Tom Jackson's Academy of Live Music

Singing Audition Tips

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Auditioning can be a nerve-racking experience, even for the seasoned pro. Being well prepared can make a world of difference in how smoothly and successfully you get through the process, and this article is designed to offer some valuable pointers, whether you are auditioning for a choral group, a musical theatre production or a talent search competition like American Idol.

Keep in mind that the more you audition, the better you will become at it. Auditioning is an acquired skill.

Before the Audition – Getting Prepared

If there is time, study vocal technique for a while before you audition. If you get through to the next or final round of the competition or audition process, or get the part in the musical, your voice will be having many demands placed on it daily. Although you want to sound great at the audition itself – and lessons can certainly help make your voice sound better – it will be especially important for you to have good vocal technique beyond the audition in order to avoid strain or injury to your voice, and to increase your endurance. Also, having more vocal control, gained through lessons, will help you feel more confident about your singing abilities – you’ll trust that you will be capable of doing whatever is asked of you during the audition - and will thus help you to feel less nervous about the audition.

If you are able to do so, hire a vocal coach to help you prepare your song. A vocal coach will not only help you select a song that will make your voice stand out, but he or she will also help you to polish it. An experienced vocal coach will help you add your personal flare to a song, and will know how to do so tastefully. He or she could provide you with valuable feedback that will help you succeed at your audition.

Know precisely what kind of show, competition or venue you are auditioning for so that you can pick an appropriate song with a suitable style, but also so that you don’t waste anyone’s time, including your own, by showing up for an audition when you wouldn’t really want the part in the first place. For example, you don’t want to sing an operatic song like Habanera if you are auditioning for a show like American Idol that is looking to discover the next pop sensation. While there may be some wiggle room – a rock singer or a Gospel singer can fit in at a competition to discover a new pop star - it will be too difficult for the judges to imagine you fitting into the personality of the show if your audition song does not reflect the style or the goal of the show.

Similarly, investigate whether or not your particular vocal quality is going to match the goals or needs of the group. For instance, if you are auditioning for a choir that expects everyone to have a very lyric or coloratura vocal quality – the kind that is ideal for soloing - but your voice lacks this quality, you likely won’t get in. Other groups may not be looking for singers who will sound great singing solos, but may only expect them to be able to sing on tune and have a vocal quality that will lend itself to blending well with others in the group.

If you are auditioning for a choral ensemble, know whether or not the types of songs in the group’s repertoire for the upcoming season are ones that you would enjoy singing. For example, if the chorale typically only performs classical pieces, but you want to sing Broadway and contemporary songs, you may want to choose another group to audition for instead.

Do your homework when it comes to the audition requirements. You may be expected to sight-read musical excerpts. If that is the case, practice to make sure that you can recognize intervals. Sometimes, you will be expected to have a song or aria of your own choosing prepared in any style or in a specific style, and at other times, you may be asked to sing a specific song from the upcoming season. Sometimes, you will be auditioning with others in small groups, perhaps divided into vocal parts (e.g. bass, tenor, alto, soprano) in order to hear how your voice blends with others and whether or not you can sing harmony and not get distracted by other parts, (such as the melody). Some choir directors might have you sing back short melodies that are played on a piano to ensure that you are not tone deaf. Oftentimes, you will be asked to bring two copies of your music with you - one for yourself and one for the accompanist. Knowing what will be expected of you during an audition, as opposed to going in blindly and being surprised or taken off guard by the director’s requests, will also help ease nervousness.

Find out whether the choir director’s goal is to find out what you can do or to find out whether or not you have a specific set of skills. For example, it helps to know if the director will be listening more for basic vocal skills like singing on tune or for vocal perfection and a good knowledge of music. If you will be asked to sight-read for the audition, find out whether or not you will be expected to do so perfectly, or just show some basic skills, such as recognizing intervals, and a potential for learning. Some choirs audition only to weed out the truly tone deaf or “blending challenged” (e.g., those with painfully shrill voices, those who can’t hear harmony parts, etc.), while others are seeking well-trained, professional singers.

