Audition Techniques

Classical Singer Seminar – Improving Audition Skills

Lecture on Audition Techniques

Stage Fright Articles and Books

Lecture on Performance Anxiety

Differences Between Singers and Instrumentalists:


They can hide behind an instrument or beside it.

They have a “partner” on stage with them.

They can blame problems on the instruments.

They can use the music in some cases.

They don’t have to look at the audience.


Look at the audience.


Do not hide behind anything.

Use their “own” instrument every time and if something goes wrong it is because they are wrapped up in their “instrument”.

“Bare” their souls in portraying the moods.

Invite several people to come up on stage and show them playing instruments and “hiding behind them” (piano, trumpet, violin, marimba). Then remember that each one is probably using music and they should stare at the score in front of them. They don’t even see the audience. When bowing at the end of the piece, they are instructed to step from behind the music stand and then bow (as if they were hiding behind it before they finished!!!) Each of these performers has a partner on stage with them and they can blame some if not all of their faults on that partner– (technical problems, tuning, sticky valves, sticky keys, instrument too old, instrument too new, etc.) They have no words to learn (Arguably, it may be harder to “make music” without words to give a clue to the moods and the meanings of the music, but I am not here to debate which kind of music-making is harder, just to show the differences).

Performance Anxiety in the Young Singer

This will be divided into these categories: Typical anxieties, physical problems, mental problems, thorough preparation, and remedies.

What are the typical anxieties in young undergraduate singers??

(This can apply to all performers!!)

Low Self-Image

Young singers who begin as music majors in a college or university setting are usually the best and most talented from their high school, and have been complimented by their choral directors, other high school faculty, their family, and their fellow church members. They have probably sung a few times in public, but ignorance is bliss, and they often do not realize just how much they don’t know! As they begin vocal study in college, they are necessarily grouped with older singers in the voice studio and in the choir, and they begin to hear their voice instructors sing examples in the studio. The comparison between an inexperienced freshman who barely reads music, is unsure of himself as he joins the choir, and does not yet have a vocal technique on which to rely, and a senior who is the choir section leader, is about to give a senior recital, and has the lead in the school opera production, can be devastating to the beginner. A negative self-image can build in the first few weeks of music study.

Anxiety About the Voice Teacher

Young singers are much more comfortable in the group choir situation they had in high school than they are with personalized, one-on-one probing critique which the voice teacher makes to begin shaping and refining the most personal of instruments-the voice. An adjustment period is needed as the teacher and the singer get to know each other and learn how to work toward the common goal of refining and perfecting the undergraduate’s talents. Without such an understanding, especially by the voice teacher, every private voice lesson can be a dreaded assault on the singer’s self-esteem.

Lack of Preparation

Because the undergraduate singer is often a beginner at practicing vocal exercises alone, translating foreign language texts, learning music alone, and working with a voice teacher on a one-to-one basis, gaugeing preparation time or thoroughness of practice is difficult. Also, initial voice lessons necessarily include new ideas and different ways of explaining concepts and too many of these new ideas at once can overwhelm a young singer until more experience is gained.

Anxiety About the Audience or the Auditioner

Young singers typically sing first for a learned panel of voice teachers and other music faculty as they try out for scholarships, voice studios, choral groups, and opera workshop. In the mind of the young singer, no auditioner could possibly be in such a position of authority without being a master performer, a master teacher, a master stage director, a master conductor, or perhaps all of the above. With thoughts like these, it is no surprise that the undergraduate singer’s mind is focusing on stage fright rather than focusing on the positive, musical performance one would like to present.

Anxiety About Unknown Situations or Surroundings

The audition situations just described for opera tryouts, choir tryouts, scholarship auditions, and church choir positions can each be unique in auditioner, expectations of that auditioner, repertoire expected, accompanist, room setup, and acoustics. Again, the undergraduate signer, who probably has had very few lessons on the required pieces offered, and has, at best, only two or three selections to offer, can be confronted with a very upsetting set of circumstances.

The Fear of Failure and Success and How They can be “One” Fear

Anxieties appear in many beginners, and the undergraduate singer is no exception. As the freshman singer begins all of the music courses, the intensity and content of the courses can make one question the decision to become a music major. Overcoming all of the anxieties and proving oneself to be a talented, hard-working, directed, undergraduate singer is a formidable task. The young singer finds that there are so many people to please: parents, friends, high school choral director, the church choir back home, not to mention the present voice teacher, the present choir director, and the myriad other music professors. A strong feeling of inadequacy can add to the pervading thoughts of failure and the singer’s self-image is again challenged. Success means change– change in life style, change in activities, change in preparation and work (more of both), and change in attitude. Failure is easier to accept because none of the change must take place. Success is coupled with failure because sometimes the undergraduate hopes for failure, stability, and comfort, rather than having to change everything if successful. Once one has achieved success, one is expected to continue to achieve success and to stay “on top.” This is often more difficult than the simple strivings of a beginner.

