Help your students prepare healthily and thoughtfully for auditions so they'll get (and recognise) the benefits long after the results are posted.
It's that time of year again, where we're getting ready for auditions - whether they're for next year's ensembles, university or honor ensembles. Students are eyeing off coveted positions, or hoping to hold on to ones they're currently in. For many this can be a time of extreme stress and fear. But it doesn't have to be.
An audition is a great goal for students of all ages to work towards and can be a great motivator. The key is helping students understand the bigger picture of what they can gain from the process beyond just the result, and how they can use the experience to learn strategies they can apply to any goal they're seeking to accomplish (musical or otherwise).
We need to help our students be clear on why they are taking the audition. Yes, they're likely hoping to move up an ensemble, retain their position, or move up a chair. But there are many benefits to preparing for an audition, far beyond that final result.
If students (or parents!) are solely focussed on whether they 'win' the audition or not, they are placing their success completely in the hands of others. If they succeed, they'll feel great - but if they don't they may minimise their hard work and effort, neglecting the growth and progress that has happened despite the final result.
Work with your students (and parents) to help them understand what they can and can't control and help them see the purpose of the audition beyond getting in or not.
Our students CAN'T control:
What they CAN control is:
How students look at the audition matters. If, as above, they're putting all the power in the hands of the panel, then yeah, an audition is a pretty scary thing. However if they're focussed on what they can control they can reframe the experience as a chance to share and show off what they're capable of. They can practice what they're in control of to a point where they can deliver consistently under pressure.
Even if they haven't done as much preparation as they'd like, they can learn to accept that they are where they are. They can choose to present the best work they're capable of, proudly, and acknowledge that fact. They can also understand their power to make different choices next time to get them closer to where they want to be.
Be clear about all the possible outcomes of the whole process. Even if we ARE the panel, and we think we're sure about the ultimate outcome, telling a student 'You'll definitely get in' or 'You've got no chance' undermines the entire process. Essentially we're telling them - it doesn't matter what you do, your efforts (or lackthereof) don't matter.
It also doesn't allow for the unexpected. What happens if, on the day, another student comes and blows us out of the water with their audition for the first Flute chair but we've already told another student they're a sure thing? We've put ourselves in a terrible position. Award the better player the spot and disappoint the original student who may not have worked as hard, because we told them they had it in the bag? Or give it to the original student because we promised, discounting the hard work and better playing of the second student? Either decision compromises our integrity.
Students should be clear that:
Students also need to be clear on the expectations related to the audition. What level of performance is expected to get into or remain in that ensemble/chair? This is an important conversation to have early if students are choosing what group to audition for. We don't want to stifle students' potential and ambition, yet setting students up for failure by saying they should go for something they're simply not ready for isn't cool either. When students are clear on both the expectations and their ability within the timeframe they'll be able to set realistic goals (see #5: Plan).
This comes back to the purpose of the experience and what students can control. Students have power over how they use their time to prepare - and therefore how they grow and progress.
Praising the process and progress along the way will help students also value this, even if the result doesn't turn out how they'd hoped.
If students don't achieve the product (ensemble, chair) they want, afterwards we can also bring them back to reflect on their growth throughout the process. We can help them see the value in the preparation and how they can apply what they've learned moving forward.
Help students make a plan of how they will get ready for the audition. Make sure they know:
Help them to plan by:
Setting a specific end goal that is within their control, eg:
I will be able to consistently play the excerpts expressively, at full tempo with a clear understanding of their musical context while under pressure by 1 week before the audition
Have your students set up a practice diary and calendar, either on paper or in documents/notes on their phone/computer. Help them break down the time between now and then into smaller, more manageable goals. Show them how to allocate their practice time throughout the time available. Document the plan in their practice diary and get them to write down for each session:
Performing the audition material for the first time in the audition is a recipe for disaster! Help students practice what it feels like to perform under pressure by doing practice performances for parents, friends, Zoom, pets or their phone camera.
There are plenty of incredible resources on performing under pressure, including this video for students by performance psychologist Dr. Margaret Osbourne from the University of Melbourne, Noa Kageyama's excellent evidence-based blog The Bulletproof Musician and the Finding Mastery podcast.
If you're the one running the auditions, make sure your students have clear printed resources that state:
If you're not in charge, help the student to write down what they understand the expectations to be. If possible, check with the ensemble leader/panel to ensure everyone is on the same page as early as possible before the audition date.
You can download a free Sample Ensemble Audition Handbook template you can use as a starting point for your next round of auditions in my Conducting Essentials free course (it's where all the free blog resources get posted). It covers many of the concepts in this article, presented clearly for students. You can edit or use any of the content to tailor it to your needs, your students and your ensembles.
An edited extract from my new book Planning Effective Rehearsals: Tools to Boost Learning & Engagement
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