singing auditions

Tips on How to Ace Instrumental and Singing Auditions

Note: This is the second of a 2-part series in which the first part provides a framework for auditioning singers. In this second part, I will provide useful strategies and tips for a successful vocal audition.

I’m often asked by singers and instrumentalists about how best to prepare for auditions. While the answer depends to some degree on the type of audition, whether it’s for college admissions or a professional performing opportunity it pays to do all you can to prepare. In my previous article, I laid out a complete framework for how vocal auditions or singing competitions are judged. That information is useful for anyone who will be auditioning, but here I’ll specifically describe some strategies for success and offer some specific professional tips to help you improve your auditioning skills.

For the sake of consistency, I’ll follow the framework the judges use in order to organize my advice into categories:

  1. Stage Presence/Audience Communication
  2. Diction
  3. Intonation
  4. Vocal Quality
  5. Rhythmic Interpretation
  6. Dynamics
  7. Song Choice/Song Prep

Let’s address each area in turn.

1. Stage Presence/Audience Communication

  • Dress the part. If you are auditioning for a certain show or role, the judges want to imagine you in the role. If they can’t, it will likely hurt your score. Your attire for the audition should reflect the musical style. Makeup can also enhance your facial expressions under lights and on camera, but be careful not to overdo it.
  • It’s important to keep your eyes open most of the time, and to make eye contact with individual members of the audience (or judges). Keeping eyes closed throughout detracts from the emotional impact of the performance. Likewise, when people can see your eyes it emphasizes emotional impact.
  • Shift your gaze as you perform, and sing to all parts of the audience, as nobody likes to feel neglected. Don’t stare above people’s heads, or at their knees. It’s also not good to stare at the ceiling or your shoes, as these kinds of mistakes will usually hurt your score for stage presence/audience communication.
  • Move naturally and use the stage to your advantage. Use the front of the stage where appropriate; do not stand at the back or try to blend in with the band. Don’t freeze in position like a deer in the headlights. Keep your movements appropriate to the style of music and the level of intensity, and be careful not to let movement detract from your vocal performance.

Warm-ups and warm-downs are crucial to vocal health and stamina. Pay careful attention if you feel any discomfort or pain while singing or after. If you sing regularly, consult with a professional around the best ways to protect your vocal health.

2. Diction

  • Make sure to memorize the lyrics completely. Speak the lyrics to yourself in front of the mirror as you prepare for your audition.
  • Analyze your pronunciation of syllables and decide how you want to enunciate each vowel and consonant in the lyric as you are singing it.
  • Study the diction examples on your chosen song using recordings of the great singers and understand their concept and approach to singing the lyric.
  • Record yourself and listen to the results, asking where you might make improvements.
  • There are Speech Pathologists who specialize in working with singers and public speakers on improving their diction. A good Vocal Coach will also have specialized knowledge about how you can improve your diction.

3. Intonation

  • Make certain the song is in the right key for your voice. Consider the range (high note to low note) and change the key if it isn’t ideal.
  • Pay attention to your pitch accuracy and vocal production across all parts of your range. Try to find a balance between your high, middle, and low registers. Pay special attention to the transition areas (sometimes called passaggio or break).
  • Try to get together with a pianist or guitarist to sing the song in different keys. Hopefully, you will find the key that matches not only the vocal range of the melody but also the best placement for your voice to sing that melody. (The range of the melody is called tessitura.)
  • Use a digital tuner or app to train yourself to match pitches you hear. True tone-deafness is actually quite rare and a biological condition (called amusia). Natural ability may be a factor, but most accomplished singers have gone through training to correct and refine their pitch-matching abilities.
  • Record yourself singing a melody and use pitch-analyzing software to judge your accuracy in intonation. If you notice notes you were off, try to correct and repeat to improve accuracy.
  • Use scales, exercises, warmups, and solfege singing to improve your singing ability.
  • Build up your repertoire.

4. Vocal Quality (Performance Tips)

  • To improve the overall quality of your voice, pay close attention to all aspects of vocal production. Breath control, posture, mechanics, and vocal health can all play a role in producing a rich, warm, and pleasing sound.
  • Don’t let tension or performance anxiety interfere with your performance. Find ways to channel nervousness into positive results in your performance.
  • Be careful with embellishments such as riffs, slurs, and other musical affectations. While these can be used artistically to judiciously enhance your performance, they should never be overdone or overused.
  • If you are belting, using a rasp, growling, or screaming, make sure you learn how to execute properly without harming your voice. There are techniques for singing designed to protect your voice from harm. The voice is a delicate instrument, never do anything that will risk harming your voice.
  • Don’t sing when you are sick, if you can help it. You may need to go on vocal rest at some point to protect your voice.
  • Warm-ups and warm-downs are crucial to vocal health and stamina. Pay careful attention if you feel any discomfort or pain while singing or after. If you sing regularly, consult with a professional around the best ways to protect your vocal health.

5. Rhythmic Interpretation

  • It don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got that swing” is a Duke Ellington lyric. Make sure your singing grooves with the style. Every style has a different rhythmic feel. Focused listening to recordings and transcribing of established musical works will help you understand the proper rhythmic feel, or “swing” of the styles you wish to sing.
  • It’s a good idea to attend concerts and study how the singers use rhythm in their renditions.
  • Listen to different singers’ recorded versions of the same song, and analyze the differences in their rhythmic approach to the song.
  • Get as much experience singing with live musicians as possible. Musicians, especially rhythm section players (drums, bass, guitar, keys) are very keen on playing the right rhythmic feel for the music, and working with them can help you gain a deeper understanding of the styles you sing.
  • Learn how to work with a metronome, and use it in your practice sessions.
  • Learn to play a musical instrument, and become musically literate on that instrument.

