Congratulations on your decision to pursue percussion at the collegiate level! Along with filling out those applications, your first steps toward being a music major will include preparing an audition. That short sample of your playing will go a long way towards showing the professors that you belong at their school, so selecting the right material (repertoire) for your audition is one of the most important decisions you can make.
Before starting a list of your favorite pieces, check the college’s website! Many colleges and universities specify what they want you to play, whether in certain categories (“four-mallet marimba solo,” “4-drum timpani etude,” “drumset styles,” etc.) or specific repertoire (“select from this list of solos,” “a selection from Portraits in Rhythm by Anthony Cirone,” etc.). If you have trouble finding the information on the school’s website, be sure to check in multiple places. It could be on the School/College of Music prospective student page, College of Fine Arts prospective student page, Percussion Studio page, professor’s home page, or even in an email confirming your application or audition date and time. If all else fails, email the professor or admissions office and ask, but be really, really sure you’ve looked everywhere else before doing this, and that you use appropriate email etiquette.
Be sure you understand the specifics of the requirements. “Marimba solo” could mean two or four mallets; “2-mallet solo” could be performed on any keyboard instrument. However, “snare solo” often means concert snare rather than rudimental. It is okay to email the professor to clarify points like this, and professors will generally appreciate your attention to detail.
If you are auditioning for multiple colleges, which many of you will be, use the attached chart to note their requirements and your selections. Try to minimize the amount of material you have to learn by using the same selections for as many schools as possible.
Repertoire Selection Chart
As you begin the process of selecting specific literature, talk to your current instructors (your school band director, private lesson teacher, etc.). Especially if you are studying privately, that teacher will be involved in helping you get ready for your audition and will be able to help you select material that you can perform at a high level. Here are a few other factors worth your consideration in choosing your music.
If it’s already October and you are in a competitive band program with a heavy marching schedule, or if you are working 25–30 hours a week and taking a heavy AP or IB load, you may not have time to learn a full list of repertoire from scratch in time for a February audition. If you’re short on time, that’s okay! (Almost all of us are.) Consider what music you already know that you can polish back up. Could you play the four-mallet solo you did last year for solo contest? Would your two-mallet All-Region etude work as an audition piece?
Most of us don’t have a 5-octave marimba and set of four timpani at home. How able are you to practice before school, after school, during lunch, etc.? How late can you stay if your band director goes home? If you have a limited amount of time to get on real instruments, this will also limit the amount of new music you should plan to learn. That being said, get creative about how you can practice at home! Aside from the age-old solution of learning your snare music on a practice pad, you can also use pillows for target practice when learning timpani etudes. Is there a broken-down xylophone in the corner of the band hall that no one ever plays, that you might be able to take home for a couple of months? Do work like marking measure numbers, sticking, and elements like repeats and phrase structure away from the instrument, and listen to recordings of your music while doing other homework. Some kids even make “keyboards” out of duct tape and cardboard; where there’s a will, there’s a way!
If your audition is in mid-January, but you’ll have no instrument access for two weeks during the December break, how likely are you to be prepared? Will your director let you take instruments home over breaks, or let you into the band hall to practice even though school isn’t in session?
If you’ve never played a particular type of solo before—for instance, you’ve played timpani parts but never a timpani solo—try to find a shorter solo that will still show off your abilities, since part of the challenge will be just the act of learning a solo on a new(-ish) instrument.
Most colleges give high school seniors 10- to 15-minute time slots. That is a surprisingly short amount of time to get in the room, introduce yourself, and play three or four solos (plus possible sight-reading). Make life easier for yourself by picking shorter solos. There’s a pretty good chance the audition panel will stop you midway through a piece at least once, so avoid the stress of trying to learn a 10-page four-mallet solo when you could select something half as long that demonstrates your skill level equally well.
Now is not the time to try to learn the behind-the-back one-handed roll; instead, focus on playing material that you can execute in a technically and musically proficient manner while nervous and under pressure. Use the 85% rule: the music should demand only 85% of your abilities to play 100% correctly. If you can barely execute the music under the best of circumstances, you will inevitably make mistakes when under the pressure of a strange room with strange people and instruments you’ve never played on before.
Some college studios are more competitive than others. If you are auditioning for a top university, you’ll need to prove that you can perform at a certain level. In this case you should definitely consult with a private teacher to ensure that your selections are both suited to your abilities and will be competitive with the standards of the other auditionees.
IN OTHER WORDS…
• Efficient: not unnecessarily long
• Accessible: not too long or too hard for you to learn
• Attainable: not too hard for you to play well
• Feasible: within the practice time you have
• Appropriate: fulfils the requirements
Emily Tannert Patterson has nearly 20 years’ experience in percussion education, including 7 years as a 6–12 percussion director in the Central Texas area. Her ensembles have won numerous awards on and off the field, including the 2016 PAS IPEC (Middle School Division). Patterson works as an Instructional Designer for Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, UK) and serves on the PAS Education Committee.