A Romantic Atmosphere
How to prepare a pianist for your audition

by Richard Carsey

A singer at an audition is on a blind date with a pianist. This date takes place in front of people who can give the singer a job based on the audition’s outcome. The blind date lasts between four and eight minutes, but its result could mean weeks, months, or even years of work.

So why do so many singers act as if the pianist isn’t there? Perhaps it’s fear—auditioning is intimidating! But the pianist is your best ally.

How you enter the room is a big deal. Those first moments matter to the people behind the table—how you look, the feeling you bring with you as you enter, your acknowledgement of those who are there to hear you (you may be introduced or you may not be, but “hello”, or “hi, I’m _____” is always appropriate). How you deal with the pianist also matters. If you are dismissive, give the wrong information, or are rude and superior, the folks behind the table notice. Believe me, they do.   And they assume this is how you will behave if they hire you.

I’ve seen very good singers ruin their chances at a job by dismissing the collaborator who sits behind the keyboard. An audition features you and another person. Give the pianist the tools necessary to make you look good.

It starts with a smile. You may not always get one in return, but you will at least let the pianist know that you’re in this together.

Have your book open to the song you will start with. Have the place where the pianist is to begin marked clearly—post-it arrows are great for this. Lawyers and tax attorneys use these on forms to show people where to sign. They are great because they are not confusing. You can even move them around at the next audition if you decide to use a different 16 bars!

If there are cuts, SHOW them to the pianist.  A general wave of the hand over the page is not helpful.  Point to the beginning of the cut, then point to the end—“from here to here.” In addition, have it marked:  “VI=” is the standard indication at the beginning of a cut,  “=DE” shows the end (Example 1). Or you can cross out the bars you are eliminating (Example 2). Or you can copy your music with blank paper over the cut so that there is no chance the pianist will play bars you don’t intend to sing (Example 3). Please note that in these examples, the music is properly aligned, clear, and there are no notes cut off on any of the margins, especially the bottom of the page. These are all things your accompanist needs for success!

CLARITY is everything. The pianist needs to take in a lot of information while playing and listening to you – it happens in a split second. You provide the only guide.

Next you need to establish the tempo. Sing about 4 bars of your part, with the words—don’t try to hum the piano intro. In my experience, singers tend to be nervous in an audition, and they will often sing a tempo faster than the one they intend. Take the time to do it right. Singing the words will help you feel the tempo correctly.  Rehearse this moment on your own outside of an audition.  If you give the pianist the wrong tempo and she plays what you sang, it’s not her fault. It’s yours.

You’ve given the information and you leave the piano to announce your selection—or perhaps the folks behind the table engage you in small talk, or ask what you are singing. No matter how it unfolds there are a few seconds of transition. The pianist is waiting for some kind of signal to start. It has to come—encouragingly—from you. The best way is to look your pianist in the eye and give a nod. She is confident you are ready, and you get no surprises!

After that, the appetizers are over and it’s on to the entrée — your song! Your blind date has begun

©2013 Richard Carsey

Next up-what to do if things go wrong


  1. Excellent article! This is precisely what needs to be read by auditioners, because what you say is SO TRUE!!! Thank you, Richard! ~Abby

  2. Thank you Richard! Another tip I give my students is to silently wish your audition committee well as you enter. It sets up a great dynamic, one that people can actually feel, and helps to put you the performer in the driver’s seat.

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