why feeling hopeless after an audition is actually a good thing

you know that feeling when there’s one moment from your past that stands out in your memory that is so clear, so vivid, so life-changing that you can close your eyes and feel like you’re still there? 

i had a moment like that. it’s a pivotal moment in my musical life, and i’d like to share it with you.

the biggest moment of my musical life.

this moment was on the day i had just taken the audition for the tanglewood music center. that’s a big festival in massachusettes where the boston symphony plays, and it’s really prestigious. you get to hang out with members of the BSO in the woods and drink all the time. 

and this moment i’m talking about is burned into my brain. 

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it was me and my friend kyle brightwell, who was a classmate at school. (and now he’s in the boston symphony!) we were walking north on amsterdam ave away from juilliard, going to get some cupcakes from magnolia bakery, i think. (we have good cupcakes in new york.)

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anyway, basically we both felt terrible about it. in that moment - in that instant - we both felt like losers, even though we hadn’t even heard the results yet. we were going over the audition and talking about every single thing that happened, as you do. 

"i think my 16th notes stuck out too much in lieutenant kije.”

"did i play soft enough when they asked me to play softer?”

stuff like that.

we felt terrible about what had just happened. 

we were really frustrated because we worked HARD on that audition. we played for each other every day, we strategized about ways to stand out. we basically went all-in on this audition, and just thinking about some of the errors we made were just disappointing. 

if i had to sum up the feeling of that moment in one sentence i would say, “i felt like every single moment that i spent working on that audition was a complete waste of time.” 

i can’t believe it, but even now that i HAVE a job and life is generally good, this feeling is still strong in my emotional memory. i can’t get rid of it. that hopeless feeling. 

and that is not a good feeling. that’s a feeling that a lot of us can relate to because everyone gets rejected, and everyone deals with that sense of personal disappointment especially in auditions.

but here’s the thing. that hopeless feeling
is a GOOD thing.


it can actually be your big advantage in the arc of your auditioning career. 

it’s a little bit counterintuitive, but hear me out.

when you get that audition rejection, it hits you like a ton of bricks. even that time with kyle when we didn’t know the results of the audition, we had to go over every possible negative thing that happened in the audition. 

this moment that kyle and i were walking down the street... we’ve all had that. but I noticed that in our disappointment and reaction, there was always an undertone of “how can i improve that for next time?” 

that was my breakthrough. i realized something right then.

that post-audition hopeless moment is what separates winners and losers.


it’s that moment right after you find out that you didn’t win an audition where you can react. you either internalize the negative feelings and you practice less or take a break, or you use those negative feelings to motivate you to dominate whatever your weaknesses are. 

every professional musician who has won an audition has, at one time or another, felt that hopelessness, and embraced the post-audition moment. 

below are 3 reasons why the feeling of hopelessness is actually your biggest advantage.


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are you an intensely ambitious
orchestral-track musician?

rob and noa’s winter audition boot camp
is 8 weeks of high-level audition training
and intensive excerpt study. it’s for musicians who want to
absolutely dominate their next audition.


reason #1: hopelessness will motivate you to practice like CRAZY next time.


there’s nothing more motivating to me than trying to avoid rejection or an intensely negative experience.

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like, for instance, when i’m preparing a part for orchestra, especially if it’s a big part. i prepare intensely. the last thing i ever want to happen to me is to get lost in the music, miss a note, and feel embarrassed in front of my colleagues. i may have gotten older and more musically mature since high school, but that feeling of the conductor looking at you and wondering why you didn’t just play a note you were supposed to play is still exactly the same.

if i want to avoid the feeling of post audition-sadness, then all i can do is prepare better.

just remembering how painful that feeling is helps me make the decision to take fewer breaks during my practice session. it helps keep me in the practice room for an extra hour when i could be watching a baseball game or meeting my friends at a bar.

reason #2: hopelessness makes you so desperate that you’ll find answers.


necessity is the mother of invention, right?

yes. this concept is actually real.

if you get an audition rejection, then there is a problem with your audition preparation.

what’s the problem? you may have no idea at this point. you might not realize you have a problem or that there’s something lacking in your audition prep until you actually get the rejection.

but when you do, it’s time to crawl your way out of whatever hole you’ve dug yourself into.

the only way to ensure that you’ll get another audition rejection is to prepare exactly the same way next time. (like the albert einstein quote: “the definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result.”) 

so after an audition rejection i always take this opportunity to deeply analyze three things:

  1. why i got rejected,
  2. what i did wrong in my audition prep (or what was lacking), and
  3. how i’m going to prepare differently next time. 
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the moment right after your audition is the perfect time to take a hard look at your process and figure out how in the world you can overcome your weaknesses. you should listen back to your audition recording, get comments from the judges (if you can), and start reflecting on all the comments you got during your mock auditions for other people.

