will i get cut if i miss notes?

“missed notes on xylophone...how much will that affect getting cut?"

that was a perfectly valid (and a frequently asked) question that was submitted before last week’s interview with jeremy epp for episode one of auditiontalk.

check this out. i was listening back to the recording of my winning MET audition the other day, (which is a normal, casual post­season activity that lots of people do, right?) and i realized that i actually missed a bunch of notes. there’s maybe 8 or 10, if not more.

but... there’s missed notes, and there’s accuracy. they’re different. and because all of YOU guys are always so worried about how to not miss notes, i wanted to address why counting how many notes you missed is the wrong measurement for accuracy in auditions.


hitting all the right notes and accuracy are not the same thing

when i say that your playing needs to show “accuracy” and “precision” to win an audition, you might be one of those people who’s shaking your head in cynical disapproval. i get it…if we are all just trying to play all the right notes like robots and we don’t care about things like musicality, then our orchestras will be filled with dumb, note-perfect robots and the sound of the orchestra will be SO BORING!!!!

but that’s not what i’m saying. auditions aren’t a test of how many correct notes you can hit. and your excerpts aren’t just a showcase for you to show somebody that you don’t miss notes when you play that excerpt. no, excerpts are much more complicated and they have many more layers than that. they’re musical vessels. and through those vessels, you can infuse an entire lifetime of musicality.

you take all the musicianship that’s inside of you, and you infuse it into this excerpt of music. that includes attention to rhythm, dynamics, pitch, phrasing, style, character, etc. and if you put everything that’s inside of you into this excerpt, then you give the panel a chance to see what kind of musician you are.

jeremy epp of the detroit symphony had some interesting things to say in that episode of auditiontalk and also on previous posts in the auditionhacker alliance facebook group. (i’m planning to cut the video down and bring it to you here on the blog at some point.) he referred to that list of items from the previous paragraph as 'the basics.' "it rarely comes down to details as small as specific intervals or stylization of notes. [editor's note: or how many notes you miss.] what's lost when we call solid intonation, time, tone quality and playing musically 'the basics' is the amount of time that top musicians have invested to consistently deliver each one those things."

and when i say accuracy, it can include extremely subtle degradations of each of those musical elements. for instance, if you’re showing a rubato, there’s a way to do it in a yo-yo ma level of musicality. and if you can figure out what that is, then you can line every note up in the right place to present that rubato. there’s musicality, and the attention to detail that makes musicality effective. 

in the end, what they’re listening for is your musicianship. and they’re using the excerpt to see through the excerpt into who you are. and if you’re someone who has plenty of musicality, attention to detail, and you’ve put everything in the right place according to your own standards of precision, they’ll be able to hear that through an extremely short excerpt. that’s precision.


everyone misses notes

…and so they don’t really matter. i’ve said it before, and i’ll say it again: in the course of human musicianship, everyone misses notes at some point or the other. i mean…don’t miss 50% of your notes. but a few here and there are totally fine. 

in fact, let’s look at a hypothetical scenario between two candidates. one misses 0 notes, but their rhythm is every so slightly wavering and they don’t have cohesive musical phrases. another person misses 10 notes, but you can tell through the notes they didn’t miss that they’ve imbued their excerpts with beautiful phrases, and placed note in its right spot. the missing-notes-person wins every time.


what shows through is musicianship

if you’ve gone over your excerpts at every level, from the broad big picture musical roadmap on down to the zoomed-in tiny details of space between notes and slight manipulations of articulation and tone, everyone’s going to notice. they might not know why, but you’re going to sound like a badass and they’ll totally forgive you for missing notes. 



here's where you can stick your “i missed notes so i didn’t win” mentality:

so, are missed notes a red flag that shows that someone is an inexperienced player? they could be. but not without all of the other little indications of inexperience along with them. 

but if you find yourself saying, “i didn’t miss any notes, so why didn’t i advance?” or, “i played really well, but all they were listening for is someone who didn’t miss any notes," i’d urge you to dig deeper into your excerpts.

blaming your missed notes is just an entirely simplified way of showing one’s frustration with audition and the audition experience. but it’s so much more complicated than that, and it’s never the only reason that you lost an audition.


and here’s how you can recover from that attitude:

when you analyze your excerpts for rhythm, for pitch, for phrasing, for musicality, did you zoom in deeply and address every characteristic of every note that wasn’t up to your standard? did you expose your excerpts to a wide range of other people in a mock audition scenario?

if you feel jaded about the entire concept of auditions, then i’d urge you to think to yourself, “is there anything at all that you possibly could have missed or done differently?” and if you haven’t tried that thing in an audition preparation process, then you have nothing to say. because, like any good scientist, you need to experiment. experiment with all the possible ways there are to prepare audition excerpts before you decide that auditions are for choosing robots.

because there’s a ton of people who've had the same struggle as you, but pushed through and found whatever solution that helps them overcome that obstacle. 



 if you miss a few notes in an excerpt, but unbelievable musicianship comes through in all of those categories of musicality (see above) with super-high standards, then those missed notes aren't going to matter. full stop. see ya. <drops mic.>

<picks up mic.> what do you think? have you gotten cut from missing notes? have you judged an audition where people advanced after missing notes? let me know in the comments!

want a head start on audition preparation?


here's my 5-step guide to constructing your preparation process and optimizing it for maximum results.

rob knopper

hailed by @nytimes and james levine as needing 'louder triangle notes'. recorded delécluse: douze études for snare drum, percussionist in @metorchestra.