Procedures for High school auditions
Each student auditions for me in private. (I know of some directors who
have the student audition in front of the whole class!)
1) I first warm them up a bit to find out what the vocal range is,
general vocal quality, etc.
2) Then the student sings two major scales (ascending and descending) a
cappella on different starting pitches which I give. I do this to test
intonation and pitch-matching ability, as well as a chance to see how the
student handles register shifts.
3) Next, I have the student sing a song - everyone prepares the same
I usually pick a verse of a folk song. The main criteria is that
while the song is sung with accompaniment, the accompaniment primarily
doesn't double the voice part. I use this to test musical independence, and
having everyone sing the same song gives me an accurate comparison of one
student against another.
4) I then have the student do some sight reading - nothing too
difficult, just skips within the major triad and stepwise motion.
5) Aural recall - I play a series of three note patterns to test pitch
hearing and matching.
6) Last, the student sings a song of his/her choice, any style. I do
this so that the student can sing something with which he/she is
comfortable. Frequently I get information on how the student perceives
I give a score (out of ten) for each of the following: scales,
aural recall, solo everyone sings, sight reading, student's solo of choice,
tone quality, intonation, attendance, and attitude/behavior. (For the last
two, if I haven't had this student in class before, I ask for a current
teacher of the student who could be used as a reference.)
I have a callback audition for my top choir based on the first set
of scores. Each student sings his/her part of an SATB piece (usually jazz)
with singers in the current group (but graduating seniors, so there is no
competition) singing the other three parts. For this audition, students are
rated on part accuracy, rhythm accuracy, tone quality, projection,
intonation, blend, stage presence, and again attendance/behavior. This
score is added onto the score from the first round of auditions. In
addition, for the callback I use a panel of judges comprised of myself, the
band teacher, the orchestra teacher, and an administrator.
The practicality of this may be determined by how many students you have,
but I found it very helpful when I videotaped the auditions, since the first
auditions were always a little "foggy" in my mind by the time I got to the
I did what I thought was a pretty standard audition: They sing one prepared
piece (or "My Country 'Tis of Thee" if they didn't have one), then I give
them a few aural recall and sightsinging exercises. I know some people have
them sing a major scale a cappella to see if their tonality stays true (in
other words, do they end in the same key in which they started?).
I audition every student every year privately. I also do a callback audition
for my advanced Concert Choir and Cahmber Singers.
Private Audition - consists of a five minute audition in a practice room.
* They sing a song of their choice, a cappella.
* I check there range. Usually with a solphege scale.
* I ask them some musicianship questions.
* They sight read an example I have written.
I score each item then add them together for a composite score.
This gives me a rather objective look at how they rank within my program.
Callback Audition - is a public audition. I find it educational to
require many students to perform in front of others. This is for anyone
interested in Concert Choir or Chamber Singers. It works like this.
* Everyone gathers in my room.
* I invite graduating students to listen if they want.
* I also invite my accompanist and other adults if I want.
* I teach an SATB, one page, rather easy song. Usually homophonic.
* We go through it several times and work on each part individually
until they have it pretty well.
* It is run just like a choir rehearsal for 15-20 minutes.
* Then I have the first row of Sopranos stand. Each singer sings their
line, in front of everyone, a cappella.
* They only have one chance at it. Usually, the first person to go in
each section gets a second chance.
* Every section is done this way until all have sung.
* Sometimes I ask individuals to sing again but not usually.
>From this I learn who can learn something and retain it. I also learn who
can stand and sing with confidence. In my CC and CS they need to be able to
I used to also have them sing in quartets. I have about 100 kids in the room
auditioning at once so have elimited the quartet test but you may want to
try it depending on your numbers and their skills.
I think auditions are important. I like doing them. If you have further
questions or would like sight singing examples. Don't hesitate to write
I have done after school auditions each year and have required sight reading
and group singing to voice match. This year it has seemed to work pretty
well. But I think next year I will require more in class and go by what they
do in class. I also take into account their behavior and attitude in class.
Why should I put students who are uncooperative in the top group with whom I
spend so much time? It doesn't take much time for the kids to get the
In the case of an advanced school choir, in the past I have auditioned from
a full group that accepts everyone.
We do a short vocalization, have 1 prepared piece (that they prepare on
their own with a peer accompanist, even if it is a section from a piece
we've done in choir) and then work on SHORT & SIMPLE sight-reading. The
sight-reading was never required by me but it did give me a sense of their
level. I never required sight-reading unless we had worked on the skills
some in chorus.
Usually by the time I have had a student for 2 years, I pretty much knew
what they could & couldn't do. The only questions in auditioning out of a
large group was their ability to work in a small group, too shy or too
arrogant; will the voice quality blend; do they have the availability??
Also, are they motivated and organized enough to pull together an audition?
Most really gifted folks aren't organized unless we force them to learn
it... that is always the fun part-helping them grow!!
First, all students, old and new must audition. Do a vocal range check-they
do change, even the girls.
THey all sing "My Country Tis of Thee" a cappella. They may do a prepared
solo, but it takes longer that way. Then, I make them do some simple
sight-singing. Nothing they haven't done-all stepwise. Solfege is
preferable, but some don't know it. That's it-takes about 3 minutes each.
You could have call-backs for group singing-for blend and balance-the next
My experience has been at the college and community levels, not high school,
but a few thoughts may be helpful. First, you have to decide whether
everyone has to re-audition every year or not. There's much positive in
having a "dead-man's-shoes" policy (nobody new gets in until somebody
dies-graduates-and leaves an opening), but that might not appeal to your
desire to use only the best voices. Questions of seniority can be very
important to students, probably more so at the high school level than the
college level. You're entitled to chart your own course, but make sure they
know exactly what it is.
