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How to Work With Your Audition Pianist

From Broadway Collaborative Pianist, Joel Decandio.

As a Broadway collaborative pianist, I’m often asked for audition advice. I believe an unwritten part of our job as collaborative pianists is making sure our artists feel safe and comfortable so they can be shown off as best as possible. With that in mind, I’d like to give you a succinct breakdown of the audition process along with some thoughts to help you along the way as you work with a Broadway audition pianist.

Let’s begin before the audition. The vast majority of artists who come into Broadway calls are talented, so how do you stand out? Pro-tip, it’s not about how high you can belt. It’s the artists who come in and tell a story, who can be intimate and connect—those are the ones that you notice. Choose a piece you’re passionate about that fits the style of the show. If the piece means something to you, that’s half the battle right there. You’ll always do better work on something you love than on something you don’t care about. At the end of the day, it’s about human connection.

Now let’s have the length discussion. Sixteen bars, 32 bars, a short song. What does all this mean? Do you actually have to count out the bars? No. This is an outdated method that, as I understand it, comes from the Golden Age when most popular music of the period fit a very specific structure. We still use the terms, but this is how we understand them now:

16 bars ≈ 30 seconds (a chorus)

32 bars ≈ 1 minute (a verse and chorus)

Short song ≈ 1:30 (verse, chorus, bridge, chorus—or something to that effect)

I’ll get into this below, but everything you say to your accompanist can fit within 20 seconds. Factoring all this together, your time in the room should fit within three minutes, generally speaking. Auditions are scary, but you can be fearless for just three minutes!

Now, let’s talk about what happens in the room. Before entering, do yourself a favor and breathe. Breathing will clear your mind and center you. I know it can be confusing and overwhelming when you enter the room—what do I say? Who do I go to first?

Find the pianist and go straight to them. There’s no need to formally address the table. Many artists feel they need to have a conversation to be memorable, but we need to keep things moving so everyone can be seen. It’s your performance that should be memorable. Toss off a hello as you’re entering if it feels natural to you, but your first priority is the pianist. Hand them your music, show them your start, finish, cuts, and give them the tempo. It’s simpler than you think. Remember, your entire interaction can be done in under 20 seconds with a “Hi, I’m singing X. We start here, cut here, and we end here. The tempo is….”

For tempo, I think the most effective way to give tempi is to pick a section—the intro or the chorus is fine—and then tap out the beat while singing that section. Singing alone gives us a very nebulous idea of the tempo if you don’t include the beat. Just giving a beat without singing can be tricky if you’re not subdividing the beat correctly. Telling your pianist allegro is not helpful either, because something as general as allegro could be any range of fast tempi. Singing a small section while giving the beat underneath will give you the most efficient way of communicating tempi. If you do this, it should take all of two to four beats for your pianist to pick this up. Fast and effective.

Now you’ve presented your music and given your tempo. Unless specifically instructed to do so, you don’t need to slate. The table has your headshot and résumé in front of them. They know who you are. Say the name of your song or just the artist who sings it if it’s a pop song. You don’t need anything more than that.

Now. Breathe. Nod to your pianist. If there’s an intro—I’m a fan of intros over bell tones—use the intro to transition your view from the pianist into the world of your piece. A quick note when it comes to performance: trust that less is more—this is my favorite piece of advice. Be present, be honest, and communicate. When you finish singing, say thanks, grab your music while thanking your pianist, and leave the room. Simple and efficient.

You’re done! What do you do now? It’s easier said than done, but once you finish an audition, move on and forget it. Grab some ice cream, grab a drink, go watch a movie—something for yourself to close off this chapter. The only audition you should be thinking about is the next one.

The demands we place on ourselves, for our industry, take an immense toll on our mental health and well-being, and at the end of the day, it’s just not worth it. Don’t try to be everything for everyone. There’s no way to know what the table is looking for and you’re not being an artist if you’re constantly trying to give what you think other people want. Never forget you do this because you love it. In everything you do, there should be love.

This story by Joel Decandio first appeared on on June 30, 2021.

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