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As Audition Season has started to kick into high gear here in NYC and elsewhere – and it actually started earlier this year! – here are a few quick tips and fixes for your “book” – your physical book – from a pianist’s point of view.

NOTE: The “fixes” below are all bits of practical advice, common sense, if you will. I don’t go into the areas of song selection, acting, personal coaching. Nothing should take more than a few minutes to make right. However, these very practical bits are things that can and do end up derailing an audition for both the singer and the pianist – and they are easily fixable, preventable, and avoidable.

And, yes, I will be back at the piano for the upcoming Unified Professional Theatre Auditions (UPTA) in Memphis, TN – my 19th year! – as well as for the Southeastern Theatre Conference (SETC) Professional Division Auditions – my 24th year! – in Mobile, AL.


That one favorite song that has been falling out of your binder for the past year or two (or more!) due to a worn out hole-punch and/or sheet protector: fix it NOW! Stop apologizing for the condition of your sheet music. Get thee to a copier or printer! -And if one of the rings of your 3-ring binder happens to no longer close as tightly as it used to, get a new a binder as well.


If you know that the copy of your sheet music is hard to read:

-it’s more “gray and white” than “black and white”
-the bass clef/left hand part of the piano is missing on every other page
-it has a bunch of old markings scribbled on it and not completely erased
-there’s a coffee stain in the middle of it

…Then just go and get a better, easily readable copy of it.



Put it in a binder, or mount it on a piece of cardboard or manila folder.


That song or cut of a song which is just two pages long – and always has been and always will be two pages long – but that you have set up in your binder as back-to-back pages thus requiring a page turn: rearrange and/or re-copy it NOW so that the pages “face” each other, thus eliminating the page turn.


All of those those songs that you downloaded from SheetMusicDirect, MusicNotes, OnlineSheetMusic, Scribd, etc., that have been in your binder as single-sided pieces of paper for weeks, months (or years!) after you first printed them off: spend some quality time with those pages and arrange them as if they were in a book: facing pages, complete with the occasional page turn. -And there will be less page turns now as well.


If something doesn’t feel right about the way you’ve cut a song to work in an audition, then tape yourself singing it, then listen to yourself. Really Listen. Does the grammar still make sense with your cut? Does the melodic and harmonic grammar still make sense? -Better yet: have someone else sing your cut so that you can hear it a bit more objectively AND subjectively. Sometimes a “Frankenstein’d cut” can indeed end up sounding monstrous.


Know that that copy of your favorite song from the show you just worked on that was given to you by your conductor/music director may not provide the most piano-friendly accompaniment out there. In fact, many recent shows use a piano-conductor score that is meant more for conducting from rather than playing from. All of the notes that you need and want to hear while you are singing – all the “information” that you want the pianist to play for you – may simply not be on the page. If you see a lot of small, cued notes in the “accompaniment” then that’s usually the first sign. A few of the big “offenders” in this regard are “Thoroughly Modern Millie”, “Beauty and the Beast”, and “All Shook Up”.


Look at exactly where you’ve written “START” and “STOP”. Are those your start and stop points? Or the pianist’s? There is usually a difference.


While I appreciate the service that MusicNotes provides, I still recommend going right to the two online sheet music stores that are directly aligned with the publishers:

Sheet Music Direct* which started off as the digital offshoot of Hal Leonard’s SheetMusic Plus.

Online Sheet Music which got its start as the digital home for Warner Bros. and Alfred. (Alfred does have it’s own digital shop, but I find their offerings and functionality limited.)

And because SMD and OSM have a more direct line to the publishers, their single-song price is also cheaper than it is on MN since MN licenses much of their catalog for resale from the Big Two. And due to the incestuousness nature of the music publishing biz, there is a big overlap in the catalogs of SMD, OSM, and MN. It’s worth the extra mouse-clicks and keystrokes to check all three sites for the song that you’re looking for.

*Note that SMD now offers unlimited transpositions and printouts of your purchased titles since they switched over to a PDF format. It’s also worth looking into the SMD PASS program which not only allows you to purchase single titles at a discount – usually 50% – but also grants you internet browser access to most of SMD’s digital library. The monthly or yearly fee can easily pay for itself with your first couple of discounted(!) downloads, purchases. (And you could always split the fee with a friend of two.)



My two cardinal rules for audition prep – which essentially distill down all of the above:

1) I – the pianist – should never be the first one to play your sheet music for you.

2) If the first two words out of your mouth when you come up to me at the piano are, “I’m sorry…” then that’s already two strikes against you.


See you in the room!
Have Fun!
Be Brilliant!

January 2018
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