You asked, and now we’re here to answer all of your questions about music auditions. Whether you’re auditioning with an instrument or your voice, for a musical or the newest talent show on television, this Q&A is sure to help you nail your next audition! The questions we’re going to answer in this article are:

  • How do you deal with nerves before and during auditions?
  • How do you deal with the physical side effects of anxiety in an audition? (Sweaty hands, dry mouth, etc.)
  • What are some tips on the sight-reading portion of auditions?
  • How do you decide the best part for an audition cut?
  • What is the thing that would impress the judges the most?
  • How do you recover from a poor audition?
  • How many pieces should you have prepared for an audition?
  • Is there usually a dress code? What should I wear?
  • In terms of an all-state audition, should I choose a more choral sounding piece or a solo piece?
  • How am I supposed to know what type of vocal tone a judge is looking for?
  • What kind of piece is good to play for orchestra auditions?
  • Tips for keeping good breath support through vocal auditions?
  • What is most likely to catch you off guard in a college audition?

Let’s get started!

Q: How do you deal with nerves before and during auditions?

This was by far our most asked question, and that’s because everyone struggles with nerves in music auditions. First, know that being nervous is completely natural. After all, you’re in a small room with a few people staring at you as you attempt to prove your worth as a musician in a matter of minutes. It’s not exactly ideal. Still, it’s hard to do your best when your hands are sweaty, your breath has escaped you, and you don’t quite feel like yourself. Here are a few tips for how you can deal with your nerves.

  • Be overprepared.

The best way to deal with nervousness is to know your audition piece and performance so well that you could do it in your sleep.  If you’re not entirely confident in your memorization, you can quickly become consumed by nerves as your brain is reaching to remember a particular line or set of lyrics.

  • Exert some energy before your audition.

Before you go into an audition, you’ll probably feel like your mind is racing. That’s because you have a lot of adrenaline pumping through your veins! You might look a little crazy, but doing some jumping jacks, pushups, stretching, or merely clenching your fists several times can help release some adrenaline. Of course, you don’t want to be winded when you go into your audition, so don’t go too crazy! But taking a moment to release some of that adrenaline will allow you to think a lot clearer when you walk into the audition space.

  • Take your time!

Singing and instrumental auditions go by very quickly. After a few questions, the judging panel is essentially just waiting on you to start. Trust us, we know that the silence before you begin can feel like a century, but don’t be afraid to take a few seconds to compose yourself. This is your moment to remind yourself of any mental notes, plan out your performance in your head, and get in the right mindset to audition. Make any notes to your accompanist if you have one, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and calm yourself before you begin. It’s unlikely that the judging panel will tell you to hurry up, and even if they do, feel free to fire back with, “One second, please.” After all, it’s your audition, and this is going to communicate that you want to do your best!

  • Don’t panic if you make a mistake.

We know this is hard, but do your best to keep going if you or your accompanist makes a mistake. The truth is, it happens all the time. No judging panel will be caught off guard by a mistake, but they will be massively impressed at how well you can recover. Make a plan ahead of time as to what you will do if you forget the lyrics, hit a wrong note, or get off tempo from your accompanist.

  • Skip the caffeine. 

You may think it’ll help you be more alert, but caffeine and sugar can actually agitate the negative symptoms of stage fright. It’s best to avoid sugary foods or caffeinated beverages the day of your performance.

  • Use the facilities. 

It may sound silly, but don’t forget to use the restroom. Believe us; we speak from experience when we say there’s nothing worse than having to “go” when you step into your audition.

And last but not least, keep auditioning! Though we can’t promise that your nerves will ever completely disappear, the more auditions you do, the easier it will get! You’ll begin to be familiar with how the audition process goes and maybe even start to enjoy it. Make mental notes after each audition and learn to take any criticism that comes your way as constructive. Also, remember that you might have to be your biggest cheerleader. Have confidence in the practice time you’ve put in, and don’t forget to reward yourself for a good audition, even if you don’t get the part! The key is to look at every audition as an opportunity to get better.

We expand on these tips and offer even more in our article, “How to Calm Your Nerves Before Your Music Audition.

Q: How do you deal with the physical side effects of anxiety in an audition? (Sweaty hands, dry mouth, etc.)

Make sure you check out the answer to the question above first and then come back to this one! As much as you work on mentally dealing with anxiety, our bodies react to stress, too. Even though it’s an entirely normal and biological response, it can be really frustrating as it may prohibit you from giving a good performance. Here are a few things you can do.

For a dry mouth and throat

  • Hydrate in advance.

