Audition Tips from CYSO Conductors

Auditioning is never easy, even for the most seasoned musicians. Whether you’re hoping for a spot in Preparatory Strings or the New York Philharmonic, playing in front of strangers who are there to judge your performance can be a nerve-wracking experience. Thankfully, performing under pressure often gets easier with practice, and there are plenty of things you can do to make the experience smoother and help you perform your best. Read on for advice collected from members of our Artistic Staff, the very folks who will be sitting on the other side of the table at your next CYSO audition.


Do Your Homework

Properly preparing is key to performing your best. Steven Gooden, Debut Orchestra Assistant Conductor, said that “Consistency is key when you’re preparing for an audition.” He suggests musicians “try running a challenging passage ten times in a row. If you can’t play it perfectly all ten times, start over until you can. Then, to simulate the pressure of an audition atmosphere, play it one more time (the 11th run) for ALL OR NOTHING. Do this at several metronome markings building up to performance tempo.”

Director of Chamber Music Dr. Don DeRoche advises “listening to recordings of the pieces you’re preparing so you know what the orchestral parts sound like.” This will help you understand how your part fits into the larger piece. “Listen for tempos, articulations and musical style.”

Anne McTighe, Overture Strings Conductor and Preparatory Strings Assistant Conductor, said that students preparing for an audition should try to “bring out the contrast in each piece to show your skill.”

Steven Gooden added, “Never practice, always perform.” 


Prepare Your Instrument

Preparing for an audition goes beyond just your skill. It’s important to make sure that your instrument is up to the task.

Dr. DeRoche suggests that students “be sure your equipment is in good playing shape. Woodwinds should have good reeds, no sticky key; Strings should have good hair on your bow and the right amount of rosin; and brass have tuning slides in the right positions.”

If it’s been a while since your instrument has had a tune-up, it may be a good idea to have it looked over before your big audition. 


What to Play

Selecting what pieces you’ll play can be stressful. Some auditions will have excerpts selected for you (such for CYSO’s Philharmonic and Symphony Orchestra) and some will allow you to select your own excerpts. If you get to pick, there are important things to keep in mind when selecting what pieces to play.

Music Director Allen Tinkham reccomends that students “bring pieces that you know thoroughly, not pieces you only recently started learning. Your audition is an opportunity to show your best work!

Dr. DeRoche added that you should “choose excerpts you can play well consistently. Don’t pick excerpts that you can play accurately only half the time.” He also suggested choosing solo material that shows off “your technique, tone, and musical ability. ”

For CYSO auditions, you’ll select two contrasting pieces to show off different sets of skills. Maestro Tinkham suggests that your two pieces should be “contrasting enough to show as much of what you can do on your instrument as possible. Don’t bring two slow pieces thinking you cleverly avoided playing a technical piece. If the judges don’t hear any technical playing, they have to assume you won’t be prepared for the technically challenging orchestra pieces.” He also added that students work with their private teacher, or orchestra/band director to “choose repertoire that shows what you can do.


Conquer Your Nerves

Nerves are inevitable in any high pressure situation, but that doesn’t mean you have to let them get the best of you. 

If you tend to get nervous at auditions, run up and down the stairs a few times at home before you practice,” suggests Anne McTighe. “This will simulate the rush you get when you’re feeling nervous and you can better prepare for how to handle it.”

Dr. DeRoche recommends that the more you play in different situations and for different people will help you get over the “strangeness” of the audition room. “Play your audition materials many times each day. Play for teachers, friends, anyone who will listen. Play in different rooms under a variety of conditions. This will help you to get used to playing in new, strange environments.”


What to wear

CYSO judges don’t expect students to come in concert dress for their auditions. That said, your clothes do send a message about how seriously you’re taking the audition.

Dressing nicely “helps show that you care,” said Anne McTighe. Maestro Tinkham added, “Dress for success! You don’t have to be extremely formal; tuxedos or ball gowns are not necessary, but you should show that you respect and appreciate the opportunity and want to give your best presentation.” 

A pro tip from Anne McTighe: “Practice in your audition clothes at home to make sure they are comfortable and you can move.”


The Day Of

The big day has arrived! In addition to how you’ll play, there are plenty of other things to think through before you get here and when you arrive on site.

Anne McTighe advises that students “arrive early and take some time to get settled.” 

Maestro Tinkham echoed that: “Don’t be late! Leave yourself enough time that if traffic is unexpectedly heavy, or you have some other unplanned delay, you will still be early enough to be comfortable and not stressed. Chicago is a busy place, so be prepared for anything! Also, sometimes the auditions run ahead of schedule, so you should be ready to play at least ten minutes before your scheduled audition time.”

He also added that students shouldn’t let the warm-up room stress them out. “Don’t be concerned with what other auditioners are doing. Focus on yourself and on doing your best. The same goes for when you are waiting outside the door to the audition room; what the person in there is doing has nothing to do with you, so don’t worry about it!” 


In Front of the Judges

The big moment has arrived! Here are a couple of things to keep in mind as you step in front of the judges.

Concert Orchestra Conductor Michael Mascari has simple advice: “Breath.” He suggested that students “go over the music in your head for a moment before you being playing. This helps ensure that you’ve got the tempo and style established. We’ll wait for you– it’s not weird!”

Dr. DeRoche has good advice in case you get cut off by the judges while you’re playing. “Sometimes the judging panel does not have time to hear everything. Try to play the music you feel most confident with first. When the panel says they have heard enough, it doesn’t mean you played poorly, only that they have heard what they needed to hear.”

And perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind when you come in for your audition: We are so glad that you’re here! Michael Mascari said, “I know it’s difficult to believe, but even though we hear hundreds of auditions, we are genuinely excited every time a new student walks into the room. We can’t wait to hear you play!

Maestro Tinkham summed it up: “We all get nervous, but remember that the judges are rooting for you. We want you to succeed!

Do you have audition tips that have worked well for you? We’d love to hear it! Send your tips to 

Practice Tips

Check out our list of unusual tips you may not have seen before to help you get the most out of your practice time.


Comments are closed.