Practicing has mainly two purposes: you can practice to learn new music and work on pieces you already know or do excises that will help you improve specific aspects of your playing.
Working on solo pieces and etudes will of course improve your playing but it is good to have a daily routine that you can include in your warm up and specific exercises to focus on one thing in particular like lip trill exercises, long tone, flexibility exercises etc.
If you are a beginner, you will mostly follow your band method or any other method book that your teacher gave you. Some students will only pick up their instrument during band practice. I recommend that you play about 30 minutes/day, five times per week on top of band rehearsals.
Once you've played for a year or two, you can warm up by playing scales and arpeggios to develop your technique and practice a combination of solo pieces and etudes. You can increase the duration of your practice session to 40-45 minutes. At this point, you need to expand your range and develop reflexes. That is why scales are very important here. Learn them in every key even if it's not the most exciting thing to practice. If you've practiced, let's say, A flat major a thousand times, you won't panic when you see four flats at the key signature!
For intermediate level, it's pretty much the same as before except that the aim of your practice is more to polish what you have already than going further so you need to include long tones, lip trills and flexibility exercises in your warm up on top of scales and arpeggios. It is very tempting at this point to work only on fast pieces and fast passages but don't neglect slow music. Practicing slow movements will do great things for your sound, phrasing, intonation and musicality. The pieces you will play at this level will require more endurance and high register skills. Take time to do chops building drills like the Caruso technique or any other routine 3-4 times/week.
Once they've reached a certain level, some students are satisfied with just playing in the band and don't practice much individually. That's okay with me as long as they don't become a drag for their colleagues. I sometimes ask them to practice a bit in the weeks before a concert if they're struggling. It's usually no problem. I understand that they can have other interests or have quite a lot to do in school especially those preparing for college.
Advanced students who want to become professional musicians should be playing a minimum of 2-3 hours/day individually. At this point, there's no magic trick. Practice a lot, practice well and you'll get where you want. Have a complete routine that covers all aspect of your playing and do it every day before playing your pieces, etudes and excerpts. Don't do the same things all the time. Be creative and add new elements from time to time. You only see your teacher once a week so you need to be the teacher the rest of the time. Don't be satisfied with just "being able to play it". Everyone who has a minimum of talent and practices for long enough will be able to play most of the repertoire at some point. You need to make the music interesting so people will remember you for the right reasons. Practice the musicality. Come up with your own ideas and make them happen. This starts in your practice room. It won't just magically happen in concert!
Each orchestra has its own way of recruiting new members. The audition rules, committee, format, duration and repertoire will vary a lot from one orchestra to another even within the same country so you should be prepared for anything. Sometimes, musicians are hired without audition but it is rare.
You can find information about available jobs online ( www.musicalchairs.info for exemple) or in publications such as the Das Orchester magazine in Germany. You need to send them your resume and contact details and wait for the invitation. Some orchestra will invite everyone, others will invite selected candidates based on age, experience and recommendation . Having your teacher or someone you know giving a call to one of the section members to support your candidacy can help you getting an invitation.
If you are invited, they will send you a letter of invitation with a list of solo repertoire and excerpts to prepare. European orchestras tend to put more emphasis on the solos in general as in North America, the excerpts are more important but again that varies a lot from one place to another. In any case, you should take everything you have to play seriously!
The jury will be composed of members of the vacated position's section, principal players of the larger group (winds, or strings), and other selected members of the orchestra( for ex. the concert master) . Some orchestras have the entire orchestra voting. The chef conductor may be present and have a veto right on the final decision.
There are usually 3 rounds to an audition. (it can also be more or less) After each round, the jury will eliminate a certain number of candidates and the remaining people will move on to the next round. It is common for an orchestra to not hire anyone after 3 rounds if they aren't satisfied with the level of playing they are hearing. In that case, they will have another audition a couple of months later. Another chance for you!
Most candidates are eliminated in the first round for accuracy, intonation, rhythm, tone quality problems or lack of musicality. The jury can also cut someone after a few bars if they think they've heard enough. It isn't pleasant if you are the "victim" but having sat in many audition committee, I can tell you that an audition day is long and tiring for jury members and if someone just isn't doing well and has no chance of winning, they will try to shorten the day a bit by eliminating that person immediately. That's life... If this happens to you, don't take it personal. Learn from this experience, tweak your playing and try again.
