Honor Band Auditioning 101: Tips for Playing One's Best

April 5, 2016

I have had the great honor being the trombone judge for the All Southern California High School Honor Band numerous times.  I am always impressed with the level of musicianship and level of execution of the trombonists.  Unfortunately, some of the trombonists don’t perform their best, often because of nerves or their preparation for the audition.    I thought it would be helpful for me to discuss what I look for at auditions as well as tips for playing one’s best on the day of the audition.


The audition is comprised of three parts – scales, a prepared piece, and sight-reading.  Here is a break down of scoring from the past audition for 2011:


I. Scales (25 points)

a. D Major (5)

b. Gb Major (5)

c. b mel minor (5)

d. eb mel minor (5)

e. chromatic (5)


II. Prepared Piece (50 points)

a. Rhythm (10)

b. Tone Quality (10)

c. Intonation (10)

d. Phrasing (10)

e. Technique (10)


III. Sight-Reading (25 points)

a. Rhythm (5)

b. Tone Quality (5)

c. Articulation (5)

d. Musicianship (5)

e. Note Accuracy (5)


Prior to the Audition


1. What should you eat?


It is very important to eat complex carbohydrates, protein, vegetables, and drink plenty of water. Bring a snack and water to the audition in case.  Be sure to limit caffeine and suger – they both have the same effect on your body as adrenaline.


2.  What should you wear?


In my experience, I find that people wear a wide range of clothing when auditioning.  It’s important to be comfortable when you perform.  A tuxedo or a suit and tie are not required.


3. Warming Up


One of the most important things is your warmup.  Be careful of playing too much before your actual audition.  DO NOT too much.  Play for only 5-10 minutes and then stop. Many people are exhausted before they even play a note!  Practicing a lot on the day of the audition will not help you.  Remember, you can’t cram for auditions or performances.  Daily, consistent practice is essential to perform your best.


4.  Focusing


While waiting in the room with everyone warming up, be sure to focus on yourself.  It’s very easy to get nervous when listening to other players.  There will always be players that can do things better than you.  Comparing yourself on the day of an audition does not help at all.  Try to keep your thoughts positive and do your best.  Also, bring an ipod to listen to instead of hanging and talking with other people.  After you finish your audition, talk as much as you like!


During the Audition


1. Your audition begins as soon as you play your first note!


I highly recommend having a 10-20 second warm-up planned ahead of time that you play to get used to the room. Play with a great sound!


2.  Focus on the basics!


Always play with a beautiful, controlled sound as well as incredible intonation and rhythm (the 3 T’s – tone, tuning, and time). 


3.  Empty condensation often!


One of the worst things to hear is a great player performing with lots of condensation so all you hear is gurgling in their sound.  Empty whenever you have a rest!




People that get into honor band usually play their scales really well.  MEMORIZE YOUR SCALES!!  When practicing your scales, you should be able to play them perfectly five times in a row if you know them really well. Memorizing isn’t mandatory but you will learn your scales much better than by using music during the audition.  Remember, one quarter of your entire score is scales – THESE ARE GIMME POINTS! 




Play straight through your scales, solo, and sight-reading – DO NOT STOP!  Every time someone stops and restarts, they lose points. If you make a mistake, finish playing the scale or solo and then ask the judge if you can have another shot. Depending on time, they might let you try again.  If someone plays great the second time, I will give them a higher score than if they stopped and started a lot.


6. Play the tempos of your scales and the solo only at the speed you need to sound fantastic!


It is always better to take tempos a little slower and sound great when performing than trying to perform the scale or solo poorly at requested tempo.  Tempo markings (quarter note = 96) are given for scales.  Do your best to play them at the tempo but don’t sacrifice tone, intonation, and rhythm to play that fast.  You will score higher if you play perform slightly slower with a great sound, intonation, and rhythm than at tempo with bad sound, intonation, and rhythm.


7.  Play confidently!  Play a statement, not a question!


When performing, DO NOT HIDE BEHIND YOUR STAND!  Be bold and play confidently. Take deep, relaxed breaths and blow to a second point in the back of the room where you want to project your sound.  Be expressive – as the amazing tubist and pedagogue, Arnold Jacobs, said, “Be a story-teller of sound!”  Don’t just hit notes – MAKE MUSIC! Exaggerate dynamics and articulations so they are clear to the judge 15 feet away from you.


8.  When performing, have a “Poker Face”!


We all make mistakes so there is no need to make a face and let the judge know you screwed up by making a face.  Also, if you make a mistake, keep going.  Don’t stop!


9.  The most important thing about sight-reading is RHYTHM!


When sight-reading, rhythm is THE most important thing, everything else is secondary.  Don’t stop!  Keep your eyes moving ahead.  Remember, sight-reading is a skill – you need to practice it every day to get good at it.  Read through anything you can!  It’s great to sight-read duets with a friend.


10.  Have fun!


I think people play their best when they are relaxed and having fun.  Practice hard, play your audition straight through for people every day for the two weeks prior to your audition day.  Also, be sure to read the articles on Vitamin P, Vitamin R, Learning a New Piece, and Maximizing Your Practicing so you are really prepared. 


Good luck!

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