ArticlesFeaturedIssuesJuly 2023

The College Audition Process

by Dr. Julie Stone, Professor of Flute, Eastern Michigan University

Julie Stone is Professor of Flute at Eastern Michigan University. She was a winner of the National Flute Association Professional Performers Competition, a featured performer in the International College Music Society Conference in Berlin, Germany, and has recorded for the Albany, Crystal, and ACA Digital labels. She is the author of the award-winning book Notes on the Flute and is the composer of several flute ensemble pieces.


In today’s world there are numerous and diverse careers for the musician. The industry, while maintaining traditional routes, has also changed with varied career options. When considering music as a career, however, one will generally start with an undergraduate degree in some form of music whether it be performance, education, music therapy, music business, music technology, general music, plus more. There are several factors that must go into selecting a college if you wish to become a professional musician or if you want to study music as a minor or non-major (employers like to hire those with musical backgrounds).  This selection is a highly personal matter and it is a good idea to prepare early for the decisions you will need to make.



  • PREPARATION is key to any successful audition!
  • Try to find a good flute instructor to help you prepare. If finances are a problem, be diligent in your self-study by watching online tutorials and gathering as much information as possible. You can definitely learn all of your scales on your own so begin with that! It is not a deal breaker if you do not have a private instructor although a private instructor can be invaluable.
  • In the years leading up to a college audition, try to enter solo and ensemble/competitions, attend summer programs/festivals, join a local flute club, audition for local youth symphonies/bands, attend open master classes, etc. to give you experience and build your résumé.
  • Keep a good résumé and repertoire list on hand so that you can add to it as you add more items.
  • Keep a good head shot so that it is ready to go for any application.
  • A note about academics: There are several options in high school to obtain college credit and to boost your academics for an application including dual enrollment, AP courses, International Baccalaureate, CLEP (College Level Examination Program), etc. It really depends on the colleges to which you are applying as to the importance/use of these types of options for college credit and acceptance. Some of these options can be very labor intensive so weigh the importance of the options at particular universities/conservatories vs. your time/stress level during your high school years and how they affect your college applications. AP Theory in particular can be a good idea but realize that the particular college you attend may or may not accept the score for college credit. You may or may not have to take a theory placement exam when you start your freshman year. There is not one correct answer for these.

Choosing a College, University, or Conservatory

  • Most importantly, make a list of potential teachers with whom you would like to study.  If you do not know of any, ask the advice of your current flute instructor, professional musicians, band directors, and any other musicians you may know.
  • Decide if you would prefer a college, university, or conservatory situation.
  • Always apply to several colleges/conservatories so that you may have back-ups in the case that you first choice does not come through. Have a list of “Reach” (highly selective), “Fit” (can most likely be accepted), and “Safety” (no audition or smaller less selective) schools. Keep in mind that if you attend any of these options, you will have good instruction and can become a successful musician. The time spent in school is what you make of it.
  • Learn all you can about the particular college, university, or conservatory where the teachers of your choice teach. Research the music school for information. Especially research about tuition costs and what you can afford, scholarship/assistantship availability, and degree curriculum. What kind of degree programs do they offer? 
  • Apply for any scholarships for which you qualify. Generally, many music scholarships go to needed instruments such as oboe, bassoon, viola, etc. so make sure you apply for music and academic scholarships.
  • Make an informed choice by looking at websites, social media, online presence of the teacher and flute studio. What are their alums doing? What are the current students doing outside of the university? Do the students enter competitions? Ask yourself if this is the right fit for you.
  • Make direct contact with the particular teacher(s) and try to schedule a trial lesson in person or virtually. This should probably be the spring before the year you will be auditioning but it can be in the fall as well.  This will enable you both to see how you work together. This does not commit you to scheduling an audition for that particular school if it is not the right fit.
  • Remember that this lesson is designed for the teacher to see how you work together and for YOU to see how you work together. The interview goes both ways!
  • Have some questions for the teacher regarding scholarships, performance opportunities, curriculum, degrees offered, success of graduates, current student activities, study abroad, extra help with recording for competitions, facilities, size of studio, etc.
  • Make sure to ask how much the teacher will charge for this lesson. Many teachers do this as a part of their job for free, and some will charge. (Try to get Venmo, Paypal, etc. to make this easier)
  • It is a good idea to write a handwritten thank you note to the teacher after the lesson.

