“His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy, there’s vomit on his shirt already, mom’s spaghetti” – Eminem.

I think Slim Shady captures the feelings associated with auditions as well as anyone.

Personally, I hate taking auditions.  I’ve always felt that they were staged, artificial, and at best a poor representation of my abilities. Back in college I sweated more over my piano proficiencies than any final exam.

It seems they’re always crammed into a stuffy little room while several people sit behind me scowling and scribbling down notes. Their pencils frantically trying to keep up with all the wrong notes belching up from the piano.  My fingers chunk across the keys like bulbous misshapen sausages, and lick and phrases that were burned into my memory the day before have all but vanished.  Leaving only hollow whispers of things that should have been so amazing.

But unfortunately for most of us, they are a necessary evil.  And if you find yourself heading into the Army…. auditions are a bona-fide GUARANTEE!

You’ll have to endure three auditions before you even get to your first band:

  1. Audition for a band liaison (liaisons are Army musicians whose sole purpose is to find and recruit capable musicians into the Army Band)- proving that you know what you’re doing AND that you would be an asset to the Army Band field.

    You’ll actually take an over-the-phone interview with a band liaison before the audition is scheduled.  They’ll want to know about your musical experiences, education, skills.  WARNING: if you’ve never heard of a minor scale, or can only play songs in the key of “C”,  you may need to head back to the woodshed before picking up that phone.

  2. Audition during your first week of Army Music School. Where you will be assessed, strengths and/or weaknesses identified.

  3. Audition during your final week of Army Music School (10 weeks later). Checking to make sure you can play at least the minimum level required to be functional in a band. (The minimum just ensures graduation. A higher score is always better).

And now the good news…

For that 1st Audition,  (the one that allows you to sign up for this gig) the ball in entirely in your court.

You can spend all day long practicing (assuming you have no life, no job, no family, no bills and no other responsibilities) and set up the audition when you’re good and ready. This will change after you’re in uniform.  - In fact, I’ve been told more than once, that people find more time to practice AFTER joining.

But once you leave for Basic Training, those next two auditions are coming whether you’re ready for them or not.

The audition consists of 4 parts:

  1. Patriotic music.  Shocking, I know.   The Star Spangled Banner, the Army Song. Trumpets get to play some bugle calls. You can do your best Toby Keith impersonation. The liaisons should be able to hook you with the proper versions.

  2. Prepared music. Pick 3 or 4 pieces that you can rock the house with, and “bring it”. They should be contrasting styles. The idea is to make yourself look (and sound) as good as possible. Don’t pick something that you can sort-of play, but hope to one day.   Play your stuff that knocks it out of the park. Playing with backing tracks/play-alongs is encouraged. If you’re in a band, see if you get have the guys play a tune with you, or better yet, bring the liaison to a gig. Pianists should have a solo piece ready to go.  This is the meat of the audition, dazzle ‘em!

    …And when I say contrasting styles, I don’t mean country AND western. I mean country and samba,  baroque and death metal, trip-hop and dixieland.  The Army is a gig where versatility counts.

  3. Quickly prepared material. This used to be sight-reading,  but recently the Army realized that we almost never sight-read on a performance. So… they removed sight-reading from the audition (Which in my humble opinion, RULES). Now you get the music the day before the audition.  Giving you roughly 12 – 24 hours to become familiar with it. It will probably be around 5  pieces of music in contrasting styles.

  4. Additional skills.  This is essentially the “extra credit” part of the audition. You get to show off all the extra skills that make you more valuable than the next guy. You can sing, improvise (more for the horn and oboe types), double on trombone. Drop some street knowledge with a verse of “The Humpty Dance.”   Anything else that you can bring to the table, should come out here.

That’s it. Audition Complete.

*Preparing for auditions could be a blog all its own.  But I’ll just share a couple of tips that I’ve found beneficial.

  1. Have your stuff ready now.  Don’t wait until you’ve scheduled the audition to start putting your music together.  That’s stress you don’t need. Keep several pieces polished and ready to go At All Times. 

