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For Singing Actors, Nailing a Song is Just the Tip of the Audition-Room Iceberg

The above video is courtesy of our brand-new, free course, The Definitive Guide to Building Your Audition Book.

Being prepared for an audition in musical theater is a multi-faceted endeavor. Yes, you need to do what you do best and flawlessly — sing, act, and possibly even bust out a dance step or two — but that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how casting directors view your audition.

Everything from a nervous reaction, to a carefully worded question, to how neatly and smartly your song book is organized can be judged and used to inform their decision about whether or not you’re right for their production. With that in mind, we teamed up with New York City actor, voice teacher, and the founder of TheoryWorks, Amy Marie Stewart, to create a wonderful set of courses to help you get more organized and more comfortable, and gain a deeper understanding of the music on the page so you’ll never be underprepared.

Here are some quick tips from Amy’s free course, The Definitive Guide to Building Your Audition Book, exploring some actionable strategies for getting the most out of your working song book. If you’re looking for something a lot more in-depth, go ahead and preview our five-week, mentor-assisted Mainstage course, Music Theory for Broadway Actors (*discount code below).

What Goes in Your Book?

Choosing your repertoire isn’t something you’ll knock out in one afternoon. It’s an ongoing process! But here’s some advice:

  1. Less is often more. The sweet spot is around six-to-nine songs total. 
  2. Pick three-to-six categories that include at least the three core categories. Balance what you do best with some versatility.
  3. Make sure you have the appropriate cuts for the audition you’re going to, including 8-bar, 16-bar, 32-bar, or short-song cuts.
  4. Create a list of songs that matches the sorts of roles you think you’re best for!

How to Mark Your Music

You should expect that an accompanist will be provided for you at all professional musical theater auditions unless otherwise noted. This person — the pianist — is your best ally in the room.

But if your book isn’t clearly marked and easy to read, you risk making it hard for that person to help you. Your book is more for your pianist than it is for you. Make sure it’s easy to interpret.

Is Your Music in the Correct Key?

If the key signature of your sheet music doesn’t match the recording you’re using to learn it, you’re going to have problems when you show up to sing. (If you want to learn how to read your music yourself, check out Music Theory for Broadway Actors.)

Mark Your Intro

When it comes to your intro, you have a few options: If there’s a harmonically simple measure of accompaniment before starting (usually a “boom-chick” pattern), you can bracket this bar, and write “vamp” above it. That will tell the pianist to play that bar on loop until you’re ready to come in. Usually, two or three times will do it.

You can also include a couple bars of the existing intro if you like.

That said, the most expedient method is simply asking for a bell tone and foregoing the intro altogether. This will signal to your pianist to simply play your starting note, and you go right into the tune from there.

If you decide on a bell tone, make sure you write, “Bell tone: A♭,” or whatever your first note is, right above your starting point.

Mark Your Starts and Stops

Use brackets to signify where on the page you’re starting, and close the brackets at the point where you’re stopping. Write “start” and “stop” above the brackets. Put an “X” through the music that you don’t want your accompanist to play. Make sure this is marked boldly, cleanly, and clearly.

Highlight All Changes

Ideally, a good audition cut isn’t overly complex. But if there are elements your pianist needs to be aware of — a key change, time signature change, tempo change, an important dynamic marking, or anything you’ve changed — highlight them. You can also bring those to their attention at the top of your audition.

Add the Title, Show, and Tempo

If your cut isn’t from the beginning of the song, you’ll need to handwrite in the name of the song, the show it’s from, tempo marking, and time signature. Remember, the tempo might not be what it was at the top of the song; look for the most recent tempo marking.

For more tips, sign up for the course!

By the end of this course, you’ll know:

  • What types of songs to include and how many,
  • How to mark your music for your accompanist,
  • How to organize your book.

And, best of all, you’ll have access to invaluable tips and strategies, as well as useful, downloadable resources from this incredible “cast” of experts!

What are you waiting for? Learn from the best in the business how to craft an effective audition book that’s going to help you get more shows with The Definitive Guide to Building Your Audition Book.

Or, if you’re looking for a more in-depth learning experience that includes personal support and mentorship from seasoned professionals in the field, head to our Mainstage course, Music Theory for Broadway ActorsAnd because you’re a supporting member of the Flypaper community, we’d like to offer you 40% off of the next course session (starting September 6) with the exclusive code EARLYBIRD40.

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Soundfly Team

Soundfly is a new kind of music school for today's musician. We create creative courses and daily articles for the curious musician. Meet the whole Soundfly Team here.