Audition Research/Repertoire

  • Find out everything you can about the auditions at each school. The audition process varies from place to place so be sure to know exactly what will be expected of you. 
  • Some bigger, more competitive schools require a prescreen audition by video to get a live audition (either virtual or in person). This requires recording techniques found in the section on recorded auditions. Some schools do not require this but apply early and audition early to make sure you qualify for any scholarships.
  • Generally, for a performance degree, the committee will expect an entering freshman to play some combination (but not all) of a Bach Sonata or other baroque piece; a piece such as Hindemith Sonata; a French piece such as those by Faure, Enesco, Chaminade, or Gaubert; a movement of a Mozart Concerto, and perhaps orchestral excerpts.  Scales and sight reading may also be required. For other majors such as music education, music therapy, Bachelor of Arts in Music etc. the requirements will most probably be fewer pieces. For graduate school, a major sonata, major concerto, Bach sonata, and a contemporary technique piece plus excerpts are most often required.
  • If you have the option of a live, recorded, or virtual live audition, choose the live audition. 


  • Apply early so that you can focus on what is important.
  • Take the SAT or ACT early so that it is completed in a timely fashion. Some schools do not require these any longer, so make sure you are informed before you select which test to take or none at all.
  • As mentioned above, some schools now require prescreen auditions to obtain an audition. If this is required, make the prescreens well in advance so that you can record again if you wish.
  • Do not wait until the last minute submit the application so that any technical glitches can be avoided.
  • Request letters of recommendation from trusted teachers and others who you feel will write a good letter. Ask them well in advance and follow up nicely if necessary as teachers often need a nudge to complete the letter.
  • Research any applications for scholarships at the school or in general and apply for those.
  • Most high schools have some sort of assignment about an application essay so use that to your full advantage. If you have not written an essay, begin early so that it is one less thing you have to do.
  • Keep a spreadsheet of all application requirements, audition days, deadlines, etc.
  • After the audition either live or virtual, write thank you notes to the prospective teacher and pianist if applicable.


  • Know your strengths and weaknesses and plan your audition pieces toward your strengths if you have a choice of repertoire. Pick contrasting styles and pieces that you play well.
  • RECORD, RECORD, RECORD your practice sessions, audition pieces, etc. to listen objectively to your audition material and areas of your playing that need attention.
  • Use your metronome in practice so that a good sense of pulse is conveyed in your performance. Use a tuner so that your pitch will be accurate.
  • Play pieces for friends, studio class (if in a studio or college program) etc. and ask them to provide you with written comments. Always perform your pieces before using them in an audition situation; practice the audition. Set up a mock audition situation so that you will be prepared.
  • Live audition vs. virtual: If you have the option of a live, recorded, or virtual audition or performance, always choose the live audition or performance if at all possible. If you have to travel, chances are that it will be more expensive, but it is likely to be more successful in the long run. 