Know your range, and be prepared to tell the choir director what part (e.g., alto) you would sing if you were to be accepted into the group. Sometimes, a choir has a need for more people to sing a particular part, and they may not be looking for someone who sings your part. If you have a broad range, they may be impressed to know that you can sing more than one part (e.g., you could sing either alto or second soprano, depending on the need), and will find you to be a valuable addition to the chorale because you can fill in the gaps.

Make an accurate assessment of your language skills if the choral group performs most of its repertoire in foreign languages (e.g., Latin, Italian, German, etc.). While you won’t be expected to be fluent in these other languages, the choir director will expect you to be able to pronounce the words of the songs correctly and sound the same as everyone else in the group when you sing those words together. If you hope to be a soloist, it might benefit you to take a class to learn a foreign language or purchase a foreign language education program on CD (e.g., Rosetta Stone) so that you can understand the language better, know how to pronounce the words of the libretto or song and improve your accent.

Memorize the lyric to the song that you plan to sing. It would require a stellar vocal performance on your part for the judges to be willing to overlook something as critical as forgetting the song lyrics. Besides, a large part of selling yourself is being able to sing a song with conviction, and you can’t do so while stumbling over your words. If the decision comes down to either you or another equally talented and personable vocalist who remembered the words, the judges are likely going to pick the other singer over you.

Have a second audition piece prepared in case the judges don’t like your first selection, or would like to hear what else you are capable of singing. Sometimes, a second song will be an audition requirement.

Practice your audition piece. Your goal should be to give a flawless performance for the judges, so you’ll need to plan ahead and know exactly how you would like to sing the song, and practice it line by line. Think through any embellishments and the arrangement of the song, and work on developing good tone and accurate pitch throughout the song for both the high and low notes.

Practice in front of a mirror, without using your hairbrush as a prop, (unless you will be using a microphone for the audition) to see how you move. Also rehearse in front of others whom you can trust to be very honest with you about how you look, move and sound when you sing. Be aware of your facial expressions. You don’t want to be scrunching up your nose, closing your eyes too much, or exaggerating your expressions, as you will appear unnatural and look as though you are striving too much. You also want to avoid having a flat affect that makes you appear bored or unable to display emotion and connect with an audience. Practice moving, and be mindful of your gestures.

Provide yourself with further visual feedback by videotaping yourself as you sing your audition piece, and then critiquing your own performance. (It is likely best to avoid posting your video on-line and asking for evaluations of your singing from strangers, as the comments that are generally posted on-line are not necessarily “informed” or helpful. Few people who watch such videos have knowledge of good vocal technique, and most don’t make educated critiques or offer anything more than personal opinion. The comments of those strangers may sway you toward making a poor decision about your audition song.)

Stay healthy and exercise good vocal habits before the audition. A cold or a strained voice can ruin your audition.

Get a full night’s sleep the night before your audition. Fatigue can weaken the control that you have over your voice, and rob your voice of its full colour. Also, low energy levels often show through while you are auditioning.

Consider whether or not having a support person accompany you, if you are permitted to, would be helpful. If there will be a long wait, as is often the case with open (“cattle call”) auditions for which hundreds of people may show up, it might be nice to have some company. Your support person may offer to massage you and help keep you relaxed while you wait. A supportive friend or family member can be a source of encouragement and comfort should you be rejected for the part for which you are auditioning. While a support person can distract you from your nervousness, he or she may also become a distraction, inhibiting your ability to focus and mentally prepare. Selecting the right person to join you, if anyone, can make a significant difference in your overall auditioning experience.

Your Song

Get some opinions about your song choice, but be sure to ask for objective feedback (to the extent that it exists). Sing two or three songs for family, friends or your vocal instructor, then ask them to help you pick on the basis of how each song accentuates the best features of your voice (e.g., tone, range, etc.), rather than on whether or not they personally like a particular song.

