Do you ever find yourself peaking for your audition too early or too late? Do you feel yourself drained of energy before you even get to the audition? Or are you feeling so mentally and physically fatigued that you aren’t even motivated to prepare?

If so, you are reading the right blog! There is a secret weapon that I teach called periodization, and it has been a game changer for all of my audition winning clients. This periodization process involves training cycles with four distinct phases: preparation, tapering, execution, and recovery. Periodization is designed to peak the performer’s energy at just the right time (like during the finals) in order to win.

Preparation Phase
Lately, there’s been a lot of great info on the Internet about various approaches to winning auditions. Most of the websites and blogs are by musicians who have won orchestral auditions themselves. These authors are emphasizing the physical, technical, organizational, and musical aspects of the audition preparation and actual audition performance. They usually address parts of the first phase of periodization: preparation.

Preparation, though, involves both physical and mental work. The physical includes the organization of practice, technical work, listening, score study, mock-auditions, etc. The mental preparation includes: Centering practice, mental rehearsal or visualization, focusing exercises, etc. Long before their auditions, I have my clients complete a thorough assessment of their mental performance skills. We measure their abilities in five main areas: performance energy, confidence, courage, focus, and resilience. After determining their individual mental strengths and weaknesses, they can begin working specifically in the area(s) where they will make the most improvement in the least amount of time.

The mental training, which can replace some of the physical practice time, involves the Centering Process and positive affirmations. Centering helps you control and channel your performance energy before and during the audition process. The affirmations help to build self- confidence. Concentration exercises help you to focus past distractions and quiet your mind. You will also learn how to become mentally tough and to recover quickly from inevitable mistakes. I don’t believe in perfectionism, especially at auditions. The idea is to continually strive for excellence, doing your best under any circumstances.

Tapering Phase
A few days prior to an audition, it is time to begin the second phase of the training cycle, which is the all-important tapering process. You need to spend less time physically practicing, increase your mental training even more, and begin to get more sleep and rest. In the last week before the audition, it’s too late to cram (although many musicians do). If you don’t have all the excerpts or technical skills down by now, you’re probably not going to master them in the next
few days.

Instead of fretting over musical things or playing through the excerpt list one more time, there are better things to do. Believe it or not, I often recommend sleeping in, taking short power naps (less than 40 minutes), watching comedy, doing a mental rehearsal session, or having lunch with a good friend (either a non-musician friend or one who promises there will be no audition talk!). In the last few days, the idea is to keep positive and mellow as you bide your time and build up your energy. This is not easy for many musicians who are used to constant physical practice. Although you cannot win in the days leading up to an audition, you can lose it during that time.

In addition to maintaining the right mindset and conserving energy, it’s important that you carefully manage your heightened emotions in the final days before the audition. Due to the extra stress, many performers’ nerves get raw and they become “testy” or “prickly”, especially with those around them. For musicians, the looming audition feels more important than a matter of life or death. Keeping perspective and a sense of humor can be an immense help. The audition performance is too important to take too seriously.

The most important night of sleep is two nights before the audition. In terms of energy, there’s a one day delay. So if the audition is on Saturday, you want to get a good night’s sleep on Thursday. Go to bed early, or sleep in, or both. If you get very tired Friday afternoon, you should take a very short nap (10 – 15 minutes). After waking, I recommend you get up, move around, and get some fresh air.

The night before the audition, schedule dinner in the late afternoon or early evening. It’s wise to eat something easy to digest, without a lot of spices. Wind down before going to bed (no exciting action movies, musical events, or recordings). Turn off all musical thoughts and get to bed at a reasonable time. Darken the room and find a comfortable position. If sleep doesn’t arrive within a few minutes, don’t worry. Simply lying still provides 70% of the benefit of sleeping. Hopefully, you will have been getting extra rest and naps lately, and had a good night’s sleep last night. That’s the energy you’ll be working off of tomorrow at the audition.

Execution Phase
The third phase is the execution phase. The first step is to get up with plenty of time to do whatever you need to do physically, musically, and mentally to get ready to do your best. I recommend arriving at the audition site early, keeping your mind on the process of having a peak performance. Avoid thinking about the possible outcomes. When it comes up, just imagine the audition going well. Before walking in, summon up courage and focus only on the task at hand. Follow the performance routine. (I have watched many clients throw their performance routine out the window the day of the audition.) Trust the process, all of the hard work, and training. Then go for it!

Although many musicians try in vain to relax at auditions, I train my clients to use their extra energy to blow away their competitors and the audition panel. They use a variety of mental skills, like Centering and mental rehearsal techniques, that help them do better at the auditions because of the extra pressure and energy, not in spite of it. While most of their fellow musicians are trying to calm down, I want my clients to get their energy up. My training teaches them how
to control and channel their performance energy when it counts.

Recovery Phase
After the audition, the final phase is recovery. Whether you won or not, you need to reward yourself for your efforts and improvements. Take some much needed physical and mental rest away from the instrument and repertoire before preparing for the next big performance or audition. Make sure that you fresh and rested before starting your next training cycle.

Once again, you should make good use of the secret weapon known as periodization. You will begin the four-phase cycle with the all the physical and mental work that needs to be done for several weeks or months to prepare for the audition or concert. This is followed by tapering in the last days before the important event. You will back off from the high level of training in order to build your energy, so that’s it reaches a peak in the execution phase at the audition or concert. After that, you’ll deserve a few days or more off so you can recover.

Action Items:
● Ask yourself during what phase of your periodization do you struggle with the most when
you’re getting ready for an audition or important concert.
● For your next training cycle, plan out your calendar, so you can schedule your
periodization cycles.
● Repeat the 4 phases until you begin to feel like each cycle of the periodization process
has improved.