Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Musical Theater Part I: Tips for Rocking Your Audition

The North Main Music Musical Theater crew. 
From l to r: Josh, Trisha, Ella, Riya, and Emmerson.
Photo by Sibvon Marshall.
Are you an aspiring musical theater performer? At North Main Music, many of our students also audition for theater programs at school or in community theater groups, so we thought it would be helpful to share some tips on how to rock you next musical theater audition!

Selecting an Audition Song
Selecting the right song is critical to your audition and it can take time--there’s a lot to consider as you decide! So, if you find yourself Googling “how to pick an audition song,” then look no further.

Even if you’re comfortable in the spotlight and don’t normally get stage fright, there’s often a long, arduous process to prepare for an audition. As you prepare, keep these things in mind:
  • Treat each and every audition like a performance. Why? Because it is a performance!
  • Approach it like you have the job already.
  • Select an audition song that best shows you off and is in the musical style of the show that you’re auditioning for.

So how do you choose the best song for you? Here’s what we recommend thinking about as you look for the best audition song(s).

Do you have a connection to the song? Another way to ask this question is, “Why do you want to tell this story?” Equally important to ask yourself is, do you love your audition song? No? Then don’t do it. Period. Your audience can always tell if you’re not into it. Since there are so many songs out there, there’s no excuse for doing something you dislike just because it may fit your voice. You have to connect with your song!

Questions to ask yourself:
  • What are the primary ideas and themes you want to share in your performance?
  • Why is it important to share this song with your audience?
  • How is the story you are trying to tell relevant to your present age and life experiences?

Choose a musical topic that is close to your own life experiences. You’ll be able to imagine it more clearly and, therefore, communicate it to the listener more effectively. There is a vast body of quality music out there, so choose songs with messages that you are personally interested in sharing.

Consider Your “Type”

Is your voice soulful and sultry? Or are you more of a soprano? The best way to learn how to sing for your voice is to try out many different tunes. Any strain may mean it’s out of your comfortable vocal range. Your voice teacher can work with you on this, of course!

Equally important in musical theatre is your personality type. Are you a funny girl? A leading man? The femme fatale? Know yourself and be proud to be yourself. There’s room for everyone out there — young, old, funny, sexy, nerdy — you name it. Playing “against a type” will get you nowhere and you’ll find you don’t land the gigs you want! These are all critical factors in deciding on the best audition songs to show off your skills.

Find the source material

Is the song you’ve chosen correct musically and lyrically? Is it in the correct key for your voice? Today most people buy music online, but sometimes music purchased via download-on-demand services contains variations of the melody and lyrics. Find the source material (the original version of the sheet music). That can sometimes be a challenge, but it’s important that you learn the song correctly. Try looking at your local library or university, or contact the Great American Songbook Foundation to see if they have a copy in their archives. If they do, they will be happy to send you a copy.

“The Key is the Key”

You may also find these versions have been arranged in certain keys so they are easier to play on the piano--however, this may not be the best key for you to sing it in. (Be aware that there isn’t a correct key for popular songs.) Your choice of key impacts the technical aspects of your performance, which will ultimately affect your interpretation of the piece. If you are working with a vocal instructor, they can help you choose the key that allows you to sing the song as well as possible.

Is your song choice creative?
Avoid repertoire that’s strongly associated with an individual artist, or has become representative of that artist’s body of work because when you sing these songs, it will be difficult to avoid being compared to that artist. If you like a particularly iconic song, such as Etta James’ well-known version of “At Last,” here are some options:

Listen to other songs recorded by that artist, and then choose something that is less iconic.

Investigate the songwriter/composer’s catalog, and find a similar piece you like. You will often need to dig a little deeper to find a piece that is perfectly suited to you and your skills. The Great American Songbook Foundation has compiled a “Greatest Hits” playlist of some of the most well-known tunes. And don’t automatically write off musicals that didn’t do well at the box office — they often have great music!

Does the piece challenge you *appropriately* as a singer?
The key word here is appropriate. You should not (we repeat, not) seek out the most challenging piece you can find. If the song is right at the edge of your technical abilities, you will be focused on that aspect of the performance and will likely lose the focus of the story you are trying to communicate because the technical demands will overwhelm that. Make sure you are comfortable with the difficulty level of the material you choose.

