Getting The Gig

Getting the Gig: Audition Tips for Musicians

Getting the Gig: Audition Tips for MusiciansPreparing for an upcoming audition? It’s a competitive world out there! To get a leg up, check out these helpful audition tips from Tao G., who teaches music theory, trombone, and guitar lessons in New York City:

Work in the music industry is drying up due to lack of funds, a generational shift of interest away from live classical music, and the evolution of music taste to an industry that places more importance on being a dramatic public figure than being a good musician. Broadway shows aren’t willing to pay 30-piece orchestras when they can get away with pressing play on an MP3. Symphony orchestras are going bankrupt because their audience is literally aging out. Established performers are hanging on to their job until they retire. All these factors are creating a bottleneck of resistance for many young musicians looking to make a living playing music.

Consequently, young musicians may find themselves unsure how to break into the business. I’m speaking mainly of orchestral, jazz, and commercial work. But this also applies to any musician trying to get a gig with big bands like the Glenn Miller Orchestra, cruise ships, television and film soundtracks, military bands like the President’s Own, Broadway and other major productions like Cirque du Soleil, musical theater touring, theme parks like the Disney Bands, solo recording, and so forth. So here are some general audition tips I’ve accumulated through my experience. This information is of course intended as a helpful guideline and should be supplemented with lessons through a private instructor.

  1. Master your instrument. This means practicing often, working on the basics of your instrument and attacking your weaknesses. Don’t always play what you are good at. Well-rounded musicians find more success than one-trick ponies. Your ability to speak through your instrument should be as comfortable as speaking your native language.

  1. Know who and what you are auditioning for. This is somewhat self-explanatory, but is extremely important in this context. Orchestral auditions, for example, are intense ordeals that require your absolute finest preparation and attention to detail. But the auditioning panel in Chicago will want something different than the New York Philharmonic. Listen to recordings of the group you want to join so you know what sound they want to hear, and get to know your musical director’s style.

  1. Mock-audition for others first. Play your materials for family, friends, pets, neighbors, and certainly other musicians. Get rid of performance anxiety by getting comfortable playing with other people listening intently. Also, listen to recordings of yourself. You never can believe how sloppy you sound until you put a microphone in front of yourself and listen back! But that helps build finesse and precision.

  1. Let them talk. Ours is an industry that stands on the bitter truths of criticism; from other musicians, critics, teachers, and consumers. However, it’s not always a bad thing to learn that you have a deficiency in one area or another, because that knowledge can help you focus your practice. Young musicians, especially college students, are extremely susceptible to harsh criticism. Always believe in yourself, and remember that even Miles Davis had critics.

  1. Love what you do. If you want to play jazz trombone, become the smartest person you know about jazz trombone. Get every recording of J J Johnson and his contemporaries, then listen to modern trombonists like Marshall Gilkes. Transcribe everything you hear. Go to jazz clubs. Learn the language of jazz musicians, because when you finally do get in with those cats, you want to be able to keep up so you get another gig with them. The important point of this is that you should be excited about what you do, with music as in life in general. It should make you happy to work hard for what you want.

Like I said, these audition tips are general in nature and the best advice I can put together from my experience getting through and winning auditions myself. I would encourage you to also research on your own the methods of great players that have done what you want to get into. For trombonists in particular, check out for a whole community of players to gain knowledge from. Similar websites and communities exist for other instrumentalists like and, for cellists and trumpeters, respectfully.

And finally, advice on surviving the day of your audition starts with the night before:

  1. Get plenty of sleep! Stay away from caffeine the day of to reduce unintentional tremors.

  2. Give yourself a healthy amount of time before the audition to travel to the location, sign in, and then set up your instrument.

  3. Don’t do something different on this day; practice as you always do, for this creates a sense of familiarity and comfort that aids in reducing anxiety.

  4. Try not to chat up your peers as many people need some privacy before auditioning and may find your chattiness to be rude.

  5. Find a water fountain and take a little walk to it every 10 minutes or so. The water is good for keeping you alert and hydrated, and the walk will let you work out some of the uneasiness of waiting.

  6. Don’t overplay! Warm up and then put the horn down. You want your embouchure/hands/head fresh but settled into playing “shape” when your name is called.

  7. Breathe! Take deep, purposeful breaths while playing as nervousness tends to lead people to taking quick, short breaths which could lead to phrases losing their intensity or dying altogether before their intended duration.

The rest is up to you, your preparation, and the will of the panel. Listen to their instructions and do your best to comply quickly but purposefully. And when it’s all over, I suggest getting a transcript of the judge’s notes so you can study the things they didn’t like and use it to improve for the next audition.

I hope this guide is helpful to you. Any questions, please look me up through! Good luck!

TaoGTao G is a professional trombonist and teacher in NYC. He received his Bachelor’s degree from the Dana School of Music and his specialties include musical theater, jazz, classical, audition repertoire, music theory, and ear training. He is also popular in Japan as a didgeridoo soloist. Tao joined the TakeLessons team in early 2014. Learn more about Tao, or search for a teacher near you!

Photo by Camilo Rueda López


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