Second, you have to decide whether you will leave openings so that transfer
students who aren't at your school this spring have an opportunity to be
heard, or whether you will make them sit out a year. If it's someone good,
and they transfer in as a senior, you lose their potential and they lose the
opportunity to sing. I had a Freshman student this year who got caught in
that Catch 22 in high school last year, and kind of resented it.
And of course there's always the question of finding the best voices AND the
best balance among sections for each ensemble you're directing. And if you
do show choir or other staged or choreographed work, whether you need to be
able to work in couples.
In my case, I auditioned for a very good, very demanding college touring
show ensemble. Cast members did not have to re-audition, but I had the
option of replacing anyone who had not contributed as they should have. In
a few cases when I had to do that, the student moved to one of our other
staffs (Showband, Technical, Wardrobe or Public Relations). In other cases
I had a student from one of the other staffs audition for the Cast and make
it! Seniority counted, not so much in making musical or choreographic
decisions but in terms of self-governance. In fact one thing I paid close
attention to was creating chances for Rookies and younger Cast members to
stretch their wings. Being a senior didn't get you solos. Being a senior
who'd worked hard and learned to audition strongly did!
My auditions began in the spring, but continued through the summer until the
end of the Summer Orientation program for incoming students. Thus I was
able to consider late auditioners as long as they were interested enough to
track me down and arrange an audition.
As a show group we did work in couples most of the time, so I always had a
balance between men and women. Actually I settled, after some
experimentation, on a Cast of 22--11 couples and 11 mic stands on the
set-and it worked very well for me. And along with the music I sent out
before our Preschool Workshop I sent a chart detailing what part each singer
would sing if their part divided into 2, 3, or 4 parts.
What did I look and listen for in auditions? This isn't what you would
necessarily look for, but in a way you will be preparing your students to
audition successfully at the college level, so it might be of interest.
1. Voice quality. But that's more complex than it appears. I needed
22 singers whose voices would blend and balance, but I also need individuals
capable of soloing or of developing into soloists. And among those soloists
I needed singers good enough to do Country, Rock, Broadway, Legit, and other
2. Musicianship and reading/learning ability. I developed a very quick
method of seeing NOT how well someone could sightread, but how well they
could learn and retain a harmony part. I didn't care whether they did it by
sightreading, by ear, or by prayer and fasting, just how well they could do
it. And other things being equal, good musicianship is better than poor
3. Several things that were checked off as either acceptable or not
acceptable: pitch accuracy; rhythmic accuracy; vibrato (none, too much,
just right, controlable).
4. Vocal range, both useable and extreme.
5. Personality and attitude. VERY important in the kind of group I
Self-confidence is great. Cockiness is a turnoff (although a few
abrasive Rookies got sat on by other Cast members over the years and caught
on real fast!).
6. Stage presence. Musicianship is how you sell a song. Stage
presence is how you sell yourself. I've had singers who in class were very
plain and unnoticeable, but who had an almost electric quality that made
them bigger than life on stage. It's a rare and precious gift.
7. My choreographer was concerned with several things: body build and
weight (important for dancers); dance ability (whether trained or natural);
gracefulness of movement (if not a trained dancer); gay manerisms for a man
(we didn't care a bit about sexual orientation, but did care about
appearance). The finest high tenor I ever auditioned (actually a natural
countertenor who didn't use falsetto) didn't make the Cast because he was 6'
4", 300 pounds, and moved like a water buffalo! (But I found other ways to
use his enormous talent!) On the other hand a fabulous ballroom dancer
didn't make the Cast either because it would have been impossible for him to
blend with the other dancers.
There were probably a few other boxes on our audition form, but that
should give you a general idea. EVERY COLLEGE ENSEMBLE will be different.
Some will give more weight to dance ability, some less, some none at all.
Some will be concerned with diversity (we were), and others will not. Some
have their repertoire picked a year in advance, and audition for people to
fill prescribed roles. I waited and picked repertoire to show my people off
to their best advantage.
So what was I preparing them for? I likened our program to a
college athletic program. Maybe 2-7% of my students would have both the
ability and the desire to move on to entry-level professional entertainment,
and for them I had to provide the absolutely best pre-professional training
and experience possible. For everyone else, it had to be a rewarding,
enjoyable, and positive college experience. We did send quite a few of our
people out into the professional world, and that includes Cast members,
Showband members, Technical Staff members, Public Relations Staff members,
and Wardrobe Staff members.
This is WAY more than you wanted or needed and certainly doesn't
belong in a compilation, but perhaps something in there will turn out to be
useful. Congratulations on succesfully finishing our first year of
teaching. It's a great profession if you don't care about getting rich!
Here is an easy, non-threatening audition:
1. vocalize for range (tell them to stop before it gets too high)
2. test for tonal memory: one at a time play three four-note melodies
(progressively more challenging in terms of intervals and tonal center), and
have them sing each one back to you after one hearing
3. test for pleasantness of the voice: pick a key center in the middle
of their range and ask them to sing "My Country 'Tis of Thee" to check for
tuning, stability of tonal center, and pleasantness
Check out the requirements from your local All-State. If it's good for
All-State, it should work for you. Our state requires soloists to sing
America (My Country Tis of Thee) for pitch retention, sight-singing a few
exercises, plus preparing the particular selection for that year and the
student needs to sing their vocal part with an accompaniment tape/cd. I use
this and it works. Prepare a rubric and use it during the audition process.
Thanks to all who responded. I appreciate you input and willingness to
share your thoughts.
Daryl L. Timmer
Director of Choral Activities
Woodbury High School
2665 Woodlane Drive
Woodbury, MN 55125