there are always new ways to practice excerpts and prepare for the next audition. there’s always an answer here and anyone who says “they’ve tried everything” is only kidding themselves.

you can't know for sure that the new methods are going to be good enough… but all you can do is try something new. 

just the act of taking a risk and trying to prepare in new ways is going to help you improve your audition preparation process in the long run and eventually find a way out of whatever rut you’re in.

reason #3: hopelessness takes your competitors out of the picture.


when you feel that hopelessness in your heart, remember this: EVERYONE feels that way after auditions. (except for the person who won, i guess.)

that is a perfectly human and natural feeling. it’s totally, absolutely normal that you’re feeling that.

what is different from person to person is the way that they REACT to that feeling. 

are you going to take that feeling and convert it to a renewed focus on audition prep? are you going to transition even more intensely back to practicing and sprinting towards your life goal?

or are you going to shut down, emotionally check out, and ignore the bad news? are you going to let your negative emotions choose a different path for yourself? 

out of all the musicians on this earth capable of winning jobs, a significant portion will fall into the second category: they’ll fizzle out. they might try again a few times, but without the sense of intensity, experimentation, and drive that people in the first category will have.

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this feeling of hopelessness has the potential to push you towards quitting. but DON’T. remember that the hopelessness actually takes some people out of the running for the next job… 

it thins out your competition and leaves only those with that extra stamina and perseverance left. 

it’s literally that simple. 

no one can teach you to have that perseverance - you have to decide at that moment of hopelessness after an audition what you’re going to do.

your audition results are not who you are.
your preparation process is who you are.


from now on, i want you to forget about audition results as being a measurement of who you are as a person or a musician. 

if i could give myself one piece of advice on that day i was walking with kyle and we were so down about the audition, i’d say this: audition results don’t matter. what matters is what you did to work on them. and what matters more is how you changed your preparation process from one audition to the next.

me and kyle being dumb. 

me and kyle being dumb. 

each audition that you do in your life is a new experiment. you know how you prepared last time. you know what your strengths and weaknesses are. all you can do now is try something new and see if it fixes your weaknesses. and then the audition tests your experiment to see if it helped or hurt. if you tried something and it doesn’t work, you didn’t fail. you learned a thing that doesn’t work, and now that you know that information, you are one step closer to finding what does work. an audition rejection is never a failure if you’re constantly experimenting. all you’re doing is testing something new, and getting feedback on whether it was positive or negative. and then you try something else.

your biggest asset is your audition preparation process.


it’s the thing that comes with you from audition to audition. and the more you put into it, the more it grows and develops. one day, if you keep putting more and more into it, trying new things, experimenting and learning new methods, and trying it out on auditions, then the closer you’re going to come to winning your audition, finding success, and starting the next phase of your life.

and that’s exactly what i did.

the process i ended up with won me a job in the met.


i auditioned over and over, and figured out what my weaknesses were. i experience 40 audition rejections in my auditioning career. and each time, i made little tweaks in the process. i took risks by spending time on things i didn’t know if they would work. and some of them didn’t, which led to rejections. but eventually i ended up with this amazing step by step process.

so…what’s the process that i used to successfully win a job in the met orchestra?

it’s a super thorough, methodical process to prepare excerpts that i followed from the day i got the list until the day of the audition.

it’s repeatable for any excerpt or solo on an audition list. i’ve taught it to hundreds of people so far, and i’ve had many successful students win jobs, advance at auditions, and play more confidently than they thought possible.

come study audition preparation with me (and
noa kageyama!) this winter.


i would love to upload this process off of my brain and download into your brain.

that’s why i’m teaching a winter audition boot camp. i’ll train you to prepare for auditions in the exact way that worked for me.

noa kageyama, performance psychologist. and coolest guy ever.

noa kageyama, performance psychologist. and coolest guy ever.

and i’ve teamed up with noa kageyama, performance psychologist and author of the bulletproof musician blog, to address every performance anxiety issue you’re having.


if you want to join me and noa for 8 weeks of high-level audition training and intensive excerpt study, you can enroll in our winter audition boot camp until sunday, october 29th, at 11:59pm ET.


the sessions start on monday, and you’ll be working closely with a small group of fellow motivated auditioners to learn the complete audition preparation process. 

you’ll get personal feedback on your excerpts, we’ll do live sessions, and you’ll have weekly audition homework. 

it’s for musicians who want to absolutely dominate
their next audition.

see you in boot camp!




p.s. kyle actually won that TMC audition. i didn’t. oh well. ;)


rob knopper

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