auditions clarinet excerpts Navy practicing

Audition prep

Finally, there’s an opening in the Navy band in DC! I’m trying not to be too overzealous about it…I have to win it first. Since the last few auditions haven’t really worked out that great I’m determined to approach this audition in a new way. One of my colleagues (who is actually going up to audition for the horn spot in the DC band next week!) gave me this article that outlines a way to prepare for a major audition. The author makes the case that an audition should be approached like one would approach a race, like a half marathon. I am a runner, so it makes sense for me to compare it to a running race, but it really can be any athletic event. So, for the half marathon example, one would start training, say, 8-12 weeks prior to the race day. You would build up your mileage and your speed gradually over time (no normal person can really just jump in to a 13 mile run without building up to it, right?) and incorporate rest into the training. Ideally, you want your last long run to be two weeks before the race day, and then taper your training from there so that your body is nice and rested and you are at your peak for the race. Why wouldn’t we treat an audition the same way? What we do is a very physical thing, and we need our minds and bodies rested in order to perform at our best.

Basically, the author of the article outlines audition preparation in an 8 week evolution and it directly resembles what we runners do to prepare for a race. Week 1 is to familiarize (or re-familiarize) yourself with the excerpts. Lots and lots of listening! And putting excerpts into categories (i.e. loud, soft, technical, musical, etc.), and separating ones that are new to you, and ones that are old friends. This is also the period where you get back into the mindset of practicing excerpts, and learning which ones will need the most work so that you can prioritize for the coming weeks.

Weeks 2-6 are the meat and potatoes of the plan. He separates the excerpts into groups and rotates practice each day. Daily goal setting and recording is the name of the game! Then the last two weeks before the audition is the “taper” portion which consists of practicing the performance aspect of the excerpts, and practice with the mental game of playing an audition. He also suggests taking 90 seconds before performing each excerpt to think about what needs to happen, and then reducing that time until it lasts only 10 seconds or so. The goal is to go from being able to get the best take the second or third time, to nailing it the first time, every time.

Now, the author here is a trombone player, so the plan is really geared towards the physical part of playing a wind instrument…since playing a brass instrument can be very taxing. Woodwind players have different challenges when it comes to excerpts…most notably our excerpts are more challenging in speed and fingers. So in order to make it work for me, I tweaked it a little. Now, I have 10 weeks (not 8) before the audition, so I customized a 10 week plan for myself. Unfortunately, nearly all of the excerpts fall into the “technical” category, and a few of them I’ve never even played (including the solo! Ugh…)


The excerpts separated into groups.  The ones in red I have never worked on before.
The excerpts separated into groups. The ones in red I have never worked on before.

So, I divided the 10 weeks into 3 separate periods. I changed the first week from the article into a purely wood shedding period, and made it four weeks, not just one. There are 6 excerpts on the list that fall into this “technical” category, so I’ve divided them up so that I work on two a day, with a three day rotation (practicing six days a week). For each of the six excerpts, I’ve created a worksheet that defines a goal for the next time I practice that excerpt so that my practice is super focused. For example, after meeting the day’s goal for that particular excerpt, I’ll make a plan for the next time I practice the excerpt, and I’ll give myself a time limit so that I don’t get distracted by other things. I think this will be better than just blindly practicing the excerpts. I just finished week one, day five yesterday…this is going to be a rough four weeks for sure! But incredibly necessary…this is the part of clarinet playing that sucks.

The second period also lasts four weeks. It is exactly like what the article says. There is lot of recording and self evaluation (is there anything else nowadays? LOL) and cleaning, cleaning, cleaning! I am hoping to make use of a worksheet that my colleague gave me that is very similar to the one I described in the first period. This one is more based on listening back to recordings and pinpointing things that need to be improved. It also has you identify the recording as a “success” or “lesson”, which is part of the mental aspect (which I need to improve on desperately!) The end goal of this period is to be completely comfortable with every excerpt.

The third period is also a “taper” period that lasts two weeks before the audition. This is where I’m going to really try to tackle the mental game that I seem to play with myself. My process is going to be pretty much exactly what the author outlines in his article. I like the idea of starting at 90 seconds of thinking about an excerpt before playing and reducing it to a realistic amount of time for the audition. It’s practicing for your brain! This is probably exactly what I need.

I’ve also made my schedule so that I have one day a week where I don’t even pick up my horn. Usually that is a day that I have off from work, like Sundays, so I literally don’t have to touch a clarinet. Some weeks are going to be hard to get in a day of no clarinet, but I feel like I really need to do it. I think that the physical rest and mental rest is just as important and all those days of practicing, just like in the running world!

Now, the most difficult part of this plan is sticking to it during our busiest season. Not only do I have to work a million ceremonies, but we have a lot wind ensemble concerts, AND I’m playing the Artie Shaw Concerto on three of those concerts. So excerpts are not the only thing on my practice list for the next 10 weeks. So I have to prioritize…I’ve made the excerpts #1, Artie Shaw #2, and everything else #3.

So that’s my plan. My hope is not to win the audition, but feel like I did my best at the audition. I want to feel that I the reason that they didn’t pick me for the job was beyond what I could have done in the practice room. I have not felt like that at the last few auditions, and I know that’s it’s all in my head! I can do this.

2 replies on “Audition prep”

I would also add another suggestion, Sandy. I took a lesson today, and Patrick told me that I should enter the room every time with confidence. I would take this into your practice sessions as well. Sit down to play with confidence and know that you will reach your goal. Don’t wonder if today’s practice session will go well; make it happen. By mentally preparing yourself to practice with confidence, you will instill that going into your last two weeks and it won’t feel like a new thing to work on. In between your excerpt practicing or your solo practicing, take a walk around the building, and then enter the practice room as if you are getting ready to have the best practice session of your life. And one more tidbit…try to have as much fun as possible. Clap for yourself when you do well, giggle when you make an amazing musical phrase, and smile every time you pick up the clarinet. Make this your most positive experience ever! You can do this!

[…] I’m going to say this up front.  For the next four weeks, we’re not even going to touch the excerpts in group 3.  Relax.  You won’t need 10 weeks to practice them, I promise!  We’re going to model a three phase process throughout the rest of the challenge: woodshedding and technical practice, polishing, and “taper”.  The next four weeks is the woodshedding phase.  You can read more about this process here. […]

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