How to Mark Your Music for an Accompanist

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If I have one piece of advice for actors it’s this: stop putting the cart before the horse.

Many actors get up at 4 a.m. for auditions multiple times a week and wait for hours in a holding room, only to say to their accompanist when they finally get called in, “Sorry this copy is such a mess.” As a result, they give one mediocre audition after another.

If you’re making it difficult (or impossible) for your pianist to be with you, your auditioning is the equivalent of busy work and it won’t get you anywhere. Before going to one more call, make sure all your cuts follow these simple rules.

1. Always bring in a copy from a piano/vocal score.
Piano/vocals have your line on the top and a two-handed piano accompaniment with treble and bass clefs underneath. A “chart” or “leadsheet” that only has a vocal line with chord symbols above it isn’t acceptable for a musical theater audition.

Individually-published versions of the songs are best. Full scores can be complicated and hard to read. The Singer Pro editions on are a great resource, as are most compilation books. Or you can hire an accompanist to arrange it for you.

2. Make sure it’s in the correct key.
They say it in almost every audition notice: “accompanist will not transpose.” Before you set foot in the audition room, play your opening line on a keyboard while listening to it on a recording to make sure the key is correct.

3. Check your margins.
Even if all your music is on the page, you might have a copy that cuts off a portion of the pianist’s music. Make sure all chord symbols are legible along the top of the page. Same goes for all bass clef notes along the bottom of the page. If you don’t use page protectors, make sure you don’t hole punch through any music. When copying music from a physical book (usually larger than 8x11), adjust the zoom aspect ratio to around 92 or 93 percent and you should be covered.

4. Mark your intro.
What kind of intro do you want? You can mark a “vamp” by bracketing out a harmonically simple intro (usually a “boom-chick” pattern) and writing how many times you want it repeated (x2, x3, etc), like this:

Or, include a couple bars of the existing intro, like this:

Alternately, you can ask for a “bell tone.” This will signal your pianist to play your starting note for you before you go right into the tune from there.

5. Mark your start point and endpoint.
Use brackets to signify where you’re starting, and close the brackets at the point where you’re stopping. Write “Start” and “Stop” above the brackets, like this:

A single cut might have multiple start points, like one for a 32-bar cut and another for a 16-bar cut. But unless you want to give your accompanist a heart attack, avoid multiple endpoints in a single copy. If where you end varies depending on the length of your cut, you need two separate copies in your book.

6. Clearly X out any music you don’t want to be played.
Mark an X cleanly and boldly through any music you don’t want the accompanist to play. Communicating this verbally at the top of the audition won’t cut it.

7. Make sure the title, show, and tempo are clearly written on the page.
If your cut isn’t from the beginning of the song, you’ll need to handwrite the name of the song, the show it’s from, the tempo marking, and the time signature. Remember, the tempo might not be what it was at the top of the song; look for the most recent tempo marking.

8. Highlight all changes.
Ideally, a good audition cut isn’t overly complex. But if there are changes in the music your pianist needs to be aware of—a key change, time signature change, tempo change, etc.—use a highlighter. You can also bring them to your accompanist’s attention at the top of your audition.

9. Perfecting your “Frankencuts.”
The best audition cuts often aren’t a single chunk of the song, but multiple, separate chunks cobbled together into one long cut. But if you aren’t fluent in music theory, you’ll probably need help determining if the cut works. It takes a solid knowledge of harmony and form to create a cut like that. If that isn’t you, ask for advice from your coach or voice teacher.

Check out Backstage’s musicals audition listings!

The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

Amy Marie Stewart
Amy Marie Stewart is an actor, voice teacher, and the founder of TheoryWorks. Amy’s students have appeared on Broadway, with the Rockettes, and in national tours. She performs in operas, including the 2017 Opera America Showcase at the Town Hall in Times Square, and musicals.
See full bio and articles here!

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