Preparing for Clarinet Auditions
Clarinet auditions can be a scary and stressful time, especially if it's your first one. As intimidating as they are, clarinet auditions should also be an exciting and rewarding moment. It's the time for you to show off your talent and to perform the music you have been working very hard on.
Before my first clarinet audition for the Wisconsin State Music Association Honor Band, I was beyond nervous and very stressed out. At the time, I was in seventh grade and I had never played in front of a judge. I didn't even like playing in front of my parents! Thankfully, my seventh-grade band director and my private lesson teacher prepared me very well for the audition. They talked me through all of the components that were required for the audition and made sure I had all of the materials I needed. They also provided me with practice and preparation tips.
This article will discuss the common components of a clarinet audition. This article will also highlight tips that will prepare your mind and body for clarinet auditions.
Components of the Audition
Scales will be a component of every clarinet audition. Scales are the building blocks of every piece of music. Understanding the major, minor, and chromatic scales will help you understand basic music theory, as well as how a piece of music is constructed. Clarinet scales are important fundamental exercises that will improve your clarinet playing.
The audition will include major scales, minor scales, and chromatic scales. The amount of major and minor scales required for the audition will be determined by the group or school that you are auditioning for. Similarly, the tempo that the scales should be played at will be determined by those who you are auditioning for.
Scales should be a part of every clarinetist's daily warm-up routine. However, if you're like me, you get bored with practicing scales every day and avoid practicing them. To ease yourself back into practicing scales for a clarinet audition, avoid trying to practice all of the scales every day. This will cause you to become overwhelmed and stressed.
Instead, what I like to do is to write down every major and minor scale on a flashcard; I use index cards. I color-code each scale and separate them into piles. For example, my major scales would be yellow and my harmonic minor scales would be red. Once that process is done, pick a few scales from each pile and only practice those scales for that day. This will help you focus and not feel as overwhelmed.
Furthermore, practice these scales at a slow tempo. Practicing scales at a slow tempo will allow you to think about the sound, pacing, and fingering of each note. If the scale is too fast, you're more likely to mess up and rush the scale.
Remember that scales are also pieces of music. Scales should be played as beautifully as a piece of music which means there should be a sense of push and pull, consistent pacing, a good tone, accurate intonation, and a beautiful sound.
When playing scales for an audition, the judges aren't solely looking for correct notes. They will also be listening for intonation accuracy, tone quality, sound quality, and musicality.
Many excellent clarinet scale books will also help you prepare for the scales portion of a clarinet audition. Here are a few of my favorite scale books:
The excerpt portion of the clarinet audition is where you get to show off your lyrical and technical skills. The excerpt requirements will differ depending on which group or school you are auditioning for. However, the generic rule of thumb is to play an excerpt that will highlight your lyrical technique and an excerpt that will highlight your technical technique.
Depending on the requirements, the excerpts can come from etude books or clarinet solos.
Lyrical excerpts provide the clarinetist with the opportunity to showcase their lyrical technique. The techniques that I focus on while practicing and performing my lyrical excerpts are phrasing, sensation, intonation, dynamics, and character/mood.
When listening to slow, lyrical pieces of music, you can hear more phrasing and push/pull sensations. This technique is what catches the listener's ear and makes them move with the music. It gives the music a sense of direction.
Intonation is a very important technique in both lyrical and technical pieces of music. Intonation tends to be more exposed in lyrical pieces, so you must have accurate intonation when playing lyrical pieces.
Dynamics is an important technique for both lyrical and technical pieces. Dynamics aid in making the sensations and phrasing more dramatic. Dynamics also help display the character and the mood of the piece.
Technical excerpts provide the clarinetist with the opportunity to showcase their technical technique. The techniques that I focus on while practicing and performing are fingering fluency, articulation clarity, dynamics, phrasing, and sensation.
Technical excerpts tend to have passages that require challenging fingerings. It is important to have good finger coordination and dexterity. A good way to practice finger coordination and dexterity is to practice exercises from methods of books. Many methods books have a technical section that focuses on strengthening muscle memory, finger coordination, and finger dexterity.
Think of technical exercises as HIIT workouts for our fingers. HIIT workouts are short, but intense workouts for our bodies. Overtime, HIIT workouts strengthen our muscles. Technical exercises for the fingers act the same. They are short, but intense exercises for our fingers. If we practice our technical exercises every day, the muscle memory in our fingers gradually improves every day. Furthermore, our fingers become more flexible and agile. The more you practice technical exercises every day, the easier those technical passages in solos will be.
It's easy to pin our focus on playing all the right notes, rhythms, and articulations when playing technical music. However, technical music should also have a sense of push and pull and distinct changes in dynamics. To better understand the sensation of the technical passages, play them at a slower tempo as if they were a lyrical piece. Once you have a good understanding of its sense of direction, gradually increase the tempo.
Solos for Auditions
Below are clarinet solos and concertos that I have either played or listened to that are great for a clarinet audition.