Unless you are auditioning for a choir or an opera company that will give performances in several languages, do not sing a song in a foreign language; (in a language other than the one that you will be expected to sing in for the show or competition). You will inevitably be asked to sing a second selection in English. First of all, different languages have accents that don’t always “translate” well into English. The judges will want to know that you can communicate effectively (primarily through song) in English, especially if English is not your fist language. They may suspect that you are hiding behind your other language. Also, not being able to understand the words of your song may be distracting, if not frustrating, for them, and they may not be able to appreciate or recognize your passion as readily.

Do not sing an overly popular, overplayed song, as you will not be setting yourself apart from anyone else who will be in front of the judges auditioning that day, even if your vocals are superior. While songs like Reflections and Amazing Grace may indeed be beautiful and melodic, and thus compliment your voice and show off your range, you may find that the judges will tune you out before you even open your mouth to sing because they have already heard the same song sung by a hundred auditioners before you.

Avoid the temptation to sing an original, unknown song unless you are auditioning for a record label or someone who is going to expect you to perform your original songs down the road. Your song writing skills are not what the panel will be judging, but if your song isn’t very good and doesn’t bring out the best in your voice, it may reflect poorly on your singing abilities. A singing audition is neither the time nor the arena in which you should be showcasing your songwriting skills.

Don’t select an overly obscure song unless it is really catchy.

Select a song that is melodic and highly singable, as opposed to one that is repetitive and monotone (e.g., What Hurts the Most) that makes you sound like you’re droning. Your song should cover a good portion of your vocal range, as you want to demonstrate that you have the ability to sing both high and low notes well, with good tone and presence (e.g., volume).

If you are auditioning for a musical, don’t sing a song from the show that you are hoping to be cast in, unless instructed otherwise. Instead, select a song that reflects a similar style and will allow the director and producer to better envision and gauge how you will fit in the production or the role. Select a song that will demonstrate to the director that you have what it takes to play the desired role. I once attended an audition during which I was asked to sing the alphabet song as though I were a lounge singer so that the director and composer could see whether or not I would fit the part that I was auditioning for. (If you can make a children’s song sound sexy, flirtatious and sultry, you can most certainly do the same with any song from the show itself.)

Keep your song simple, but still show off your stuff. A little embellishment here and a little vibrato there may demonstrate your “ear” for music and your training, but too much busyness can be distracting and make it appear as though you are trying too hard to impress them. Also, in your efforts to make the song sound more complex than it needs to be, you may end up having many painfully noticeable pitch errors as you attempt to negotiate your way through those overly difficult vocal runs. It isn’t worth the risk, and you would be better off sticking to something that you can sing flawlessly.

Avoid highly unusual song arrangements, as well. Sometimes, it is good to hear your unique interpretation of a song – the judges will want to hear some originality - but there is the chance that your approach to the song might be a little too unconventional for the judges’ tastes or for the style of the show.

Don’t sing a song with obscenities in the lyric or with highly explicit themes. It is unnecessary to offend or shock the judges, and there are other, more appropriate ways in which you can show off your edginess and style.

Do not sing a song that has a range that is greater (broader) than your own.

Don’t sing a song that is too “big” for you at this stage in your development as a singer or that is beyond your training or that doesn’t suit the unique sound of your voice. A mismatch between your tonal quality and your song choice can be damaging to the impression that you give of your vocal abilities. For example, if you naturally have a soft, lyric singing voice, you probably won’t sound very good or strong singing a hard rock song that is begging for a loud, grungy voice. The song choice will actually highlight the “tinyness” of your voice. Conversely, if your voice has a “gruff” texture, you should avoid singing a song that calls for a sweet, pretty voice. Select a song that will make the natural quality of your tone stand out, and that will flatter it. Your voice needs to be heard in the right context in order for it to be truly appreciated.

For more advice on choosing a song that suits your individual voice, read Selecting the Right Songs For Your Voice.

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Last updated on Wed Mar 17 22:32:14 2010