Performance and Audition Tips by Sharon Sparrow

February 2014

It’s that exciting time of year again filled with auditions, solo and ensemble presentations and competitions! There are many things I’ve learned in my many years of teaching, coaching, and judging events and chose these following tips to help you succeed and do your best in this exciting month!

PREPARATION is the key! I could tell you every trick in the book for the day of your performance, but nothing is as important as the many hours of preparation you MUST put in leading up to that day! Seems simple, but if you feel prepared, and I’m talking extremely prepared, then and only then can you be filled with confidence!


Now here is a hint about preparation: Practice the things you CAN’T play, not the things you CAN. If you play the opening of the Chaminade Concertino beautifully, but struggle with the Presto at the end, STOP playing the beginning! Spend your time practicing the hardest parts. Repetition and slow practice are your best friends! Do you think the ice skating champions spend their practice time skating around and around the rink? NO! They practice the triple jump OVER and OVER again! We have all heard the saying “Practice makes Perfect”, however I learned and believe in something a little different: “Perfect practice makes perfect”. You MUST practice slowly and carefully!

An important part of your preparation, and one most often skipped over, is to set up at least two “mock” performances before your event. Even if no one is available to listen, try to create an environment most alike the one you will be playing in, and perform your piece beginning to end, just as if you were at the real event. Afterward, take notes on how you felt, what were your strengths and weaknesses. Each time you do this, you come that much closer to ensuring a stress free, successful audition!

Now that you have prepared let’s talk about the day of your event. Here are some important do’s and don’t’s :

DO leave early!! Being rushed or not having time to settle in and mentally adjust before you play can only work against you. Leave a half hour earlier than you planned.

DO dress up! Anytime you play for anyone, look as professional as you can. It does make a difference!

DO check that you have everything before you leave your house! Many a student has arrived without music, accompaniment, swab, even flute!

DON’T worry if you feel nervous. Everyone gets nervous! It means that you care and that this is important to you. Embrace it! Let it be the fuel that gives you the edge to play your best!

DO bring a source of music and headphones for your warm up room. Instead of participating in the chaos of some warm up room situations, sit somewhere alone with your headphones on and favorite music playing.

DON’T play your piece in the warm up room! Play long tones, slow scales with good tone or any melodies that you may have memorized, also with your best tone. If you play through your piece and happen to make a mistake, this will really affect your confidence and upcoming performance. You KNOW IT by now! Trust your preparation!

DON’T socialize. You are here for one purpose. Until after you play/perform, keep your focus on that. You will need focus and energy, so minimize distractions. There is always plenty of time to socialize after you finish playing!

DO pack a snack and some water. Playing when extremely hungry is never optimum.

OK, right now stop reading this article and go and get a blank index card (or small piece of paper). Now write down 5 positive things about your performance! Pretend it has already happened and that it was amazing! For example: “my tone was beautiful” “I nailed all the hard runs in that” “my preparation really paid off!” “I had such a fun time playing that piece!” Now take that index card and put it in your flute case. Each time you are waiting to perform, pull out that card and read/repeat those 5 things to yourself. While you are reading, be sure you are taking nice, deep breaths. Believe that you have already played your piece and it was wonderful! Even if you are nervous (which you hopefully will be because you care!) this exercise will decrease any anxiety you have and increase your confidence!

Lastly, there are three things you need to know:

1) We, your judges, audience members, jury graders, etc, WANT YOU TO PLAY GREAT! You will be surrounded by POSITIVE ENERGY! Add your own positive energy to that and you have a recipe for success!

2) Your world does not depend on any one performance. The sun always rises the next day, the snow always falls (Michigan!), the people in your life still love you, you are still able to play the flute as well as the day before.

3) Remember that you CHOSE to play your instrument! With every performance you have the opportunity to create something unique, creative and very special, which in turns makes YOU unique, creative and special!

Best of Luck!! (but you won’t need it!)

Sharon Sparrow has been a member of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra flute section for the past 16 years, currently serving as Acting Assistant Principal Flute. She is very passionate about teaching, and teaches Flute at both Oakland University and Wayne State University, as well as coaching select students in her home in Grosse Pointe. She received her Bachelor Degree at the Juilliard School and a Master of Music at Manes College in NYC and attributes her musical successes to her wonderful teachers, Julius Baker, Thomas Nyfenger and Geoffrey Gilbert.