I recently had the pleasure of spending an afternoon talking with Allen Carter. Allen is a top professional drummer whose credits include the Les Brown Orchestra, The Captain & Tenille and The Kansas City Philharmonic. Currently he plays professionally in the L. A. area and teaches at several local colleges.

We happened to get on the subject of auditions. Over the years, Allen and I have both had to audition for school bands, commercial groups and jobs of various kinds. Being in educational situations, we have both had to conduct auditions for young drummers. We made up a list of observations that we felt might help young drummers handle this difficult situation.

School Auditions

An audition for the college jazz/rock ensemble (big band) is, in some ways, the toughest of all auditions because many facets of playing will be required. For example, you will be asked to read music fairly well. If you can’t read, you can’t get into a good college band. They simply don’t have time for you to memorize the arrangement. Also, the music being played by bands of this type is fairly complicated, so the ability to read well is a must.

The second problem is one of styles. The college drummer will be asked to play swing, funk, bebop, rock sambas and ballads. Some concert arrangements will include several of these styles, as well as tempo changes and unusual time signatures.

Commercial/Professional Auditions

Usually people will ask other musicians for a recommendation. “Can this drummer play what is required?” “Do you know a drummer who would be good for our type of band?” In other words, your word-of-mouth reputation with other musicians must be good, or you will never get the chance to audition.

In a commercial rock band, “feel” and steadiness of tempo become the key factors. Bands or groups usually do not require a lot of sight reading. However, even in groups of this type it is useful to be able to read, because it helps you to understand rhythms.

Occasionally, a group or band will ask you for tapes or recordings of your playing before granting an official audition. For this reason, it is good to have tapes of rehearsals and concerts. School concerts, night-club engagements and rehearsals are ideal situations to record. Make the effort to obtain these tapes or recordings, and keep them in good condition. You never know when you might need them.

Attitude—Preparing For An Audition Mentally

  1. When preparing for an audition, it is important to remember that there is always someone better than you…someplace! If you play your best and someone else wins the audition, it serves no purpose to be critical of the other drummer. Try to understand what the other drummer does well and learn from it. After all, there will be another day. Learn from everything you can, even the situations where you don’t come out on top. If you keep learning, you will get your chance…sometime.
  2. Do not tell the people conducting the audition your life story and “how you got to be so great.” They don’t want to hear it. Let your playing speak for you. If you sound good, they will tell you. If you don’t sound so good, at least you will feel less embarrassed.
  3. Be on time! If you show up late, the decision may have already been made. Also, if you are late, it will probably make you more nervous. Give yourself the best possible chance. In addition, being late makes a negative impression even before you begin to play.
  4. Play the music at hand the best you possibly can. Don’t show off by overplaying or by trying to be impressive. Try to make the band or group sound good.
  5. When in doubt, play time! When I was on Lionel Hampton’s band he told me, “I don’t care if you miss a figure or a break. Just keep the time straight. As long as the time is together, everyone else can play.” If the chart or arrangement is a little difficult for you, concentrate on keeping good time and listening to what the other musicians are playing. If you continue to do this, you will improve. More importantly, the other musicians will enjoy playing with you.

The Unexpected

No matter how much preparation you do, there will always be something you didn’t plan on. In fact, some directors will purposely throw an extremely difficult part at you just to see how you react under stress. The rule is, don’t panic! Other people have had trouble with the same part too. Do the best you can and keep cool. You will make a better impression by remaining calm.

Last but not least, don’t make excuses if you make a mistake. Just ask for an opportunity to try it again. Remember, the people conducting the audition want you to do well. This is why they are giving you the chance in the first place.