How to Prepare for an Audition and Overcome Stage Fright

Mike Lawson • • November 6, 2017

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Preparing for an audition is a process that musicians, both young and older, will go through many times in his or her life.

It can either be a tedious and stressful process or an exciting and enjoyable one. Luckily, there is a formula for making it both a fun and successful process.

First of all, preparation is the first key to success. Preparing in itself does not guarantee a successful performance. The way in which a person prepares is what will determine your success. I will first outline the proper methods of preparation.

You have always heard the phrase “Practice makes perfect.” This statement is actually false. Practicing in and of itself does not guarantee results if the musician is practicing the wrong way. Many students make the extremely common error of practicing their mistakes. Remember that our brains are like a computer. In repeating the same errors over and over again, you are essentially “programming” your brain to execute the incorrect way.

The proper phrase is “Perfect practice makes perfect.”

The first aspect of practicing that a student needs is always use a metronome! A metronome is so critical because it actually lets you know if you are interpreting rhythms incorrectly. Dr. Beat is very unforgiving. If you are not giving rhythms their proper value, you will immediately be off with the metronome.

The next key to success is to practice very slowly with the metronome at first! If you can’t play it slow, you can’t play it fast! Many people think that just because they can play something very fast that they are correct and competent. Many times, in performing at a fast tempo, flawed details and nuances are covered up. When you slow a passage down, even to a ridiculously slow tempo, you can properly understand every rhythm and melody and wind players can focus on breathing and intonation. After you are playing the music perfectly accurate from a rhythmic and melodic standpoint, and everything is in tune, then gradually speed it up by 10 beats per minute on the metronome until you reach your desired tempo. In fast passages, set the metronome at a faster tempo than what is called for only after you are playing it perfectly up to the regular tempo. If you challenge and push yourself in this manner, when you bring the metronome back down to the regular tempo, it will seem extremely easy! When you do this, you will change your perception about how difficult the music is at the notated tempo. It will seem like a walk in the park, and that is the goal. We want our music to feel “easy” so we can focus on musicality and expression. Playing the notes and rhythms needs to be as easy as breathing. You don’t think when you breath. This is how playing music needs to feel. At the point when fundamentals are mastered and the music is easy to play, then you can make art out of it and be musically expressive!

When practicing at slower tempos, focus on technique and wind players can focus on perfect technique and proper intonation, as well as breathing from down deep, rather than from the throat.

This will give the wind player a full and rich sound. At slower tempos, make sure every rhythm and note are played absolutely perfectly. And make sure every dynamic is being executed and exaggerated.

Always exaggerate dynamics! The audience does not perceive dynamics like you do, so you have to exaggerate them in order to communicate them.

Just remember that when you practice, if you can play the music absolutely perfect ten times in a row, then you are ready! If you mess it up one time out of ten, you have given yourself a ten percent chance of failure. So, the more “perfect” practice you do, the higher a percentage of a chance you will have of a flawless performance. After you have isolated sections of the music and worked out trouble spots, it is very important to play the entire piece of music from top to bottom many times. When you practice a run through, don’t stop if you make a mistake. I will elaborate more on this as you read this article.

Wind players should always practice with a tuner nearby. You can constantly check your pitch, especially on sustained passages.

Everyone should practice in front of a mirror. This way, you can see all technical issues you are having as well as posture and stick placement, and videotaping your practices are also a great idea so you can watch and critique them later.

Make sure all instrumentalists know all of their major and minor scales like you know your birthday! They should flow out of you like water. This will not only help you if a judge asks you to play them in an audition, but it will also help your sight reading! Knowing all of the scales inside and out will help you to quickly translate a musical passage during sight-reading as well as identify the key.

Once you have properly prepared, it is time to let go! Thinking is not done on stage during a performance.

Thinking and training happens in the practice room. At this point, you need to trust in your training and enjoy the experience! Many people make the mistake of thinking too much during a performance. This will inhibit your performance. When you practice and establish muscle memory and you are executing good habits in the practice room by not even thinking about them, then there is no need to think on stage!

Just do it! I heard a phrase from a professor when I was in college regarding the art of live performance. He said “At the performance, it is too late to think! This has to be done in rehearsal. At the performance, it is all about ice on the brain and fire in the vein”. When you let go of your thoughts, you will feel your training, natural instincts, and emotion take over naturally. Quieting your mind will strengthen the bond between your body, mind, and soul, and the three entities will be able to operate in coordination.

When this happens, you will have the most powerful performances you have ever dreamed of! Just remember that thinking will only get in your way and make you nervous at a performance or an audition. If you make a mistake during a performance, just let it roll off of you. Most times our mistakes are amplified in our own minds on stage and the audience will have no clue that you made a mistake. Just trust in your training, even if you make a mistake!

Just believe in the preparation you have done in advance, and remember that the ability to quickly recover is more important than always playing flawless. We are all human, and even with all of the many awards and competitions I have won, I have made literally hundreds of mistakes during performances!

To end this article, I am going to dive deep into psychology and explain something very important that I have learned that will help you on stage. When I tell you not to think, I am not quite explaining it properly. Our brains are always thinking. It is impossible to not think unless you are dead. Just to explain my point, if I tell you to not think about a pink elephant, what are you thinking about right now?! The more accurate explanation is to turn off the ‘switch’ between your mind and body. Just let your thoughts be whatever they are. Do not let them affect you and just let them roll on past you like clouds moving in the blue sky. Even scary or disturbing thoughts on stage will peacefully bounce off of you and roll away into the sky if you turn off the switch and just “let yourself be.” This is very similar to a state of Zen or meditation.

In this state, nothing can affect your body. Your nerves will not jump, and your heart will remain steadily beating and your mind will remain calm. If you practice meditating at home, this will help you get in the mindset for your performances! Remember, this state of mind will put you in a blissful connection with your higher self, or the “force,” as said in “Star Wars.” When you are relaxed and calm from within, a musicians’ strength will flow from the force!

In 2016, The Huffington Post called Kevin Lucas “the most talented percussionist since Lionel Hampton, Ginger Baker, and Tito Puente”. He has been nominated for 38 music industry awards for his “Echoes in the Sand” album, and he won the 2016 American Songwriting Awards. Kevin performed with the Madison Scouts Drum and Bugle Corps from 1992-1994, and won the DCI Midwest Individuals in 1994 for keyboard percussion. He placed 2nd in the United States for concert hall percussion at the Music Teachers National Association collegiate competition in 1997.

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