Paramount Pictures, MGM, 20th Century Fox, United Artists, and Warner Brothers on feature films. They include Fargo, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Interview With a Vampire, Home Alone 2, Pocahontas, Doc Hollywood, Regarding Henry, TheUntouchables, and more. His television credits include recordings for ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, HBO, TBS, and ESPN. Learn more about Mitchell Estrin.

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