  • If audition is live make sure to travel the day before if you are flying or driving a long distance, so that any travel problems will not affect the audition. If driving only a short distance, leave early the day of your audition so that you arrive and hour or two before your audition time.
  • If you have to stay overnight, reserve a hotel with complimentary breakfast to minimize effort on audition day.
  • Know what is expected of you so there will be no surprises.
  • If a collaborator (accompanist) is required, rehearse with your pianist or the one that is provided very carefully. If using a provided pianist, rehearsal time will be at a minimum so pick pieces that require less ensemble rehearsal time (those with consistent rhythmic pulse such as Mozart, Bach, Liebermann, Taktakishvili, etc).
  • Try to find out what kind of hall or room you will be playing in and what kind of acoustics it has.
  • Wear nice clothes (no jeans, sweats, etc.) that are nice that allow deep breathing. Try to avoid high heels as this can affect correct breathing.
  • Always get enough sleep before your audition. Try to avoid caffeine (enhances nerves but include caffeine if you are used to it), and salty foods (can give you dry mouth); do not eat too much and eat the right foods such as pasta, bananas, etc. for energy.
  • If you get dry mouth you can gently bite your tongue to produce saliva. If your lip plate gets slippery, you can apply a postage stamp to the solid part of the lip plate that meets your chin.
  • The day of the audition, make sure to have a good long tone warm-up and slow scale warm-up so that your fingers are relaxed; try to avoid playing pieces up to tempo to avoid tension. 
  • Be early to your audition!
  • They will most likely let you start with a piece of your choice then they will pick after that. Pick your strongest piece and stay away from Bach or Mozart for your first piece if you have a choice because those are subject to interpretation.
  • If using a piano, do not turn your back to the audience when tuning.
  • If you are asked to sight read, concentrate on the rhythm and pulse and keep going.
  • Remember to concentrate on making music. Try to convey to the panel what the composer intended in the music. 
  • Do not grimace at mistakes.
  • Take time between pieces. Generally, the committee is assessing what they just heard and is not wanting you to rush into the next piece.
  • Breathe! Take in some deep breaths throughout the day and before you audition to ensure good blood flow. This will also aid in relaxation. Always focus on deep breathing through the nose because this is usually the first thing to suffer when you are nervous. This can also slow the heartbeat that becomes elevated with nerves.
  • Remember that the panel WANTS you to succeed! 
  • Not only are you auditioning for the school, they are auditioning for you in a way so be prepared with thoughtful questions such as scholarship availability, performance availability, summer opportunities, study abroad, current and alum student activities, etc.
  • It is important to realize that some audition committees are straight faced and give no indication of their opinion of your audition so do not let this throw your confidence level. It is normal! Some panels do show some reaction and the reaction does not always equal the outcome so just be prepared for anything.


If the audition or performance is only by recording, here are a few suggestions to ensure a successful recording. Many schools also require a pre-screen recording so good recording technique is part of the audition process even if you plan to audition in person. The best teacher in this situation is trial and error so practice making recordings to get the best quality. Many platforms also have a virtual option and many of these suggestions apply for virtual auditions as well. Also consult the above tips for live auditions for other pointers.

Video Quality and Equipment

  • Make sure if it is video OR audio.
  • If at all possible, hire a professional recording engineer to make the audition recording or live virtual audition. If you are short on funds, borrow or rent good equipment, gather lots of advice from someone with experience with recording flute, and use the highest quality material.
  • Invest in a good microphone. Purchase a condenser mic as opposed to a dynamic mic. You can watch youtube videos comparing mic sound and make your own choices. Current suggestions include:

Shure MV88+ Lightning Port Mic for iphone (excellent quality and video)

Zoom Q2n or Q8n-4K  (excellent audio; good video)

  • Use good recording software and learn how to edit videos together if permitted.
  • If live virtual, make sure the wifi is excellent and the mic and internet connection convey the best sound. 

Recording Preparation

  • Make sure you know what is expected of you on the recording/performance and what order. 
  • Submit well ahead of deadline to give you peace of mind.
  • Always put your best piece first if you have a choice. Committees listen to many recordings/performances and you need to catch their attention in the beginning. Do not put anything such as Bach first because it is controversial as far as interpretation. Always put something that shows off your sound first because that is your signature.
  • Get a page turner if collaborative pianist needs one.
  • Make sure the piano is in tune and you are in tune with piano. Pitch problems will most certainly keep you from coming out on top.
  • Make a practice recording/performance, even if it is just on your phone or ipad so you can hear yourself and see yourself before you record the actual audition. This will also allow you time to get comfortable with recording yourself or performing for a virtual platform. Start this well before the recording/performance date. Review the recording and look for these things: background, lighting, sound quality, video quality, background noise, etc.