Making it to the second round of a professional audition is quite an achievement in itself. It means that this particular orchestra consider you a contender for the job and wants to hear more of you. There will usually be only a few candidates left. At this point, it becomes a matter of physical and mental endurance. They already see something in you so keep giving it to them!
In my experience, the hardest excerpts will be asked in the second round to see who's got solid nerves and chops. They can also ask you to sight read something.
And finally, if you survive the cut, comes the final round. At this point, there are normally only one or two candidates left. If you've made it that far, it's already a moral victory and you should be very proud. Don't get too excited ! You're not done yet. You might have to play a whole movement of the concerto with the remaining excerpts on the list and more. Considering that your "rival" is probably just as skilled as you, it's really about your personality as a musician here. They will look for someone who they think will fit the section and the orchestra the best. You might also have to play with the section and/or the entire orchestra.
If you win, congrats! You will generally get a year trial on the job after which the panel will decide to give you the job for life provided you don't mess up and keep a decent level of playing.
Winning a position in an orchestra is a remarkable achievement for a musician considering the expectations and the competition. I personally went through around 25 professional auditions not counting the ones for schools and festivals. Sometimes I won. Sometimes, I made it to 2nd and third rounds. Other times, I thought I played great but was eliminated immediately or thought I didn't play so well but still advanced.
You really can't predict what the jury will think. You just have to go there, do your best and hope the planets will line up on you that day. If things don't go well, don't be discouraged. You didn't fare worst than most people on that day.
Once the audition is over, it's no use making up conspiracy theories about how unfair the jury is or the audition being "rigged", etc. That's a loser attitude. Learn from the experience and tweak your playing for the next one. If you know someone on the panel, try to get some feed back if possible.
In the last post about auditioning, we will go over a few good tips and strategies to prepare yourself for the big day.
I wrote in previous posts that we need to play according to our artistic judgement rather than our physical abilities to determine our dynamics for example.
Let's take this a bit further and see what makes us play the way we play.
When you perform a piece, you are always making decisions even you are not aware of it. You choose how short is "staccato", how loud is "forte", how fast is "allegro", how strong should the accents be etc... The rational part of your brain tells you what to do, the creative and intuitive part tells you how and how much. This is how you create your own interpretation of the music and truly become an artist by making your own choices. On the other hand, if only use the rational part of yourself to play, you'll just play the notes and end up with a boring performance where nothing happens.
The intuitive and creative part of your brain doesn't really work in terms of right vs wrong or good vs bad. It's more about "I like" vs "I don't like". So if you want to be more in touch with this part of you, you will need to suspend criticism and let your feelings and intuition take over.
You just have to come up with an interpretation that YOU feel is right at the moment even if it sounds completely random in the beginning. Don't criticize what you do, it's a work in process. Even if it's not the greatest idea, it will lead you to a better one and so on until something great comes up.
Composers and song writers work this way a lot. First, they let their imagination go wild a bit without trying to control it too much. After a while some interesting motives and ideas start showing up and they can add so meat around the bone. Same thing for jazz musicians when they improvise. They wouldn't be able to do it if they were shy about the melodies they come up with on stage. The more they do it, the more they get in touch with their creative side and the better they become at it.
If you want to play in a more creative and intuitive way, you will have to think like a composer or jazz musician and be in touch with the more instinctive part of yourself. Don't criticize what you do. Criticism will kill your creativity in the process. There is no wrong answer. Just do what you feel like doing. Take your foot of the break and let the music happen in you. Take time to create a great interpretation in your head first. Don't be afraid to go bold and crazy if you feel like it. It's in your head, you can do what you want! Then try to replicate this with your instrument. If you do that, you will become a true musician and artist no matter what your technical skills are.
How do movie stars walk on stage when they just won an award? How do heads of states stand when they speak to an audience? How do great musicians look when they perform?
Having a winner's posture will give you confidence. Wearing nice clothes, sitting upright, walking confidently, breathing calmly, etc will have a great effect on your mind as well as your look. It will also make you sound better because you'll stand or sit better and have a winner's attitude.
There is a lot we can learn from people who are frequently on the spotlight. It is very useful to look at how they stand, walk, talk and try to replicate that in your own way. You can imagine that you are a celebrity walking in a talk show and adopt his/her posture and attitude. "Act" like this for a few minutes and then pick up your instrument and play like the star that you are!
I am associate principal horn of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and the author of the progressive methods. I'm happy to share my experience as a horn player and teacher with you.