Consider edits & attention spans

Musical theater auditions usually require a singer or actor prepare 16 or 32 bars of a song, or two contrasting excerpts. Some songs are much more awkward to cut than others. Choose songs that are fairly simple in structure (verse-chorus-verse, for example), rather than a song that rambles like a long musical monologue (think of many of the songs from “Wicked,” for example). Simpler is always better, if you have the option!

Also, keep your audience in mind. Your audition panel has been listening to singers all day long and doesn’t really want to have to cut you off. Singing a shorter song is fine, as long as it shows off what you’ve got! Less is sometimes more. The judges often know all they need to about a singer in a surprisingly short amount of time.

Consider Your Age

These days, kids have great repertoire to choose from. The problem is that kids often go into competitions or auditions with songs that are inappropriate; either the song’s subject matter is too mature or the song is beyond their capabilities.

When you’re looking at popular music, it gets especially difficult as most songs deal with romantic relationships. However, there are plenty of pop songs with positive messages. Look at the repertoire of Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars, or Rachel Platten.

Kids can also do well by going “old school.” Young girls can look at the music of Connie Francis, and both boys and girls can sing a lot from the Lennon/McCartney songbook.

If you’re looking at musical theater audition songs for kids, be aware of what’s overdone. No “Annie” — ever — unless they specifically ask for it. Get a good musical theater anthology and explore the songs that you may be unfamiliar with. For kids, the main idea should be about confidence, personality, and fun!

Preparation Time
Frantically learning a new song before an audition doesn’t always work. If you have already found audition songs that show you off, by all means use one of them if it fits the audition requirements! Otherwise, there is more room for error (lyric flubs, weak high notes, etc.). It can be helpful to maintain a book of the best audition songs you’ve worked on, ready to go at any time.

Benefits of Working with a Vocal Instructor
If you are an aspiring musical theater performer, you need to be working on improving and mastering your voice every step of the way. That’s why you see many musical theater singers working regularly with vocal coaches even after they’ve “made it.”
Of course, vocal training will help you with the technical side of singing, but there are a lot of other benefits that you’ve probably never considered.

Better posture

One of the first things any good voice instructor will notice is your posture. That’s because a hunched posture really limits your breath capacity and can obstruct your vocal chords. It’s just harder to sing with bad posture.

After you’ve had your posture corrected for the umpteenth time, it starts becoming a habit, and that habit will carry over to the rest of your life. You’ll find yourself sitting up straight in your chair at work, you’ll stand tall onstage, and you won’t be hunched over on the bus or train. And that all adds up to less back pain and aches.

More confidence

Building off the previous point, simply having a good, tall posture can instantly make you feel more confident. Which is good, because singing in front of an audience can be scary. Even the most outgoing and confident people get a little anxious before getting on stage. A big reason we get so anxious is because we fear people judging us badly. This is especially true for singers who are being judged on something so personal as their voice. Vocal training can help you get past that fear and build confidence.

Less stress and increased mental alertness

Another thing a good voice instructor will notice is your breathing. As a singer, you will get better tone, power, and sustain if you breathe deeply and fully from your diaphragm. You’ll learn breathing exercises, and just like posture, those techniques will become habit and you’ll find yourself breathing deeper even when you’re not singing.

Deep breathing is scientifically proven to improve your mood, relieve stress, and increases mental alertness, concentration, and memory as the brain and other organs get more oxygen. And all of this can help your performance, your music career, and your life.

Better connection with your audience

Think about all your favorite musical theater performances. What drew you to them? At first we think it’s just the music or the story line, but there are plenty of great musicals out there. Often what we really fall in love with is the actor’s performance and the uniqueness and personality they convey with their voice.

If you know how to properly control your voice, you don’t need to spend as much time and effort worrying about getting your tone right, hitting that high note, or controlling your dynamics. All of that will flow much more naturally so you can focus on your performance. You can work on developing your sound, conveying the emotion of the song through your voice, and adding in little nuances that are uniquely you.

At North Main Music, we offer a Musical Theater group program for budding young thespians. This program offers students an excellent opportunity to fine tune their musical theater skills under the guidance of a professional instructor. Best part: they can take what they learn in our Musical Theater program and use it to bring their auditioning skills to a whole new level!

For more information about our Musical Theater program, email us at NorthMainMusic@gmail.com or call us at 603-505-4282.

This article was inspired by and adapted from articles on takelessons.com, getacceptd.com, and sonicbirds.com.