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Filtering by Tag: auditions

My view from the other side of the bell - recent audition comments

Recently, I sat on the audition committee for two days worth of auditions for a trombone opening with the U.S. Marine Band in Washington, DC.  73 candidates came to the audition, and as always, it was a very educational experience for me.

First of all, if you are a performing musician, and you can find a place to sit on some sort of audition or competition committee, I highly recommend you do it!  Especially with band and orchestra auditions, where everyone is playing the same short excerpts one after another, you get a vivid sense of what works, and what doesn’t.

I’m not here to poke holes in anyone’s performance the day of the audition.  Auditions are very difficult situations, one of the most difficult you can experience as a performer.  Nerves, environment, bad luck… many, many things affect the outcome of an audition.  To be successful, you must be prepared to take a lot of them!  Auditioning is a skill, and it’s one that gets better the more you do it.  I have colleagues who won their audition on the first try.  Others, like myself, took multiple auditions.  I took 6 auditions for military bands, with three being for the Marine Band alone, before I was hired.  What follows are my observations about things that I feel can be corrected, or at least minimized, by preparation and habits, based on what I heard from a large majority of trombonists at this audition.

First, time and rhythm is critical.  I have written about this before, here.  The very first, and most noticeable thing, to me, is a person’s time.  I’m not talking about playing correct rhythms, but the consistency with which you apply tempo and subdivision to everything you play.  Truly subdividing, and applying that subdivision consistently across the entire span of a round of excerpts, is what gets your foot in the door.  Most people would be surprised at how few players are able to actually do that… It was very evident to me that very few auditionees record themselves, and listen to the recording focussed on their time consistency.  I mean, record everything.  I feel that in the final weeks before an audition that there are only two ways to practice.  Slow practice working on any technical aspects of an excerpt that need work, ingrain pitch relations, and making certain that every note is centered is critical.  Second, you should be performing the excerpt just as you would in the audition, and you should record it and listen back immediately.  99% of players won’t do this, especially the recording part, because it’s tedious and it takes a lot of time.  One very real benefit of this kind of practicing is that you can play for much longer periods.  When practicing alone, the playback time serves as built in rest, and the constant alternating between playing and listening gives you enough rest that you don’t get tired nearly as fast.  


Finally, put yourself into multiple mock audition situations, using all the visualization skills that you possess to develop some stress and nervousness.  Perform the excerpts exactly as you will in the audition either by themselves or as part of a set or “round”.  Immediately listen back and listen for ONE thing.  In this case, time.  If it’s not exactly right, it’s not right.  There is no close enough.  It must be metronomic.  If it’s not, and I’m listening to your audition, I will think that your time is not very good, and I’ll wonder how it will be to play a concert with you in the section and whether you will make my job easier.  Of course, no one is perfect!  Everyone will have inconsistencies, but you have to do everything you can to minimize them.

Let’s talk about pitch.  We opened our first round (and semi-finals) with Mozart Requiem.  The relative intonation of the opening B-flat statement is critical.  If the first 3 measures aren’t in tune, it’s very hard to recover the confidence of the committee.  Again, record and listen.  This applies throughout the round, but especially in the beginning.  Another place there was a lot of “pitchiness” was in the eighth note runs of Hungarian March.  Practice them slow, record, and listen.  Yep, you are gonna get REAL tired of hearing me say that!

Articulation is often a very telling aspect of a candidates abilities as well.  “Breaking up” and “frackiness” are signs that a player may not be centering each note, or that they are playing beyond the point of controlling their sound at higher volumes.  Being able to transition from the more forceful articulations of something like Hungarian March to the lightness of Brahms Academic Festival, or the quiet touch needed for Saint-Saens Organ Symphony is a skill to develop.  Hearing what you want those articulations to sound like in your head is critical.  We play what we hear in our head, and if we aren’t thinking about anything in particular, then we leave to chance what exactly is going to come out of the horn.  Again, listen to your recordings to see if what you THINK you are doing is what’s actually coming out!

