how to make a practice schedule for auditions


what is your absolute FIRST reaction after receiving a new audition list?

me? i open my email and it causes an absolute tornado of emotions. i’m downright giddy to practice certain pieces. (“ooh! i’ve always wanted to learn exotic birds by messiaen!”) i’m also completely overwhelmed and shrink into a tiny little ball thinking about the overwhelming amount of work ahead of me.

but here’s the thing: what you do in the first day or two after you get the list can be the difference between thorough, confident preparation and complete catastrophe.

what most people do first vs. what you should do

what MOST people do, and what i used to do, was to look at the list, get super excited, and immediately start practicing the hard stuff. 

i’d run to the practice room and BOOM, i’d be whacking my way through porgy and bess. 

then i’d start playing the loud, fun part of beethoven 9. YAY BIG TIMPANI ROLLS.

the reason? because logically, if you use every second to plow through music starting the moment you get the list, then you’ll probably be so much better than everyone else who stupidly waited to start practicing. 

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but after a week or two of completely unstructured, stream-of-consciousness practice, i’d realize that i was off track. i didn’t prepare any of the excerpts that well, and my work was unbalanced. i’d have this gut feeling that i'd gotten basically nothing of substance done. oh dang, i’ve been wasting my time. sucks to be me.

no. barreling into the practice room to immediately shed is NOT what you should do. instead, you need to take a step back and have what i call an evil genius moment.

you need to scheme. you need to strategize.

while everyone else is going crazy on beethoven 9, you’re going to be making a meticulous plan to make sure your audition prep is awesome.


you’re pinky and the brain, sitting in the corner, making a plan to take over the world. except yours is going to work.

the point of planning is to make sure you’re thorough. see, everyone has the same amount of time between now and the audition. you’re just going to utilize that time in the best way you possibly can. you’re not going to accidentally spend 3 weeks on the bach and then realize there’s not enough time to do everything else. 

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the other point of planning is that it’s going to help you conquer nerves! i’d always get freaked out at the audition when i realized there was something i forgot to do. maybe an excerpt that i didn’t spend enough time on. even one excerpt that’s not quite ready can bring on debilitating nerves that affect all the other excerpts. but when you have every single excerpt prepared equally and thoroughly, and you know you’ve done the best overall work in the time you had, you’re going to get this incredible feeling of confidence because you know you’ve prepared everything they asked.

so. how do you do this?


rob and noa's summer 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.

the fun begins may 31!

step 1: what stuff needs to be done to every excerpt?

ok…an audition preparation process is like an assembly line. you put each excerpt, one by one, into a conveyer belt on one side. each excerpt goes from station to station, and at each station a certain set of steps has to happen. 

like…do you do slow practice where you work it up from half tempo? do you work with a metronome? do you do self-recording? what steps do you take to research the excerpts, and when does each thing happen?

you can start by thinking about what you did last time and what worked well. but also think about what you would ideally do. you’ll have a chance to figure out if there’s actually time for this later, when you’re making your master plan, but for now just decide what the perfect assembly line for your excerpts is.

step 2: what can you improve from last time?

i have this theory. if you prepared for an audition in a certain way and didn’t win, then if you prepare in the exact same way next time you’re also not going to win. if you keep doing it the same way over and over then you’re going to keep having the same result over and over. 

every audition preparation process should look different from the last. your assembly line should have new steps, or a new order for the steps. or some kind of new tweaks to the process.

notice that i’m not saying your process should be BETTER. you don’t know what better is, yet. it should just be different. 

the best way to do this is by thinking through your biggest weaknesses in your playing and making some guesses as to what steps in your assembly line could fix those things. are you getting comments in your mock audition that you’re rushing???? maybe you should try listening back to your excerpt while tapping the metronome. does everyone say your phrasing is flat? maybe play along with some recordings and try to exaggerate the character and phrasing that you hear.

step 3: make your master plan

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once you know the general steps each excerpt is going to go through, you start assigning those tasks to particular days.

here’s how you do this:

the way i prepared for my best auditions, and the way i teach students to prepare, is that each excerpt needs to be researched, you need to learn the notes, record yourself, and then do plenty of mock auditions.

then, you'll make a huge list of every single day between now and the audition and write down what the practice sessions are. that way you can see the actual available amount of time that you have for this audition. 

finally, you start sorting my tasks into days. maybe on day 1 you’ll research the first 6 excerpts on the list. day 2 you’ll research the next 6. by day 10, you're learning notes for one or two excerpts. 

this gives you a chance to say, "OH WAIT, i won’t have enough time for my ideal assembly line,” and make updates and cut steps out. 

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or, it gives you a chance to say, “hey, there are like 3 extra weeks in the middle with nothing to do! are there any steps i could experiment with in that section of time?”

don’t worry, it’s not set in stone.

i know what you’re thinking…BUT ROB, i haven’t even started yet! how am i going to know what i’m doing 7 weeks from today?

ok, calm down. this isn’t a time for you to predict what will happen each day. you’re just planning. you’re making a reasonable plan based on what you think you might be able to accomplish. 

and you can change it later. you can be flexible. every single day you should check your plan and make updates based on how much you actually got done. if you’re in the middle of week 5 and you need an extra day on an excerpt, fine. do it. but if you make a change like that, you’re going to know how to re-maneuver the plan so that everything fits and nothing falls through the cracks.

here’s one more thing that might help: a scheduling template that you can download to plan out your own audition prep.

this is the scheduling template i use with my audition boot camp students. it is basically an example calendar and it looks exactly like the one i use to plan out my practicing. 



p.s. next week i’m going to be doing an interview with noa kageyama, performance psychologist, and a few more interviews with some recent audition winners! i hope you like ‘em. 

p.p.sBOOT CAMP IS STARTING SOON. next week is the last week to enroll. i’ll be letting you know more details about that as the may 27th enrollment deadline approaches.

rob knopper

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