6. Dynamics

  • (Note: We are using the term “dynamics” in a broader sense than usual. While we want to consider and vary the appropriate volume and intensity level, we also need to capture and maintain the interest of the listener when we sing. The worst thing is to be boring, and anything you do to keep your performance interesting can fall in this category.)
  • Consider all aspects of your audition preparation and how they work together to create and maintain interest. Is there something to add or detract from your audition?
  • Pay special attention to transitions, whether from your head voice to chest voice, between sections of the song, loud to soft, etc. Practice performing these transitions until you are confident of your ability to execute them well.
  • Think carefully about the emotional content of the lyric, and how it works with the melody to create emotional impact. Put yourself into the role of the singer of the lyric, the way an Actor invests themselves into a script.
  • Make a video of your audition and watch it with your Teacher or Coach. Be critical in evaluating the performance and where you could improve, then work hard to make the improvements.

Take it easy. Be prepared, be confident, and be yourself. Remember that this is just one audition, and you will have many more opportunities to sing in your life. If you don’t win or are eliminated, that doesn’t mean you aren’t good. It just means that the judges were looking for something else this time. Or maybe you made some mistakes that you will learn from and not repeat. Whatever you do, don’t let fear be your master.

7. Choosing and Preparing your Audition Piece (Song Choice/Prep)

  • Be certain that the song is in the best possible key for you to sing it. Know your range and how the melody works with your voice.
  • Not all great songs are great audition songs. Some songs are great to listen to in your living room but don’t lend themselves to the stage. The song you sing in the audition won’t always be the song you sing in the show. Choose the right song for you to sing for THIS particular audition.
  • Is this a song you should be singing? Is it a great song for you to sing? Just because you like it doesn’t mean you should be singing it or it’s a great fit with your voice.
  • Choose an audition song you are already familiar with. It’s not wise to learn a new song right before an important audition.
  • Make sure the song is arranged to show the best parts in the time allotted to your audition. You might have to cut some sections, like a long intro. Cut a verse and chorus to get to the bridge earlier if that is the best part of the song.
  • Be certain you know how to count the song off in the right tempo if using live musicians or an Accompanist.
  • Be professional and courteous in all your interactions with the judges, musicians, and any others you meet at the audition.
  • Manage your anxiety and channel any nervousness into positive results.

Final Singing Tips for Auditioning

Now that we have a clear framework for preparing for singing competitions and auditions with specific pointers, I have some final tips and other things to think about when getting ready to audition or perform.

Take it easy. Be prepared, be confident, and be yourself. Remember that this is just one audition, and you will have many more opportunities to sing in your life. If you don’t win or are eliminated, that doesn’t mean you aren’t good. It just means that the judges were looking for something else this time. Or maybe you made some mistakes that you will learn from and not repeat. Whatever you do, don’t let fear be your master.

Being in show business means you need to handle rejection on a regular basis. (This is true for every business.) Even J.K. Rowling was supposedly turned down by eleven publishing companies before her Harry Potter series of books became one of the biggest sellers of all time. So, learn to take rejection in stride, move on, and prepare for the next chance which will certainly come. Sometimes it takes a lot of no’s to get to yes. As in sports, you can’t win every game, nor should you expect to. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t always do your best. Just don’t be too hard on yourself when things don’t turn out as you wanted or hoped.

Auditioning and singing in front of an audience are specific skills that require practice. This means that the more you do it, the better you will get at it. Broadway performers sometimes attend hundreds of auditions in order to land a single role. Every single time you audition, you have a chance to learn something useful. Having been a part of many auditions will put you in a better position to ace the next one. Just like anything in music, auditioning and performing are skills that are best learned by doing.

Find and use techniques to channel fear and nervous energy into achieving a positive result. Not all nervousness is bad. Fear, while never pleasant, can sharpen your senses. It’s possible to use your stage fright in a constructive way. Experiment with stretching, moving around, power-posing, or even meditating right before an audition or performance. Most experienced artists have routines they use to get ready for the stage, like doing some jumping jacks or running in place to warm up and to release nervous tension in their body. Athletes need to warm up before competing, and singing is a physical activity which requires your body be prepared and in optimal shape. Every performer suffers from some level of stage fright, some more than others. Know yourself, and don’t let your fear negatively affect your performance.

My final advice is to remind you that music is FUN. You started doing it because of the enjoyment and pleasure it gave you, so always remember that and be sure to stay connected with the part of you that loves singing and performing. It’s easy to get distracted by the pressure, the audience, the judges, the cameras, the desire for fame, earning money as a professional, or just about anything for that matter. Never ever forget that performing is first and foremost about the beauty and enjoyment of the music. If you are having fun, the audience will also enjoy seeing and hearing your love of singing, and there is nothing more powerful, attractive, and persuasive than this. Whether or not you pass the audition, you will still have your voice and your music tomorrow. Don’t ever let anything get in the way of your joy of singing and performing.

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