By Adam Groh
‘Tis the season…for audition preparation. That’s right, at a time when most “normal” people are looking forward to a relaxing Christmas break, countless percussionists are gearing up for grad school auditions in the early spring. For that group of people, the break from classes means a perfect chance for getting extra practice time in. With that in mind, I decided to write a couple blog posts about getting ready for auditions. This is the first of those posts…
One of the most challenging aspects of getting ready for an audition is managing all the repertoire that you have to prepare. There is no other musician who has to juggle as much material, on as many instruments, as we do. A normal graduate school audition can include solo repertoire on marimba, snare drum, and timpani, as well as orchestral excerpts on a variety of instruments, plus the possibility of things like drum set styles, multi-percussion solos, etc. There are a couple strategies that have worked for me in the past when trying to manage all of the material that I have to prepare, and I’m hopeful that they can work for others.
The first step is to get yourself organized on paper. Hopefully your prospective schools are flexible with their repertoire requirements which allows you to use the same material at multiple auditions. Begin by making a master list of all the material that you have to prepare for all of your auditions. Group it by instrument, keeping the solos separate from the excerpts. This will show you exactly how much you need to get ready over the next couple of months.
After you’ve got your master list, do some diagnosis. Figure out what things you’re going to need to do the most work on. For example, if you’re putting three xylophone excerpts together, but you have played two in the past, you’ll probably want to spend the majority of your time on the one excerpt that you have no experience with. In short, decide what the best use of your time will be, and weight each item against the others. This method corresponds with Don Greene’s ideas in Audition Success about “red, yellow, and green” labels for things. If you don’t know the book, it’s worth checking out.
At this point you know what you need to do and what you need to emphasize. Now it’s time for the real organization… Scheduling. I always plan out my practice schedule way in advance of an important audition. Not to add to the stress, but graduate school auditions can be an important and life-altering time. It’s not a time to just wing it and hope that it all works out for the best. I get pretty crazy about scheduling. I figure out when my first audition is, and work backwards. I write down days on the calendar for mock auditions, usually putting my first one about two weeks in front of the first audition. At that point I want to have all of my material playable. That gives me a chance to record a full run, take inventory, and budget my practice time as best as I can in the home stretch. I’ll schedule mock auditions with increasing frequency over the last two weeks to get used to playing everything through. You can check out my previous post about that part of the process.
However, prior to that last two weeks I have a very strict schedule. I like to divide my week into two groups… Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday. I never plan out Sunday so that I can use it for whatever things I feel the least comfortable about from the preceding week’s practice sessions. Then I divide up my material so that it’s evenly split between the two groups of days. You may notice that by doing this I am not practicing anything every day of the week. That might seem crazy, but it works. The human brain is constantly searching for order and logic and patterns. You can actually practice things less frequently (but more consistently) and have better results than if you were just trying to figure out what to do each time you walked in the practice room.
There are two ways to divide up your material. Basically, you can choose to either do each instrument on a particular day, or you can spread it out so that you play all of your instruments on each day, but alternate the material. For example, you could organize by instruments as such…
MWF – Marimba solo(s), Xylophone excerpts, Timpani excerpts and solo
TThS – Snare drum solo and excerpts, Glock excerpts, Accessory instrument excerpts
In that set up you confine each instrument to a specific set of days. You could also set up your schedule so that you touch each instrument every day, like so…
MWF – Marimba solo (4-mallet), Snare drum excerpts, Timpani solo, Xylo excerpt 1 & 2, Glock excerpt 1
TThS – Marimba solo (2-mallet), Snare drum solo, Timpani excerpts, Xylo excerpt 3, Glock excerpt 2 & 3
There are good elements to both arrangements, and I’ve had success with both. Some of this may depend on your individual situation and practice facilities. If you know that you’ll be able to get access to all the instruments every single day then you could do the second arrangement. If you think it will be harder to get into all the practice rooms then you may choose the first option so that you don’t need to rely on room availability. You may even choose to plan out what time you’ll practice each item on its designated day, but don’t get yourself scheduled so tight that you can’t adjust if necessary. If someone is in the marimba room at 10am on Monday when you planned to practice, it shouldn’t ruin your entire day of practice. Be flexible and move things around so that you can still get to the marimba later on without missing a beat. (No pun intended)
The most important thing with all of this is to make sure that you are giving each item from the master list that you made its fair share of time. That time should also be consistently scheduled so that you can get in a routine and maximize efficiency. As time progresses you can alter your schedule to make up for things that need more or less work. If your snare drum etude is doing great, but your 4-mallet marimba solo needs some more work, instead of sticking with one hour for each, do 30 minutes on the snare drum etude and an hour and a half for marimba.
If you can get yourself organized you will greatly increase your chances of having a successful audition. More often than not, I find that the people who struggle with auditions have not prepared in a way that sets them up for success. Be meticulous with your preparation and organization and it will show in your playing!
How do you organize your time when preparing for auditions? What techniques have led to success, especially while balancing so much material? Discuss it in the comments.
Originally posted on DrumChattr on December 29, 2010 by Adam Groh.
The photo in this post is used under the Creative Commons License: Attribution – NonCommercial – No Derivs 2.0 by William Murphy on Flickr.com.