when should you take your first audition?

what’s the best way to waste your time as a student?

lots of teachers would say it’s by taking an audition before you’re ready.

they’ll say…you should be working on becoming a well-rounded musician. and then, one day, once you’re ready, THEN you should go take an audition somewhere. maybe, like, when you’re in grad school or something.

sorry guys. this is just not at all true. don’t believe it.

i won a job at the age of 24. that’s sort of early in the grand scheme of things. but by the age of 24, i had taken all of these professional auditions:

  • ann arbor symphony, age 16
  • annapolis symphony, age 18
  • san diego symphony, age 21
  • huntsville symphony, age 21
  • kansas city symphony, age 22
  • new world symphony, age 22
  • canton symphony, age 22
  • new world symphony AGAIN, age 22
  • winnipeg symphony, age 23
  • new world symphony a third time, age 23
  • milwaukee symphony, age 23
  • st. louis symphony sublist, age 23
  • kansas city symphony sublist, age 23
  • hong kong philharmonic (tape round), age 24
  • met orchestra, age 24

THAT IS A LOT OF AUDITIONS before the age of 24!

and it doesn’t even include all the orchestras that rejected my resume (4), all the summer festival auditions (27), and all my college auditions (8).

if someone tells you to wait “until you’re ready,” just smile and nod.

yes, they have good intentions. they’re not trying to screw you up. but that’s dangerous advice to take.

see…when you take an audition when you’re too young, you’re going to lose. it’s gonna suck.

  1. you’re not going to know how to prepare,
  2. you’re going to feel like a rookie,
  3. you’re going to get cut immediately,
  4. you’re going to feel like a failure,
  5. you’re going to have to face your family, your teacher, and your friends and tell them that you lost an audition, and
  6. you’re going to wonder what you’re doing with your life and if you’re really cut out for this industry.

but guess what?


those are all good things.


want to nail your next audition? download my free audition cheat sheet: the 5-step guide to constructing your preparation process and optimizing it for maximum results. the best part? it works for any instrument.



ok, check this out.

audition preparation is a chain of events. you get the list, you go practice, and you go to the audition.

the first time you take an audition, you’re going to DO IT WRONG.

the “you go practice” part is going to be pretty basic. you’re going to practice a little bit carelessly. or you’re not going to record yourself very much. you might only play one mock audition. that’s understandable...you don’t know whether your preparation is going to lead to an audition win or not. you don’t know that you need to record, so why would you?

lots of stuff is going to go wrong, and your audition results are going to represent that.

but then…

when you fail miserably the first time, it’s going to affect you mentally. you’re going to feel that desperation.

  • “why did i lose?”
  • “am i a terrible musician? has every bit of practice time so far in my life been a waste of time?”
  • “should i give up?”

you’re gonna feel ALL of that. join the club - we’ve all been there. but then you’re going to progress in your thinking, and this is the real key.

  • “ok. maybe i sucked last time. what can i do to fix it for next time?”
  • “if i want to do better next time, how should i prepare?"
  • “let’s pick up the pieces of my musical life and move on.”

and it’s true. when you get to this point, you have strengths and weaknesses. now is the perfect time to look at the way you prepared and figure out what needs to be improved next time you’re preparing for an audition.

that feeling of desperation is going to cause improvement.

necessity is the mother of invention. even frank zappa knew that.

and because of that desperation, your audition process is going to improve. you’re going to push yourself to find whatever it takes to overcome your weaknesses. this is the beautiful part.

if you get a rejection, it just means that there are still improvements to be made in your process. your excerpt assembly line - that chain of events that happens between the day you get the list and the day of the audition - has a gap in it. or maybe a BUNCH of gaps.

and desperation causes breakthroughs. you’re going to work on bridging those gaps in your 2nd, 3rd, and 4th auditions.

but: you are not a failure.

you can’t measure yourself by how well you do at auditions. the result is not the important part. this is a chart of my lifetime audition results:

basically…suck suck suck suck suck (53 times) and then WIN! that’s not representative how i developed as a musician.

behind the scenes, what was really going on was this:


an almost-complete audition preparation process is still going to yield a rejection.

start with audition #1.

unless you actually go through your first rejection, you’re not going to be able to start this process. you have to establish your ‘weak’ audition preparation before you can tweak it and make it better.

this is called failing fast. go ahead - get the first one out of the way. i give you permission to lose your audition virginity. it’s time.

why you can’t wait to start.

look. if you decide that you’re going to wait to take an audition until you’re “ready,” then this is what’s going to happen: you’re probably going to tell yourself that instead of working on the ‘sport’ of auditions, you’re going to work on your musicianship broadly. you’re going to work on all sorts of things with your teacher, like tone production, intonation, phrasing, musicality, character, ALL OF THE THINGS!

and that’s great, and i want you to work on lots of things! not just auditions!

but you’re going to be missing something big. and it’s going to come back to bite you.

audition preparation has to be a part of your process, from the very beginning.

if you don’t get to work on this, then when you’re done with college and you start to decide that it’s time to audition, you’re going to be a beginner at preparing for auditions. your process will be a newborn baby while everyone else will have a highly functional audition preparation process.

you don’t want to be getting into your late 20’s and be a beginner at auditions! it’s embarrassing to have to tell your parents that even after all that college they paid for, you still aren’t any closer to your goal.

“hey rob! should i stop doing what my teacher tells me and just take auditions?"

omg no! i don’t want you to become an ‘excerpt machine’ or an ‘audition athlete’ and lose all sense of musicality.

the audition preparation process is full of things that grow yourself as a musician. i’m not saying that you should just drill excerpts all day long!

no…in fact, drilling excerpts all day long was one of my early rookie mistakes. it was through a desperate moment that i realized that by breaking down music into its component parts and building them back up, i learned how to deeply think about how i wanted the music to sound and prepare it the right way. “drilling excerpts” in the traditional sense of running them over and over just doesn’t work. at least not for me. thank god i learned that during some of my earlier auditions.

your audition preparation should include doing a ton of self-recording, which means listening deeply to your phrasing, tone, sound production, rhythm, and the other various musical elements that make up your musicianship.

it should include mock auditioning, which means practicing and experiencing the art of performing for real people, talking about your musical decisions, and shaping your playing.

these are all music preparation methods that you will a massively better musician. that’s why in my course, the auditionhacker formula, i go through every single part of the audition process in extremely thorough, step-by-step detail. and it’ll position you to dominate at auditions in the future.

this is the most important thing you can be doing right now.

every time you get rejected, you should go through this experience of soul-searching and self-reflection. and you should choose some new ways to approach audition preparation that will lead directly to personal growth and a better next time.

that preparation process, is yours. it’s your asset. you take it and grow it from audition to audition. the better it gets, the closer you get to one day winning a job.

you need to look at your preparation process as the thing you’re working on, instead of focusing on the result of the audition itself. one day you’ll have that result you want, but ONLY if you’ve focused on constant growth of your process.

the best way to waste your time as a student? it’s by not auditioning. it’s by not starting this process until it’s too late.

go forth, young jedi. go take an audition.

it’s time.

rob knopper

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