Unfortunately, gulping down water at the first feeling of a dry throat won’t do a lot for you. In fact, it might do you some harm if you drink so much that you need a restroom and don’t have time to get to one! Make sure you’re hydrated by drinking plenty of water the entire day before your audition.

  • Bring a portable humidifier. 

Portable humidifiers and vaporizers might look a little silly, but they’re excellent for keeping your throat and mouth moist. Also, if you have any congestion, a humidifier will keep the mucus in your nose and throat loose. In fact, Ariana Grande uses one before every show! Grab one from Amazon here.

  • Bite your tongue.

Okay, so you’re in the audition room and seconds away from performing, with no water bottle or humidifier in sight. Try biting your tongue! Don’t bite too hard, but biting your tongue for a few seconds will cause saliva to fill your mouth and give you a little bit of moisture.

For sweaty hands and armpits

  • Dress light.

This might seem a little obvious, but make sure you’re wearing breathable clothes to your audition. You never know what the temperature inside will be, and it’s better to dress cooler than normal than to be sweating through your clothes.

  • Bring a handkerchief. 

Trust us; no one is going to judge you if you pull out a handkerchief right before you play to wipe down your hands. First, it will look a lot more professional than hastily wiping your hands on your pants. And more importantly, it’s going to show the judging panel that you’re serious and that you want to do a good job!

  • Drink some ice water.

In addition to staying hydrated, drinking some ice water will help cool your body down altogether and prevent you from sweating as much.

  • Amp up your deodorant.

You might not usually need extra-strength when it comes to your deodorant, but it might be a good thing to bring along with you to an audition!

Q: What are some tips for the sight-reading portion of auditions?

Most music auditions in the music education setting have a sight-reading portion. This can be absolutely terrifying, as you’ll be given a piece of music and a “3-2-1 go.” A couple of ways you can prepare for this are:

  • Daily sight-reading practice. 

You wouldn’t try to run a marathon without running a mile first, would you? The same principle applies to sight-reading. The more practice you can put in ahead of time, the better.

  • Check any regulations

Make sure to be as familiar with the process ahead of time as you can be. For example, if you’re a vocalist, find out if you have to sight-read with solfege. If you’re an instrumentalist, check to see if all major and minor keys are fair game.

  • Take your time. 

It may not be a lot of time, but you’ll likely have a minute or two to look over the excerpt of music before you’re expected to sight-read it. Pay close attention to key signatures, strange jumps in the melody, any repeats or musical annotations, and so on. Avoid looking at everything at once and becoming overwhelmed, but follow the score sequentially and make mental notes as you do.

  • Remember, the rhythm is just as important as the melody. 

Pay close attention to your time signatures and any problematic rhythms. You will likely be scored equally on melody and rhythm.

  • Keep going. 

It can be so easy to fall apart if you miss a note or two, but you must do your best to keep going. If you’re a pianist, that might mean continuing in your left-hand while your right-hand catches up. If you’re a vocalist, it might mean counting out loud until you can jump back on the melody.

For more tips on sight-reading in general, check out our article: 10 Tips and Tricks for Sight-Reading Music.

Q: How do you decide the best part for an audition cut?

Most auditions do not let you perform an entire piece. 16 bars or 32 bars are pretty standard. The perfect audition cut showcases as much of your ability as possible in the time allotted. This can get messy if you’re trying to cut and paste specific segments together, so we’ve taken the liberty of arranging the perfect cuts for you. Musicnotes Audition Cuts are short (16-bar) and long (32-bar) “cuts” of songs arranged to showcase your vocal range from top to bottom in a short amount of time.

With cuts in every genre for every type of audition, you can find the piece for you at musicnotes.com/audition.

Q: What is the thing that would impress the judges the most?

Aside from talent and ability, there are a few things that will really impress your judging panel and set you apart from the crowd.

  • Professionalism.

First and foremost, don’t try to be too outrageous in front of the judges. Don’t wear a lime green suit to stand out, don’t ask for a part, and don’t ask for another shot. You may think that you’re standing out, but you’ll likely come across as desperate and immature. Do your best to be respectful and professional when you walk into an audition room.

  • Follow the audition guidelines. 

If your audition comes with a specific set of instructions, don’t ignore them! For example, if you were asked not to perform a song from the show, then don’t! If you’re asked to perform a song in the style of the show, then do! It sounds simple, but you’d be surprised at how many people go into auditions without really looking the guidelines over, in addition to how many people blatantly ignore them.

  • Composure. 