Speaking of higher volumes…. volume and tone quality work together to present a total picture of your characteristic sound.  They give the listener a real sense of your musical goal, and your sensibilities.  Everyone has a unique sound, and I know I don’t expect anyone to fit in to a narrow definition of “great sound”.  However, many players play louder than they have to, all the time.  In most cases, it seems to be an awareness issue.  I think we get so used to playing loud in ensembles, that we don’t realize just how loud we are playing when we’re by ourselves.  Many people’s preliminary round sounded like they were simply trying to play too loud.  If it’s a loud excerpt like the Ride, or Heldenleben, then great.  You have to leave yourself some room to show some dynamic contrast, as well as show the committee that you are a conscientious (and conscious) musician.  Pick your places for both loud and soft dynamics, and you will show greater contrasts and sensitivity.

Finally, remember that you are playing for a group of people, not just one individual.  Many people I have sat with on audition committees have different things they are listening for.  We all have our individual biases and dislikes.  Cover as many bases as you can, and do your best to showcase your excellent musicianship within the context of solid fundamentals.  It’s always eye opening to see how far great fundamentals can take someone.  I think we sometimes trick ourselves into thinking we have to offer something unusual, or musically out-of-the-ordinary to set ourselves apart.  Time and again, the thing that gets people noticed is doing the basics exceptionally well.  

I would like to offer my encouragement to the many players that came to this recent audition, and maybe didn’t progress as far as they had hoped.  It is a life-long battle, this art we call music and this piece of plumbing called the trombone.  Persistence is key.  Glenn Dodson told me he auditioned seven times for the Philadelphia Orchestra.  He also used to tell his students, “there’s always room at the top.”  So, so true.  I remember reading somewhere that the late Jerome Ashby took around 30 auditions before he joined the French horn section of the New York Philharmonic.  Among the ranks of the great players, you will find many (all!) that just didn’t give up.  Continue your hard work, know that it never gets easy, and accept that you will have to continue the uphill battle if you want to reach your goals.  Thanks for reading, and happy practicing!





2015 ATSSB Tenor trombone etudes

Hey Texan Trombonists... I had a morning to do a little recording last week and I was able to record this year's ATSSB trombone etudes.  Both tracks include a performance, comments and practice suggestions, and they are downloadable via the Soundcloud links for free... Please pass along to any students that might be interested!

Also, if anyone has a question for me, please leave a comment or send me an email at

Happy practicing!


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TMEA All-state tenor trombone étude: Belcke

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A march, awesome! Really, we couldn't have an étude where the musical path is any clearer for our performance goals.

Let's first talk about march style. Rigid time, not too long, and not too heavy. Does that last aspect surprise you! I think this is one of the biggest mistakes people make in their interpretation of march style. Loud, yes. Heavy? Well, you just killed all the forward momentum in your performance. "Puffs of air" is a great concept I like to think when playing a piece like this, along with "light tongue" and "bounce".

Next, let's look at tempo. I strongly suggest you base your opening tempo on your ability to play the continuous 16ths beginning at m.33 cleanly and in tune. I find that the lower end of the tempo range works great. Yes, it's slower than true march tempo, but it's your solo and you have the option!

I opted out of the low D and low C octaves. I wasn't happy with how it sounded, so I didn't record it that way. I have work to do in that register! I suggest that you do what makes you sound your best. The low stuff doesn't add much to the music, but if you can do it well, then it is impressive.

Finally, on the continuous 16th runs, I am going for correct intonation via excellent slide placement at all costs. RECORDING YOURSELF is a necessity! Practice slow, and ingrain the pitches in your mind. Speed it up slowly, you have plenty of time. Don't panic! Most people will practice slowly just a little bit, then jump to full speed and simply not spend the time getting it in tune that they need to. Resist the temptation to play it too fast too soon!

Marches can be a very fun and exciting musical experience. With attention to detail, this étude will separate you from the people who don't practice thoroughly and carefully.

Practice hard,

Virtual Trombonist

TMEA All-State tenor trombone etude: Dieppo

[soundcloud url="" params="auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true" width="100%" height="450" iframe="true" /] What a beautiful little piece! This is one of those etudes that I'm always so happy to see among the selections, as it just lends itself so well to the trombone. I feel like a tempo close to the bottom of the suggested range works best, as I don't want this piece to sound hurried when I perform it. It should sound relaxed, beautiful, and make your listener say, "ahhhhhhh...".  A tempo of 120 to the eighth note will work well to accomplish this.