The Scene and Useful Tips

  • Wear clothes that are comfortable, dark, solid color (so there won’t be any distractions), and business casual attire (no jeans, shorts, revealing clothes). 
  • Find a solid background without clutter. Having your bed, closet, dresser, stuffed animals, etc. is not professional and is distracting.
  • Have light in front of you and not behind because it gives a silhouette. Do not stand in front of a window. Sample video scenes show the difference.
  • The scene should include the piano if using piano.
  • Record/perform in a recital hall or room with good acoustics. Acoustics are a major quality factor. Always find a quiet place without outside noise or traffic. If HVAC is loud, try to turn off.
  • The scene is best full body shot but at least from knees up. If using piano, use full body.
  • Film landscape mode rather than portrait.
  • Put "Do not disturb – recording/performance in progress" signs on the outside doors.
  • If recording/performing at home, ask if family members can be ‘offline’ while you record/perform for better quality and less likelihood that the wifi will go out during your recording.

Physical and Technical  

  • Do not look at the camera while you are playing. It conveys that you are more concerned about the recording/performance than making music. This goes for in person auditions as well. Do not look at the judges.
  • Put your music stand high enough but low enough that we can see you. If the camera is at a good height this will not be a problem, but if the camera is too low you will be looking down while playing which adversely affects your performance. 
  • Make sure your face and your instrument are visible 
  • Stand up.
  • Look confident.
  • State your name and any other information such as       

      the piece(s) you will be playing. This is called “slating”. 

  • Most good recording apps or equipment will have a mic gain selection which is the level and sensitivity. Do many tests and set the gain as high as possible without bleed or feedback in the sound. To do this, play your loudest and highest note and listen to the test. Make sure the needle or indicator is not in the red or bleed section. Conduct tests to see where the best placement will be. Usually, you will want the mic just above where your head is and about 6 feet away.
  • Take time between pieces if the audition is in one take in a recording or you are performing live. Generally, the committee is assessing what they just heard and is not wanting you to rush into the next piece.
  • Record several takes of every piece so that you may pick the best performance. Announce each take of the same piece as Take 1, Take 2 etc. and keep a record of which you like. You can edit this out later.

The Virtual Live Audition

  • See section on THE LIVE AUDITION.
  • Practice the hardware and software for the audition with a teacher or family member so that it is in good working order. Practice the virtual live audition so you will be prepared.
  • Make sure to have good wifi

The Virtual Recorded Audition

  • If posting a recording online, learn available software and apps and/or platforms to distribute. Youtube unlisted is the main option.
  • If editing a recording is allowed, learn how to edit with your app if you feel comfortable, or hire it done professionally if you need editing in the middle of a piece. Most performances will work best with a clean non-edited performance. With current software it is easy to edit out the beginning and ending of a performance so that it does not show you turning on and off the recording or any other distractions. This type of editing is fine for auditions that indicate no editing.


Some schools have what is called rolling enrollment so you might know that day of your audition or soon after, the results of your audition. Some schools wait until they hear everyone audition so it is sometimes months before you hear any results. If the latter is the case just fill your time with other activities and be proud you put yourself out there. During this time, it is a good idea to write a handwritten thank you note for hearing your audition addressed to the teacher and the entire audition panel. Whatever the result of your auditions, please know that it is frequently not a determination of your potential or of your talent. Many things go into these results and you will probably never know the reasons why some decisions are made. It is important to know that you will end up where you are meant to be and that you can make the best of any situation. By doing good research on teachers before the audition cycle, you will end up at a school where you have a good teacher for you and that is the most important aspect. The name of the school is not always the best indicator of success. If your number 1, 2, or even 3 pick does not come through, you will be disappointed, but know that you can have a great experience wherever you are. Have a good attitude and be receptive to everything.



Leave a Reply

You have free article(s) remaining. Subscribe for unlimited access.