We talked earlier about recovering from a mistake in your audition. Of course, we hope you don’t get into a situation like this, but your ability to improvise and maintain composure throughout your audition will be impressive. Again, make a plan ahead of time, anticipating what you will do in case of a mistake.

  • Commitment to the audition. 

When you walk into an audition room, you’ve got to channel your “audition self.” Despite the nerves, do your best to commit in your audition fully. Give a performance that would be worthy of the Grammys!

Q: How do you recover from a poor audition?

This is going to take some practice, but the best way to recover from a poor audition is to shrug it off. Everyone has bad auditions. Everyone. And if you never have, trust us, someday you will. So now that you know this, don’t beat yourself up if it happens to you!

Affirm yourself in whatever way works for you. Remind yourself of your passion and why you auditioned in the first place. Analyze your audition and pull out any constructive criticism that could help you improve in the future. And once you’re ready, try again! Don’t let one audition hold you back from a lifetime of opportunities or create an unrealistic fear about auditioning. Have confidence in the fact that one audition couldn’t possibly define your skill or your potential. You’ve got this!

Q: How many pieces should you have prepared for an audition?

One. Just kidding! Always bring more than one audition piece. Whether the judges ask if you have anything else prepared or you hear the person in front of you go in with the same piece you were planning on performing, we recommend having a few pieces on hand.

The exact number may depend on the type of show or event you’re auditioning for, but a good number to always have would be three audition pieces.

  1. Have one piece be your first choice.
  2. Have another piece be your second choice, in case you hear someone else before you perform your first choice.
  3. Have a contrasting piece, in case the judges ask to hear something in a different style. If you have music prepared, you could bring a more than one contrasting piece to give them options. Think of how impressed they will be when you have several pieces on hand!

Remember, having these pieces prepared doesn’t mean they’re just back up. It means you’ve rehearsed them and are ready to perform! Also, don’t forget to bring extra copies if you’ll be providing music for your accompanist.

Q: Is there usually a dress code? What should I wear?

Most auditions don’t have a dress code, but if they do, make sure you follow it. When it comes to what you should wear to an audition, think of an outfit that would represent who you are or the character you’re auditioning for.

We do not recommend coming in costume or anything overly flashy, as it’s pretty distracting from your talent. You also probably don’t need to be in black-tie attire, unless you’re auditioning for something more upscale, like a symphony or opera. You don’t want to look too uptight, so wear comfortable clothes. Here are a few recommendations based on the type of audition:

  • Musical Theater 

Wear everyday clothes, but think about the character you’re auditioning for. If it’s a young, carefree teenager, for example, find a trendy outfit that brings out your youthfulness. If it’s a distinguished business man or woman, find an outfit that makes you look mature and composed. Again, avoid coming in costume. Not only is it distracting, but it also limits you to one role, when the casting directors may hear you and think you’re great for a different part.

  • Music show (such as a talent show or a reality show like The Voice)

If you’re auditioning more like an “act,” you have a lot of free reign with your outfit. Find something that represents who you are as a person, like an outfit you’d wear on a night out with friends.

  • Music Education

If you’re auditioning for something like all-state, or for a college scholarship, you’ll definitely be on the more formal route. Again, make sure you’re comfortable, but in these auditions, a dress, dress pants, or a blazer would all be pretty common.

Do your best to stand out with your outfit, but in a way that isn’t distracting. You don’t want to take anything away from your performance. Also, if you’re feeling totally clueless, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask what is expected of you!

Q: In terms of an all-state audition, should I choose a more choral sounding piece or a solo piece?

All-state auditions are intense. Though they are different depending on the state, most require a solo vocal piece as the first part of the audition. Some states provide a small list of 2 or 3 songs you must choose from depending on your voice part. Others have a much more extensive range of pieces you’re allowed to audition with. And some states even require you to sing multiple songs! Like we said, intense.

Though all-state auditions are for a choir, don’t be afraid to choose a piece that shows off your solo skills and vocal flexibility. Most all-state music is technically tricky, so you need to demonstrate that you have a versatile voice, while also showing off your range. Don’t worry about picking a choral sounding piece, because you will likely be asked later in the audition to sight-read a choral piece of music. However, focus on things that make a great choral singer:

  • Precise intonation (pitch)
  • Focused tone
  • Tall vowels
  • Clean, crisp consonants
  • Good pronunciation
  • Ability to blend well with other voices

So even though you might pick a solo piece, you may perform it a little differently in your all-state audition than if you were performing it for a regular solo contest. If you have a voice teacher, work closely with them on polishing up your piece.

Q: How am I supposed to know what type of vocal tone a judge is looking for?