Strive for a comfortable, beautiful sound. I often find it necessary to somewhat ignore the piano marking at the beginning, it shouldn't be loud, but it should sound comfortable, confident, and really sing! Play it like you are the world's greatest soloist!  Also, imagine you are playing in a large auditorium and filling up the space with beautiful sound (or better yet, find a large room to practice in!)

I prefer to play the turns, or grupettos in a very unhurried way. Using the rhythm of an eighth and four sixteenth notes will accomplish this. Listen to the recording to hear what I mean...

Likewise, the cadenza sounds best to me when played in a relaxed way. This isn't a piece to show off blazing technique. It IS a place to show off smoothness and elegance! Again, listen to the recording!

Have fun with this beautiful little piece. It is truly a joy to work on, and a nice break from marching band parts you may be working on this time of year.

Texas ATSSB Trombone Etudes: Gatti

[soundcloud url="" params="auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true" width="100%" height="450" iframe="true" /] So, in this second post, we're gonna tackle this little vigoroso treat that Mr. Gatti has in store for us.

First of all, let's discuss the proverbial elephant in the room... What the heck do I do about breathing in this piece???!!!  Well, I hate to tell you, but this is one of those pieces where you're "damned if you do, damned if you don't!"  What I mean is, you have to get your priorities straight. Ask yourself what is most important, playing every single note super fast or playing as clean and musically as you can, while picking and choosing smart places to breathe?

Now, I'm not here to say one way is right.  However, I do think there is a best solution.  In any audition, I prefer to hear someone come in and play a musically sound performance, while showing off their technical ability and skills without sacrificing their musical goals.  I think you can make this piece sound plenty vigorous while playing at the low end of the tempo scale, single tonguing, and breathing in strategically placed spots while leaving notes out to do so.

"WHAAAATTTT???? Did you just say to LEAVE NOTES OUT???!!!" Yep, I sure did. It is done all the time in ensemble/section settings in the interest of keeping the time consistent above all else and in facilitating staggered breathing within a trombone section. "But this is a solo piece!", you say. Yes it is. I think it is more important that you make this "strategic breathing" thing a part of your tool bag now, and this is a great place to learn it.

It IS possible to triple tongue this whole etude.  In my opinion, the time it would take me to be able to do that would be much better spent developing a faster, clearer single tongue, practicing long tones, cleaning my slide, and doing lots of other things in my life!  In my professional experience, with the exception of some Pryor solos, or playing cornet solos, there is much more use for fast single tonguing and even double tonguing before spending so much time developing this kind of triple tonguing.  I'm not saying it's not needed, but not before the other articulation skills are mastered.

My plan when I recorded this was to play all the phrases on one breath until I got to the passage beginning in measure 22.  I marked my music to breathe first in m. 26, on the last 16th of beat 1.  You can hear in the recording where I took my breaths.  I did my best to try to make my breaths short and quick, and get right back in on the next beat.  By breathing mid-phrase, I'm better able to play the dynamics printed which give this somewhat repetitive etude much more musical contrast. I tried playing faster and softer, but I could not make the phrase in the last four lines no matter what I tried!  And that was playing faster and very soft without really doing any of the printed dynamics.  Circular breathing is possible, but again, I just don't feel it adds much to the musical goal of the piece.  Finally, anticipate the fact that most mortal humans will be nervous in an audition, and planning for phrases that stretch your air capacity to the max in a comfortable practice session are probably not a good idea in an audition setting.

So, how to practice?  SLOW.  Slow it down.  Take one phrase (or measure, or beat) at a time.  Strive to make all the 16ths equal, unless they are marked with an accent.  Record yourself and listen for equal sound and even time.

Speaking of time, I'm thinking 8th note subdivisions, except for the measures where we have accents/hemiola, such as measure four. Keep the eighth note pulse rolling in your head constantly, and combine that with metronome practice at all speeds. You will have to live with the practice of the time concept for some time to really ingrain it! Don't give up! Keep at it and if things start to fall apart, revert to a slower speed. Practice SLOW FIRST! Have I been clear enough ?! :)

Good luck. Get to work, and keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming series on How to Prepare For and Take An Audition.

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