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So You Want to Be a Singer

The Ins and Outs of Trying Out

An informative guide on how to prepare for a singing audition

overview

If you opt for a career in opera or musical theater, you’ll be facing auditions all the time. Audition criteria vary from competition to competition, show to show, and director to director, but here are five of the (very) basic things to keep in mind:

1. Dress Well

You’d never dream of performing in a recital hall in jeans and a T-shirt, would you? Think of auditioning as a performance and treat the process with respect. Your attire sends a visual cue to your audition panelists as to just how professional you are. Wear dressy (but not formal) clothes. Ladies, this means stockings and a nice skirt are a must (stay away from distracting accessories like scarves). Men, get out those suits and ties for an opera or oratorio audition; a nice shirt and slacks for musical theater. If you're sure that a role is rather informal, (say in a "rock" opera), or you happen to know that the casting director goes for a relaxed atmosphere, you can dress more casually.

2. Make Sure Your Music is Legible

In an audition, you’ll most likely be assigned an accompanist who will be expected to play your music without any practice. You know those notes at the very bottom of the staff on your sheet music? You may not need them, but your pianist will. Be sure each and every note of your sheet music can be read clearly (no fuzzy copies!). Also, if your music has any cuts or repetitions, be certain those are clearly marked. Hum a few bars so your accompanist will know what tempo you’re looking for. Never snap your fingers or clap your hands to give them a beat. It just looks rude. They’ve probably played your song a million times before and they know what they’re doing.

3. Be Prepared

Stage auditions will most likely expect you to have a variety of different types of songs under your belt. For example, in a standard opera audition, you should probably have prepared:

  • an aria in English
  • an aria in French
  • an aria in Italian
  • an aria in German
  • an aria by Mozart
  • a Baroque aria

For musical theater, be ready to sing: 

  • a standard ballad from a musical 
  • an “up-tempo” piece from a musical

Musical theater directors may also ask for: 

  • a song from a musical written before 1960 
  • a song from a current musical (like a rock opera such as
    Rent or Spring Awakening)

Be certain you’re clear on all of the audition requirements before you go. Nothing’s worse than when an audition panelist asks you, “Can you sing something else for us?” and you have nothing else to offer.

Also, warm up before you head to the audition so that your chords are nice and flexible at least a half hour before you head to the stage.

4. Bring All Your Information

Times two. It never hurts to have extra copies of your music, your résumé, your headshot, and any forms you have to fill out prior to an audition. Résumés don’t have to be too complicated if you’re just starting out. It should include a list of your performance experience (theater/opera roles, concerts/recitals, any master classes you’ve taken) and skills (languages, dancing, gymnastics, etc.) A listing of someone’s musical theater experience may look like this (you can click the image below to download a .doc file you can fill in yourself):

Actress Resume


5. Be Kind and Courteous and Stay Calm

No one wants to work with someone who’s unpleasant. Don’t spoil your audition by being impolite. Showing you’re super nervous doesn’t help either. Learn to smile and say “thank you” no matter how depressed or jittery or annoyed you feel that day. Remind yourself that most––if not all––of the people you’ll be singing for have been where you are now. They certainly deserve your respect, but they are not gods and goddesses. If you’re struggling with nerves, several helpful books have been written on the subject, including:

The Singer’s Companion by Sharon Stohrer (New York: Routledge 2006).

Power Performance for Singers by Shirlee Emmons & Alma Thomas (New York: Oxford Press, 1998).

A Soprano on Her Head by Eloise Ristad (Moab, UT: Real People Press, 1998).

Credits

Writers

Eleni Hagen
Original Writer

Editors & Producers

Lisa Resnick
Content Editor

Sources

Dornemann, Joan with Maria Ciaccia. Complete Preparation: A Guide to Auditioning for Opera. New York: Excalibur Publishing, 1992.

Emmons, Shirley and Alma Thomas. Power Performance for Singers: Transcending the Barriers. New York: Oxford, 1998.

Eustis, Lynn. The Singer’s Ego: Finding Balance Between Music and Life. Chicago: GIA Publications, Inc., 2005.

Kosarin, Oscar. The Singing Actor: How to Be a Success in Musical Theater and Nightclubs. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1983.

Oliver, Donald. How to Audition for the Musical Theatre. Lyme, NH: Smith and Kraus, Inc., 1995.

Owens, Richard. The Professional Singer’s Guide to New York. Dallas, TX: American Institute of Musical Studies, 1984.

Stohrer, Sharon. The Singer’s Companion. New York: Routledge, 2006.

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