Musical theatre audition tips part 2: music advice

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Following up our audition tips part 1, which covered general professionalism in auditions, today we're moving on to part 2 which will focus on the musical aspect of your audition: song choices, vocal technique, and working with accompanists.

Music advice: showing off your best singing abilities

It all starts with a great audition book. If you haven't created your audition book yet, now's the time to start - none of the rest of the advice on this post will matter if you don't have a great book, which will include a core set of 8-10 songs that you have studied, mastered and memorized, and can have them performance ready at any time, especially since casting directors often ask for a 2nd selection unexpectedly. To create your book, start by considering a large pool of songs carefully chosen based on your look and general character type, your vocal range, and the types of songs you really like and resonate with. From that pool, you'll narrow it down to 1-2 songs per category so that your book includes 1-2 contemporary upbeat, 1-2 contemporary ballad, 1-2 classic upbeat, 1-2 classic ballad, 1-2 jazz upbeat, 1-2 jazz ballad, 1-2 character pieces, and a couple of miscellaneous. Audition books are so critical to success that I have dedicated a separate post about them that goes much further into detail.

Song choice is a complex art. There are so many considerations: songs need to be gender and age appropriate, fit your look/type, fit your natural vocal range, and like a monologue, song need to demonstrate your acting through a conflict or dramatic arc within the piece. Sometimes casting directors will request a certain type or genre of song, and if that's the case you need to comply while still making a choice that will show you off. Most of all, you need to genuinely like and resonate with the message of the song, because that connection shows through in performances and will give you an edge. It's overwhelming trying to find songs that fit all these criteria, right? Luckily there are thousands of musicals to find songs from, and several online resources to use as search tools. Try Internet Broadway Database, Musical Theatre International, and Cast Albums Database. For more information on song choices and musical audition tips, pick up our eBook, The Musical Theatre Performer's Guide to Audition Success.

Have your cuts ready, memorized, and clearly marked. Cuts are the small sections that you'll prepare in case your casting director calls for 8, 16 or 32 bars of your song, which is common especially when auditioning for chorus roles or at open calls when directors have extremely limited time. Always have your entire song memorized and ready, but have the cuts ready too. Choose your cuts based on the part of the song that shows off your voice best, and shows off your ability to act while singing - choose a climactic moment in the song rather than a bland filler section. Cuts should reflect the natural phrasing of the piece, and generally shouldn't start or stop mid-sentence or mid-melodic phrase.

Work well with your accompanist. Choose songs that don't go beyond the normal level of skill required for an accompanist, and have your music photocopied and easy to read, with all cuts, dynamics, pauses and tempo changes clearly marked. This may seem tedious but you'll be doing yourself an enormous favor because there is nothing that jolts your nerves more than an accompanist going rogue or struggling to keep up with the music - it can kill your vocal and acting technique and throw away the whole audition. Respect your accompanist and treat them well - don't be overly bossy when explaining musical instructions. Casting directors want to see that you are easy to work with, and besides, anyone who can play music they've never seen before deserves respect!

Act your song, don't just sing it. Casting directors want to be wowed by an amazing voice, but more than that, they want to cast someone who can act. Time and time again, we see casting directors choosing a great actor with a decent voice rather than vice versa. Acting your song well is a topic we've covered in several other blog posts in our acting techniques category, as well as our eBook dedicated entirely to this subject, "Sensational Scenes and Songs."

For more audition tips, see “musical theatre audition tips part 3,” and subscribe to receive updates via email.

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