- Brahms Clarinet Sonata No.1
- Brahms Clarinet Sonata No. 2
- Camille Saint Saëns Clarinet Sonata Op. 167
- Weber Concertino in E-Flat
- Copland - Clarinet Concerto
- Five Bagatelles by Finzi
- Sonata for Clarinet and Piano by Poulenc
- Mozart Clarinet Concerto
- Clarinet Concerto No.3 by Stamitz
Sightreading is usually the last component of the audition. Sightreading tests your ability to read and play the music you have never seen before by using your knowledge of fundamentals and music theory. The fundamentals are knowing the key signature and time signature and understanding the rhythms, articulations, accidentals, dynamics, and maintaining a steady pulse.
Sightreading will never be perfect. Since you are seeing the music for the first time, it will be hard to play everything on the page perfectly. However, if you have a solid understanding of the fundamentals, you will be able to play the excerpt to your best potential.
The best way to practice sightreading is to practice it every day. The more you practice sightreading, the more patterns you will be able to see. Pick etudes that you have not played before and mark off about 20 measures. Then, set a timer for one minute and look over the music. Look at the time and key signature and look for tough rhythms, accidentals, dynamics, and anything else that may be tricky. Once the timer is up, start a recording device and begin playing through the excerpt without stopping. After you've played it through, listen to the recording and follow along in the music. Take notes on things that went well and things that you could have done better on. These notes will help you with the next sightreading excerpt.
The most important thing to do when sightreading during an audition is to keep going, no matter what happens. If you happen to mess up, keep going. When you show the judges that mistakes don't stop you from playing, they will be impressed.
Preparing for the Audition
Meeting the Requirements
You must triple check all of the requirements for the audition. Make sure you have a pianist if one is required. Make sure you have all of the prepared music needed for the audition and their original scores if needed. Check to see if there are any audition forms you need to fill out before your audition.
You must plan. Research how long it will take to get to your audition site, add in warm-up time, and plan to leave at a specific time. If you are unfamiliar with the site, add in time to find your audition room so you aren't in a rush trying to find the room before your audition. If you have a pianist, coordinate a meeting spot with them.
Have at least one dress rehearsal before your audition. Dress in the outfit you plan to wear for the audition, including the shoes, so you can get comfortable with playing in a nice outfit. Most auditions have you introduce yourself and introduce your piece. Practice what you're going to say for the introductions so you aren't searching for the right words on audition day. The dress rehearsal is a rehearsal and not a practice session. Play through everything as if it were the audition which means no going back or stopping.
Sleep is extremely important before an audition. Sleep helps you feel energized and helps you think more clearly. If you go into an audition tired, you are less likely to perform at your best. I recommend developing a regular sleep cycle a few weeks before your audition so your body gets used to going to bed early and waking up early.
If you're like me and have trouble sleeping before the big day, here are some suggestions. First, stay off of your electronics as much as you can. The blue light that radiates off of the electronics tricks your brain into thinking it needs to be awake and alert. However, I like listening to music as a way to calm me down. So, I recommend turning on the night-shift mode which decreases the level of blue light.
There are also a variety of healthy sleep drinks that help relax your body, making it easier for the body to fall asleep. Some examples are chamomile tea, peppermint tea, almond milk-banana smoothie, and warm milk.
Lastly, I like to meditate or do yoga before I go to bed, especially the nights leading up to an audition. This helps me release any tension or stress that is built up in my body.
Eat Healthy and Drink Water
Your brain and your body will thank you for eating healthy the days leading up to your audition. Eating healthy gives you energy, positively affects your mood, increases focus and maintains your immune system. Staying hydrated is also very important. Hydration improves sleep quality, cognition, and mood. Staying hydrated also allows your organs to function properly.
Clarinet warm-ups are essential for a successful audition. If you watch an athlete before a big game or race, you’ll see them passing the football to their teammates, running a few laps around the track, practicing their free throws, or stretching their arms and legs. They are warming up their muscles to prevent injuries. They are also getting into the right headspace so they can perform at their best.
Warm-ups for clarinetists prepare a variety of different muscles: the clarinet embouchure, the oral cavity, the tongue, the diaphragm, and the fingers. If these muscles aren’t warmed up properly, injuries are more likely to happen. Having cold muscles before an audition will cause you to not perform at your best potential. Your diaphragm won't be prepared for extensive air support Furthermore, if you don't warm up before the audition, your clarinet will be quite cold and will play out of tune.
Your first clarinet audition can feel very scary and stressful. If you've prepared well by doing all of the things stated above and you've practiced diligently every day, you are more than ready to dominate this clarinet audition!
Remember that no matter what happens in the audition, you're still a great musician. After my auditions, I always think about the things that went wrong. Maybe I messed up on a scale, I missed some notes in the technical section, or I was out of tune at some point in the solo. I focus so hard on the things I did wrong in my audition that I forget to think of all the good things that happened. While it is good to recognize and learn from these mistakes, don't let your mistakes define you. There is no such thing as a perfect audition.