A Few Physical Problems Caused by Stage Fright(Luckily You’ve Never Had All These at the Same Time!!)

  • Pounding Heart
  • Trembling Knees
  • Cold Sweat
  • Nausea
  • Dry Throat
  • Teary Eye
  • Runny Nose
  • Cramps
  • Temperature Change
  • Stammering
  • Muscle Tension
  • Dizziness
  • Urge to urinate
  • Fidgeting
  • Urge to Cry
  • Throbbing Temples
  • Fatigue
  • Blushing
  • Stiff body
  • Giddyness
  • Tingling Hands and Feet
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Failure to See or Hear Clearly
  • Fainting

How to Overcome Stage Fright


  • Specific Routine Before Performing- e.g. Be alone, review tempos, styles, the three most difficult passages, don’t talk to other players and joke about things! 12* (The numbers refer to pages in my thesis)
  • Slow Deep Breathing fools the body into believing that there is no danger (no fright), sit in a quiet place, eyes closed, concentrate on breathing evenly. 14
  • Sit, Concentrate on tip of nose and inhale slowly, 14
  • Place Hands on stomach and inhale and exhale slowly 20 times, 15
  • Perform difficult passages several times, the “grooving” on performing it correctly will overcome the few times it is performed incorrectly, 15
  • Stage Fright from being fearful, fearful when one senses an emergency, what is the emergency? Audience not clapping, not approving, 20
  • Anxiety is caused by attitude, not reality. Mind tells us to be afraid, it can tell us the positive too!! 22
  • When You Perform Alone, it goes well, but add an audience and it becomes harder! 24, try performing behind the audience of the class, not in front of them, then beside them; ease into performing with them watching.
  • Call It stage vitality, stage excitement, not stage fright, 30
  • Barbara Sher: Anything worth doing has uncertainties and doubts, and challenges and exhilarations. Dare to take risks to show creativity, 30
  • Failure = Learning = Working = Success,  Kassorla, 27
  • Relying on teacher too closely, and then suddenly being cut loose, 29

Six Ways to Prepare, 32

Technical Work- practice and listen for dexterity in scales, messa di voce, types of articulation styles, tone quality, pronunciation, etc.

Musical Work- notice style, dynamics, tempo, articulations, etc.

Pedagogical Work- “an exercise you cannot master immediately allows you to encounter and extend your limits.” Present your best of the present!! Reverse teaching. Groove theory. Prepare for best and worst possible outcomes. Imaging process (imagine being good!), play a duet with what is in your head, jazz up the piece, improvise on the given piece, record the original and play duet with self, practicing privately one can play and sing with abandon.

Interpretation- personal interpretation, characterization, ride tennis ball over the net, continuous tone, word colors, moods, etc.

Communication- wanting to serve the public, share artistry, passing the music on to them, perform often to be able to transmit to audience (it doesn’t always translate from practice sessions), always perform for an ideal audience (they will love it!!!)

Personal Philosophy- positive attitude, meet challenges with energy, the best of the present, have a plan, constantly change it until it is just right.

Other Remedies

  • Go in the hall and try to become nervous, find your limit, and then you know nervousness can’t go over that.
  • If tense, have some trigger words ready to create inner calm, “move, flow, give, release, pulse, unite, power”
  • Tense and release muscles and muscle groups.
  • Breathe through soles of feet, sense backs of eyeballs.
  • Thinking one is in danger is as bad as really being in danger- mind takes over. Let it take over the positive way instead, think “no danger!”
  • Have pleasant images ready to replace the “bad” ones, Colorado, school’s out, win lottery, new car, opposite sex, etc.
  • Have mantra word to concentrate until negative leaves.
  • Judge yourself with moderate thinking, not polarized 75% sometimes, often, in some cases, seldom, Not always, never.
  • Think about problems by using he, she, you, not I. Step back and intellectualize about the problem, don’t be “in it.”
  • Admit problem, accept it, then challenge it.

How to use audience to advantage:

1) Friendly (attentive, will clap correctly, will appreciate the music

2) Inquisitive (will want to be educated)

3) Subservient (will be unfamiliar with music, will not have practiced, cannot perform as well as you can, need to be instructed and entertained, “I, the performer, am above you, the audience.”)

4) Be angry at audience

5) Make fun of them

6) Audience of equals (they will appreciate your efforts)

7) Dependent on audience (gain energy from them, they can invigorate you.)

  • Learn from failures- a child falls many times before he walks
  • Be nice to yourself- you would help a colleague, why not help yourself?
  • Stress inoculation, small doses at first, then more and more
  • No authority in lesson and suddenly being the only one on stage. Take part in the lesson, decisions, tempos, dynamics, interpretation with the teacher, not just dependent
  • Anytime you “fail,” learn from it, analyze it, write down what happened, and begin to correct problems

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