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Backstage Experts

5 Important Audition Song Choices to Make

5 Important Audition Song Choices to Make
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The job of your audition song is to make you look amazing. In an audition context, a song is an interview tool; it needs to be tailored around your voice and personality to show you off to your best advantage. If you feel empowered to make informed decisions about your repertoire, you will love performing it, and that always shows. Below are a few elements of your music to consider before you bring in that great new tune to your next audition. 

  1. Key. The composer of your song selected an original key for the piece that they wrote, but you should ask yourself if the song is in the right key for you. I’m sure most of you know that sheet music is available and transposable online, so if you love the piece but it doesn’t feel like it’s sitting right in your voice, transposition may be a good option.  Many times, even a half-step up or down can make all the difference in the world.  Two caveats:
    1. There are some iconic songs where the original key is expected; we use these well-known pieces as an assessment for your vocal skills. For instance, if you sing “The Story Goes On,” we expect you to sing it in C major, so we can hear how you handle the ending.
    2. Some composers have very specific ideas about key. They may feel like a song sounds best in a certain range, and they do not want it changed. For myself as a writer, I don’t mind at all if someone transposes a piece of mine, but know that others feel differently.
  2. Intro. Make sure you have thought through how you will begin your song. Some singers prefer to start their pieces with a bell-tone (a single note or octave that is played to give the singer their starting pitch). The advantage of this is it gives the performer more control over when to start the song. However, sometimes it feels better to have the musical energy established before singing begins, and in those cases, you should craft a brief piano introduction. If it is longer than 5–7 seconds, it should probably be shortened; between two and four bars is usually a good musical length.
  3. Tempo. For most musical theater songs, we expect a tempo that is close to the original feel from the cast recording. That being said, some performers do better with a tempo that is slightly slower or faster than the original, and it’s worth experimenting with this in your own practice. If you are going to change the tempo, I recommend you create a metronome marking and write it at the top of your sheet music; if you don’t know how to do that, your vocal coach can lend a hand. In your audition, you should also tell the accompanist that you will be taking a different tempo than they may be used to.
  4. Cut. When you are asked for 16 or 32 bars, this is not an invitation for you to literally count the bars of your song. The people behind the table don’t have a score in front of them, and can only assess whether the song feels like the right length. Therefore, I think it is better to time your song; a 16-bar cut should be around 30–45 seconds (one minute is maximum) and a 32-bar cut should be around 1:15–1:30 (two minutes is maximum).  The most important thing is that the cut feel right and make good musical sense. That being said, you will occasionally run into audition pianists who will ask you to sing a “strict 16-bars” and may go so far as to count measures, so it is good to know a cut of your song that is actually 16 or 32 bars for those occasions.
  5. Playout. Consider whether or not you want to use the whole playout (the last few bars of music) of your piece. Your singing voice should be the last sound that we hear in your song, so if you’re worried about sustaining the last note for the entire written length, it’s often best to truncate the ending slightly; when doing this, make sure that the accompaniment still resolves harmonically. If you are not sure how to decide this, ask your vocal coach for help. 

The more customized and specific you are with your audition songs, the better they will feel to you, and we’ll get to enjoy your singing so much more.

Andrew Byrne is a voice teacher and Backstage Expert. For more information, check out Byrne’s full bio!

And check out our musical theater audition listings! For more great advice from Andrew Byrne, you can watch the video below about how to choose songs for your audition book.

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