How to prepare multiple auditions at the same time

Professional auditions can be few and far between. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve paged through International Musician‘s audition listings without a single double bass audition in sight.

Every once in a while, though, a ton of them pile up at once.  I was flabbergasted at this month’s paper. It seemed like every page had multiple bass auditions on it. Talk about feast or famine!

That got me thinking about a common problem that musicians face: how to plan for multiple auditions at the same time?

While planning for a bunch of different auditions at the same can be complicated, the following methods can help to make the process more manageable.

1. Make a spreadsheet with all audition pieces

Go through each audition list and input it into a spreadsheet.  I use Google Sheets so that I can access and modify the spreadsheet on any device and share it with others.

I enter each excerpt from each list as a separate line item, add the date on which I need to play it, and color code all the excerpts with a different color for each audition.  I’ll probably have duplicate excerpts, but that’s ok.  I’m trying to get a “zoomed out” view of the task in front of me.

Getting all the requirements for an audition down in print is really helpful.  You can see exactly what each audition is requiring, where there’s overlap, and which audition is going to be the most challenging in terms of preparation.

Once you’ve got these excerpts documented, you’ll have a much better time figuring out how much you can handle and which auditions you can reasonably tackle.

2. Give each excerpt an A, B, and C priority

I picked up this technique from Chicago Symphony principal bassist Alex Hanna.  Assign a letter to each excerpt.  A-level excerpts are ones that require your daily attention.  B-level excerpts should be played every other day or so, and C-level excerpts only need to be played once a week.

This is a great way to understand the level of difficulty for each audition and ensure that you’re preparing everything with an appropriate level of attention.  Over time, you’ll find certain excerpts moving from the A list to the B list, from the B list to the C list, or even from the B list back to the A list as problems creep in.

3. Cut overwhelming auditions

Here’s where it gets tough.  Take an honest look at the task in front of you.  Can you actually prepare all of this music to the best fo your ability?

Maybe, but maybe not.  It all depends on how much overlap there is with the multiple lists, how far apart the auditions are spaced, and any outliers with a ton of challenging unfamiliar repertoire.

While I’m sure you want to try to make all these auditions work, you may find that cutting one or two makes for a much more manageable process.  I’m much more likely to take 3-4 auditions with a lot of overlap than two auditions with radically different lists.

4. Build out multiple practice lists

I like using the app Modacity for this.  Modacity allows you to enter excerpts as separate practice items and then build out multiple playlists.  It then tracks how much you’ve worked on everything overall.  Think fitness tracker but for music.

At the beginning of each week, I build out a playlist for every day that week.  I make sure that all the A-list items are covered daily, then I alternate B and C items for the rest of the week.

This takes the organizational cognitive load off every single practice session.  My “manager” brain can tackle this at the beginning of the week, freeing up my “worker” brain for focused productivity.

5. Listen to yourself frequently

Modacity is great for this as well.  There’s a record button staring at me from the app interface, encouraging me to record myself throughout my practice session.

I record myself in short bursts constantly throughout my session.  Recording is crucial for me because it allows me to be in the moment when I’m actually playing.  I save my analysis for when I’m listening back to the recording.  This is a great way to learn to quiet the mind and separate performance from analysis.

6. Think of all excerpts as part of a whole

I’ve always found auditions to be easier when I think of all the audition repertoire as a recital of sorts.  This is more mental than physical, but I find that if I imagine all of these smaller excerpts as being connected into a larger thing, I tend to prepare more musically overall.

I focus on developing contrasts between excerpts as much as possible.  Recording helps so much with this because of the objective feedback it provides. Maybe I think I’m really making that crescendo or nailing that dynamic change, but the recording doesn’t lie!

Final Thoughts

Preparing for just one audition is a challenge, and juggling multiple ones doesn’t make the task any easier.  The above strategies have helped me greatly, and I’ve seen success in my students when they implement these in their own process.  Being honest with yourself and preparing with good organization will make the multiple audition road less bumpier for sure.

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Jason Heath is the host of Contrabass Conversations, a podcast devoted to exploring music and ideas associated with the double bass. His blog and podcast are highly regarded in the music world and have been featured as top offerings in the world of arts and culture for the past decade.

An active double bass performer and teacher, Jason taught double bass at DePaul University for seven years and served on the Board of Directors of the International Society of Bassists for many years. He also previously taught at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and at Trinity International University. Jason previously served as President of the Illinois chapter of the American String Teachers Association and as the Illinois Music Educators Association District 7 Orchestra Division Co-Representative.

A graduate of Northwestern University, Jason currently performs with the IRIS Orchestra in Memphis Tennessee, and with he Midsummer’s Music Festival in Door County, Wisconsin. He was a member of the Elgin Symphony for 16 seasons and has performed with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Grant Park Symphony, and numerous other professional ensembles.

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