How to prepare for arts high school auditions

  • Interlochen Arts Academy Instructor of Saxophone Matthew Schlomer works with a student during a master class.

You’ve found the perfect arts high school and persuaded your parents to send you there. Now, there’s just one obstacle remaining between you and your dream: the audition.

For both families and students, the audition can be one of the most intimidating parts of the arts school experience. But it doesn’t have to be. The audition is your chance to show your prospective school that you belong there, and it’s a great opportunity to get some extra practice before your college auditions.

Here’s a comprehensive, step-by-step guide to making sure you have the best possible audition—and have fun doing it!

1. Carefully review the audition requirements. Before you start your audition, make sure you know exactly what you’ll be expected to present. Read the audition requirements at least twice. That way, you won’t waste time and energy on items you won’t need—or worse, forget something important.

2. Select your audition materials. In addition to standard materials—such as scales for musicians or movements for dancers—you will also be asked to select a number of pieces or works that best showcase your abilities. Ask a teacher, ensemble director, or other artistic mentor to help you pick materials that fit the audition criteria, your ability level, and your personal style.

If you’re a musician, it’s best to start by reviewing your prospective school’s suggested audition repertoire. Even if you haven’t already learned these pieces, these lists provide a gauge for the type and difficulty of works that the audition panel will expect.

3. Practice, practice, practice! Whether you’ve chosen new pieces or something you already know, it’s important to make sure you sound and/or look your very best. In addition to practicing on your own, it’s also a good idea to get feedback from your teacher. If you don’t have a teacher, perform your pieces for a parent or friend and see what they think! You may also find it helpful to watch or listen to performances of your chosen works by other artists.

4. Decide how you will audition. Many schools prefer in-person auditions, which will usually take place during a campus visit. However, if you’re unable to visit campus, most schools will accept video or audio auditions instead. Check with your school to determine their preferred audition method and make plans to complete your audition in a manner that works best for you and your family. (Note: During the COVID-19 pandemic, most schools are not holding in-person auditions.)

Your path from this point will depend on how you’ve chosen to audition.

If you’ve chosen to audition in person:

1. Stage a mock audition. A mock audition is a great way to simulate the atmosphere of an audition and see how you respond to the pressure. Try to replicate your actual audition experience as closely as possible. For example, if you plan to audition with an accompanist, play with them during the mock audition as well.

2. Gather everything you need for your audition. Before you depart for your audition, make sure that you have everything you will need, such as equipment, original scores for the pieces you are performing, or an accompanist. Musicians and musical theatre students may be asked to number each measure of their scores.

Plan your outfit beforehand and practice your audition materials while wearing it to ensure that it does not inhibit your ability to perform. If your audition does not require specific attire, choose clothes that are professional yet comfortable.

3. Prepare mentally and physically. Although auditions are stressful, there are countless tips and tricks to help you overcome your nerves and perform your best. While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to preparing your mind and body for an audition, most strategies include a good night’s sleep, staying hydrated, and a thorough warm-up. Ask your teacher for discipline-specific strategies such as stretches, foods to avoid, or breathing exercises.

If you’ve chosen to record video or audio files:

1. Avoid group recordings. While it’s tempting to recycle your mom’s recording of your last band concert or dance recital, audition panels strongly prefer solo recordings. It’s much easier than trying to pick you out of the crowd, and they’ll get a better sense of your capabilities.

2. Find a place to record your audition. Where you record your audition is actually far more important than the equipment you use. While all performers should be conscious of the room’s appearance, musicians and actors will also want to choose a room with good acoustics.

Aesthetically, your location should be neat and tidy so that the appearance of your physical space does not distract the viewer. A solid-colored wall with minimal artwork or an ironed bed sheet work well as backgrounds. Make sure your audition space is well-lit so the viewer can see you clearly, and add additional lights if needed. It’s best to film your video near a large window on an overcast day for optimal natural lighting.

Acoustically, you’re looking for a quiet location that neither amplifies or deadens your sound. If possible, turn off or remove any devices that make noise; even soft sounds like the hum of a fan can be picked up by your microphone. Avoid rooms with extremely hard surfaces, such as concrete walls or floors. If you must use such a space, place a rug under your performance area to prevent excess reverberations.

3. Determine what kind of equipment you will use. Arts high schools don’t expect professional-quality recordings. In most cases, your smartphone will suffice as both an audio and video recorder. If you choose to use a separate audio recorder, use one microphone and point it directly at your instrument.

4. Set up your performance space. Set up your video and audio equipment, being mindful of the positions of both the camera and the microphone. Microphones should be placed at least 12 inches away from an instrument. Singers should try to stay at least eight inches away from the recording device.

Camera position will vary depending on your art form. Dancers should place the camera so that their full body is visible throughout each movement. Instrumentalists should ensure that their full instrument is in view. If you are auditioning for piano or another keyboard instrument, make sure your hands are clearly visible in the frame. Actors may wish to use a close-up camera position to better capture their facial expressions.

5. Make the recording. State your name and the title of your piece before you begin your performance.

6. Select the best takes. The beauty of recorded auditions is that you are able re-record if you don’t like how you look or sound. Record several takes of each audition component and select the best take for your final audition package.

7. Double-check your file types. Once you’ve selected your takes, check your school’s application portal to see what types of files are accepted. If your files are not in the correct format, convert them using a video editing software, if you have one, or a free file conversion website.

Want more technical tips? View this presentation by Interlochen Arts Academy’s Admission team.

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