For the most part, the only time that your tone would need to be specific is when you’re playing a character that requires it. Say you’re auditioning for Annie. Here, a sharp, brassy tone is going to be needed, because that’s what the character has always sounded like. On the other hand, if you’re auditioning for Phantom of the Opera, you’ll want to sing with a classical tone. If you’re auditioning for a musical theater role, make sure to do ample research on the show and character you want to play.

Another time tone would be important is if you were auditioning for an ensemble, whether it’s a choir or small vocal ensemble. In this case, you would need to demonstrate that you can blend well with other voices.

However, in most cases, the tone a judge wants to hear is your own! Your best tone is going to be what comes naturally to you, so don’t feel like you have to change the way you sing for an audition. Even if a judge has a specific voice type in mind, they might hear you and change their mind. Unique voices are always being discovered in auditions.

Furthermore, if you don’t get a part because of your tone, don’t take it personally. You can sleep well at night knowing that you just weren’t the right fit and it has nothing to do with your ability!

Q: What kind of piece is good to play for orchestra auditions?

Just like vocal auditions, your piece for an orchestra audition will depend a bit on the type of orchestra you’re auditioning for. If you’re playing for a very classical orchestra, make sure that you’re proving your classical chops with the piece you pick. We would recommend, however, staying away from the classical pieces that everyone knows. So if you’re a pianist and you really love Chopin, instead of playing something like his famous “Nocturne in Eb Major (Op. 9, No. 2),” maybe try a lesser-known piece, like his “Prelude No. 3 in G Major (Op. 28, No. 3)” or his “Etude in C Major (Op. 10, No. 1).”

If it’s a more contemporary orchestra, movie scores and themes are a great bridge between classical and contemporary, and can be a lot of fun! Again, avoid the really popular choices and choose a piece that will help you stand out. If you’re going to use a pop piece arranged for an instrument, make sure that it’s technically impressive and shows your ability to reach into different genres.

Another thing to consider is the place you’re auditioning for. For example, if you’re auditioning for first chair violin, it would be wise to choose a piece that shows you can play in the higher ranges with ease. In any case, you should choose a piece that highlights your strengths and shows that you’ve worked hard to master it. Play a song that you know you can perform well, but that required a good amount of practice to get you there. This will show your dedication and willingness to challenge yourself and grow as a musician.

Q: Tips for keeping good breath support through vocal auditions?

One of the worst side effects to nervousness in vocal auditions is losing your breath support. Not only do you need breath support to perform well, but it’s usually a key component in judging. Here are a few things you can do to improve your breath support when you’re nervous.

  • Do breathing exercises. 

You probably already know a few breathing exercises from practicing or private lessons. Don’t neglect to do these before an audition. Deep breathing will calm your body down and focus your breath so that you can go in feeling more supported.

  • Prepare in advance. 

If there is a particular passage where you’re typically short on breath, even in rehearsal, think about how you can sneak in a breath either before or after in anticipation of audition nerves. To avoid sounding like you’re gasping for breath, consider adding in a pause that sounds artistic, but is really meant for catching your breath. Remember, if you’re working with an accompanist, you need to mark this breath or pause in your music and communicate with them beforehand.

  • Stay technical.

Singers are specifically trained in breathing from the diaphragm, and it can be easy to throw this out the window when you’re nervous. Remember what you’ve learned and stay technical. If you try taking shallow breaths from your throat because you’re nervous, you’ll find yourself running out of breath even more and becoming exhausted.

  • Remember your posture.

Posture is probably not the first thing that comes to your mind in an audition, but bad posture can make a huge difference in your breath support. Remember to sit or stand up straight so that you have proper airflow.

Q: What is most likely to catch you off-guard in a college audition?

College music auditions typically have multiple components, so the first thing you should do is look carefully into the requirements at the school you’re auditioning for. First, you’ll likely be asked to perform a piece or two. Make sure you know what genre you’re expected to perform, but we’ll let you in on a little secret: Classical music usually scores higher with most colleges. This is because it shows knowledge of technical training, which is a significant part of any music degree.

You should also be prepared for some sight-reading, an ear training assessment, and a music theory quiz. This tends to catch many people off guard, as they think they’re going in to perform a song and leave, but these tests are significant, and you should prepare for them just as much as you’re preparing your piece. Not only are these indicators for whether or not you’ll succeed in the music department, but it will allow professors to place you in the right classes if you’re accepted.


We hope that you now have a better idea about what to expect in your next musical audition! Don’t forget to check out our Musicnotes Audition Cuts, and for more great audition tips and song recommendations, click here.

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