For better or worse, admission to college, graduate schools, and employment in most full- and part-time ensembles rely on your performance in auditions. Consequently, it is worth spending some of your time considering how you can improve your audition-taking skills. Taking auditions is a unique skill that should be considered separate, in some ways, from the skills you require to play your instrument. While it’s true that you cannot audition well if you don’t play your instrument well, it is also true that you can play your instrument very well, but audition poorly. It is sort of akin to taking a standardized test in a high pressure, timed environment. Some students feel that their results on standardized tests do not accurately represent their intelligence or their education, while other students excel at these exams, and have no complaints. Below are 3 suggestions for improving your ability to take and excel in audition situations.
A former teacher of mine used to say that an out of tune note, even played in the right place at the right time, is still a wrong note. Not only do you have to be able to recognize the difference between in- and out-of-tune, but you also have to be a skilled-enough technician on your instrument to be able to bend the pitch to your will. The first question you should be asking yourself is, "what does it mean to be in tune," and the second, "how do I play in tune?"
As a young teacher, I had to make decisions about what to teach my students, and why. I decided that articulation was one significant area of the clarinet in which my students desperately needed more daily practice, but that the the exercises that I was encouraging them to practice simply did not exist in one single method book. I tired quickly of asking students to buy multiple books, switch frequently between them, and remembering in which pages from what books every exercise I was looking for resided. So, I wrote my own. The following pages I included in the section in my book on the subject of articulation. The following exercises are meant to help you practice achieving light and clean articulation. First and foremost you must blow enough air through the instrument, otherwise all you will hear is a percussive sound of the tongue hitting the reed. This is why it is important to practice slurring notes that are meant to be separated. Your air must be actively moving forward through the instrument at all times. The sensation will be similar to that of making a crescendo. Practice these exercises in at least one key every day. Choose a tempo at which you can articulate cleanly in sixteenth notes.
What is voicing, and why do we need to know about it? Voicing refers to way in which we shape our tongues on the inside of our mouth when we play the clarinet. If practiced daily, these exercises will help you improve your tone quality, intonation, articulation, and eliminate unwanted noises, like chirps, grunts, and scoops.
My college professor, James Campbell, used to ask his students "How does the clarinet work?" New students unfamiliar with this question would pause for a moment, formulating in their minds the best way to explain the complicated mechanics of their instrument. Those of us who had regular lessons with Mr. Campbell knew, however, that he was looking for the most obvious answer: "Air." His point was simple, but its implications monumental. Without air, nothing else on the clarinet works!