Audition Preparation Advice

Auditioning for a place at a conservatoire can be a challenging experience for even the most confident musician. Advance preparation gives the best odds for a successful result.

The basis of confidence is competence, which is generated by careful practice and real familiarity with the pieces you are going to play.

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Check the audition repertoire requirements, and start to study any required repertoire as far ahead as possible of the audition period (usually November/December). An audition is not the platform to try out a new piece! If you also play something of your own choice, select something in consultation with your teacher which shows you at your best, and which you enjoy playing.

Try to attend an Open Day at your chosen institution(s) to give you an idea of the building and what to expect.

Your personal statement should be about your aspirations, feelings about music and your experience. Showing understanding of today’s music profession, which is competitive and requires versatility, is helpful and indicates a suitable temperament. One of your references should be your specialist instrumental/vocal/composition teacher as they can give a professional indication of work-in-progress.

Have several ‘practice auditions’ to family and friends – include walking into the room, settling down and performing in unfamiliar settings. Playing from memory is not required by all conservatoires, but no musician should be ‘glued’ to the music. An accompanist will normally be provided but rehearsal may be limited. You should be completely familiar with the piano part.

Practical Considerations

Musicians are practical craftsmen and November and December can be very chilly: wear gloves so cold hands don’t undermine your months of practice! Have a snack and some water handy; low blood-sugar and dehydration can be detrimental to concentration and coordination, and exacerbate the negative side effects of adrenaline. If you have a cold, take tissues – don’t sniff – a cold doesn’t conceal talent so don’t dramatise it!

Make a list of the things you need to remember on the day. Avoid any situation that might increase your stress levels – allow plenty of time to get to the venue, making generous allowances for delayed trains or terrible traffic.

Presentation is an important element of performance. Wear smart, comfortable clothes that you can play in with ease. Don’t experiment with a new outfit or wear high heels if you’re not used to them.

  • On entering the room, smile at the panel. They will want you to do your best.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of context of your music by pronouncing the names and composers of your pieces correctly. Tune carefully, quickly and quietly, to the piano in the room.
  • Don’t be disconcerted if you don’t play everything, the panel may want to talk to you for longer.
  • They are looking for potential and temperament – not a completed artist. Engage and interest the panel, keeping your performance fresh, with a wide dynamic range and sense of changes of mood and colour.
  • Maintain musical interest in your repertoire – it is easy to slide into staleness. Avoid this! Try to demonstrate an interest in conveying the intentions of a composer and a love for the medium in which you are working. Panels can differentiate between mishaps caused by nerves, and elements of playing that are undeveloped.
  • The interview questions may be about your performance and to see how good your critical faculties are. Think about this in advance.

RNCM staff share their audition advice to help you to prepare and make the most of your audition at the College.

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Chris Hoyle and Cath Yates, RNCM School of Strings:

  • Before your audition, make sure you’ve aired your music to lots of different people in different settings so you can predict how you may be in the audition. You might also want to video yourself performing so you’re aware of how you look and sound.
  • It’s really important to do some research before your audition. Read the website, and look at the tutors you might want to study with.
  • On audition day, wear smart and comfortable clothing.
  • Body language is an important part of the process; think about your posture and breathing before you start to play.
  • Think about the music and make your feelings towards the music come across loud and clear.

Lynne Dawson and Susan Roper, RNCM School of Vocal Studies and Opera:

The key word is preparation

  • Present repertoire you know backwards. Prepare it to the stage which allows your personality to shine through – the key to a successful audition, and often career, is that you present yourself as, and remain, uniquely you.
  • Repertoire should not be too ambitious.
  • Know every word – a translation is not good enough.
  • Do your homework on the background of your arias.

Present yourself well

  • Bring your energy into the room when you enter.
  • Remember that the eye seduces the ear – nothing should detract from your singing.
  • Inhabit the text with imagination.
  • Remain polite and smile.
  • Don’t advance on the panel when you sing.
  • Gestures are not needed, but sing with your whole body.

Graham Scott, Head of School of Keyboard Studies:

  • Think very carefully about your repertoire – select good contrasting pieces.
  • Think of the audition as a performance and imagine there’s an audience, not just an audition panel.
  • You don’t need to wear formal clothing but you should be comfortable and smart.
  • Enter the room with a smile on your face and a sense of enjoyment. Be prepared for the panel to shake your hand.
  • Don’t worry about mistakes. If you make one, don’t try and correct your mistake – just move on.
  • The panel may ask you questions of a self-reflective nature e.g. how you felt your performance went.
  • Enjoy your audition – we as a panel are excited to hear new talent each year!

Andy Stott, Head of Popular Music:

  • It’s important for us to see students audition at their very best.
  • When you come to audition, try and fill the room. Transport yourself to a live performance situation, and communicate the meaning of the music.
  • Show your personality – the selection of your piece tells the panel something about you.
  • Think about why you want to be a student at the RNCM.
  • Bring your backing track on an MP3 player – don’t rely on an internet connection and YouTube, for example. Bring a piece of personalised equipment that you can trust.
  • Don’t change the key of the set pieces. You can make your own embellishments etc, but don’t change the key.

Professor Adam Gorb, Head of Composition:

  • Do send properly bound and clearly marked scores.
  • Do keep scores separate from each other. Don’t bind the complete submission together.
  • Don’t send loose sheets of paper.
  • Don’t put paper or scores in a plastic folder.
  • Recordings should be on CD and have the titles of the works clearly indicated.
  • Please remember to put your name on every score and CD.
  • At the audition, be positive, exude enthusiasm for the music you love and a curiosity for the music you would like to know about. Above all you must show a total commitment to composition way beyond anything you may have done for A level.
  • Don’t be negative, arrogant, self-pitying or unspecific (‘I love every kind of music’ never goes down well).
  • Don’t admit or show an over-reliance on technology (‘Working on Sibelius made things a lot easier’ is another no-no).
  • You should not feel pressurised at interview to say where you intend to take up a place, but do say if the place you are auditioning is genuinely your first choice.

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