A Successful All-State Audition

What does it take to win an all-state band or orchestra audition?
Part I
All-State Band and Orchestra auditions are coming up soon (due on October 1st in Oregon), and my students are going over and over those pieces, searching for any way to make their audition stand out from everyone else's. What is the key to making it to the final round?
From a judging standpoint, there are two qualities that will make you sound like a winner: tone quality and musicality.
Let's start with tone quality. This is a part of your playing that is both the easiest and the most difficult to improve upon. The most valuable exercise you can do to improve your tone is to close your eyes and LISTEN to your tone. Since this is a listening exercise, rather than just a playing exercise, you need to be willing to do something so simple that technique is not a factor.
1 – Pick a scale, any scale. One that you can comfortably play two octaves from memory. 2 – Breathe. Nice and deep. Feel your abdomen, chest, and even parts of your back, expand to fill with air. 3 – Play the lowest note of your scale, and hold it for as long as you can. Count the seconds that it takes for you to use up all the air, including the very last ounce of air in your lungs. Whew! Now we are ready to start! 4 – Take the total number of seconds that you held that first note, and take away one second. 5 – Play the first note of your scale again, this time stopping one second short of your longest hold. It should be a little easier, right? 6 – Breathe. Again. The same way. 7 – Continue on playing each note of the scale for the same length, a nice big breath in between each step, and attempting you use up all your air on each note. Before you get too far, please notice that you now need to be doing the listening part of the exercise. 8 – As you are ascending the scale, close your eyes and listen to the quality of each note. Are there little bobbles and dips? Are some notes more airy than others? Is it difficult to hold certain notes as long as all the others? Does your pitch drop as you reach the end of certain notes? REMEMBER which notes these are!
OK, now you are probably a little light-headed, right? GOOD! Sit down and think about anything that you heard in your tone that you can improve upon. If you didn't hear anything noticeable, tomorrow, I want you to do the same exercise, but play every note at a fortissimo.
When you do this exercise again tomorrow, try making the following adjustments: - On those notes that you heard bobbles and dips, pay attention to relaxing your throat, and keeping a steady airstream coming all the way up from your diaphragm and straight into the flute. Don't allow there to be any changes in your mouth or throat that slow that airspeed down. - On the airy notes, make sure that your airstream is not too high or low for the note. Move your bottom lip forward slightly (to bring the airstream higher), or move is back slightly (to lower the stream). If this seems hard, put down your flute and try blowing air on your nose or your chin by moving your bottom lip WAY forward and WAY back. That is the movement you want, but only just a little bit of it. The airy notes should come more into focus if you do one or the other of these movements. (Usually, high notes improve with your bottom lip forward, and low notes if your bottom lip is back). - On notes that either go flat or run out of air too early, you need to both focus your airstream (like you did on airy notes), as well as using the very last bit of air in your lungs. Without your flute, take a relaxing breath in and then out . . . now STOP, before you breathe in . . . can you force more air out of your lungs? You should be able to! That pushing feeling is what we call SUPPORT, and you need to be able to use that pushing out feeling throughout your longtone scale exercise, but even more so at the end of notes.
After a day or two, you should be able to notice audible changes in how your notes sound, especially on those notes that were your weakest early on. Continue doing this exercise daily for at least one week on the same scale. After one week of listening and improving every note in the scale, switch to a scale that is one half-step higher or lower than the one you just worked on. REPEAT. And repeat. And repeat.
Part II on Musicality coming soon . . .