  2. Play your audition pieces for everybody. I grab anybody I can for 15 minutes and say “please listen to me play this.” Musicians, non-musicians it doesn’t matter.   I tell them to scowl and take notes (or just doodle) while I play.  Trying to replicate that “audition vibe.”  Once you’ve grown accustomed to this setting, the audition itself will be much less foreign.

Good Luck!

If you’d like further info on specific instrument auditions, or any other Army Band information, check out www.bands.army.mil/careers

12 Responses to Army Band Auditions

  1. Eric Hopkins says:

    CAVEAT: The type of military band described above is different than the US Navy Band, Marine Band, etc, which are tenured positions at elevated military status and you cannot be deployed. Auditions for the ensembles don’t involve liaisons; they hold auditions just like orchestras, with one of two positions available when someone else leaves.

    The positions described in this article are able to be deployed overseas, and the musical requirements are quite low. Here’s a rule of thumb: If its not in DC, it’s not a tenured, “bona-fide” musician job.

    • James Landrum says:

      Eric:

      Your pretentiousness is staggering.

      First of all, many of us have been honored and humbled by the opportunity to deploy overseas and to support the many brave Americans in combat zones who are defending your freedom to wax ignorant. And speaking truthfully, most of those men and women in the field aren’t going to want to hear what the premier bands in DC have to offer, except for some of the popular music groups like the Volunteers or Downrange.

      As for the skill requirements, there is a big difference between “quite low” and “different from the premier bands”. Those groups in DC generally have a more specialized scope regarding what they do and require their musicians to do those jobs at an extremely high level, which is why they conduct their auditions like orchestras: so that they can find the best players they can for the job they need.

      The regular Army bands (the members of which are not confined to the DC area but get to live all over the US, Germany, Japan, Belgium, etc.) have much more diverse missions and musical job requirements. Army musicians perform orchestral, rock, jazz, ceremonial, and theatrical styles. Not to mention learning whatever happens to be the local musical favors and languages where they are stationed. That is why a more musically diverse player is more of an asset to the band field than a classical trumpet player (for instance) who can throw down on all the etudes he wants, but can’t improvise to save his life and has no concept of playing in a rock band horn section.

      We’re talking about two very different types of musical jobs here. They both have very high musical requirements, but the specializations within each field differ greatly. As for my job not being a “bona-fide” musical one, feel free to subject yourself to my audition and a few months in my seat, then feel free to reassess.

      Staff Sergeant James Landrum
      Percussion
      US Army Bands

    • Wow Eric, that is incredibly rude. I agree with James. Get off your high horse.

  2. Josh DiStefano says:

    Well put, James. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

  3. Eric says:

    Sorry guys. Didn’t mean to be a poor sport. I just had a bad experience with a misunderstanding about military bands, and so I wanted to clarify. I didn’t mean to put anyone down. I’m sad that I painted a picture of myself as pretentious and rude.

    Happy music making! -E

  4. Josh DiStefano says:

    Eric,

    No worries. You wouldn’t have been the first to have a misunderstanding with the military bands. One of the main reasons I started writing this blog was to prevent negative situations that could have been avoided with the right information.

  5. Kenny Hall says:

    I too am a little amused by the comments made by someone that obviously hasn’t done their homework. I’ve had the opportunity to perform with some of the musicians in the DC band and can tell you that the perceived “gap” of ability between us and them is not as much as you would think. The other misunderstanding is that “once you make the premier band, you’re there forever.” I personally know of a couple of musicians that won jobs there only to be sent to our field for reasons I won’t go into in this forum. Lastly, there ARE members of those bands that have and will continue to deploy to the war zone during the USO shows as their musicians typically back the performers sent over there.

    Now… Josh, your blog (as usual) is spot on. As I read it, I noticed that you spoke of WARNING: if you’ve never heard of a minor scale, or can only play songs in the key of “C”

    I felt like I’ve heard that somewhere before :-)

  6. Larry Weintraub says:

    When I was in the Army Band at Ft. Carson we did sight read on gigs. We sight read marches on ceremonial gigs. We also sight read big band charts and concert band pieces on some of those gigs. This was in addition to the prepared pieces. At one time the School of Music was harder. The outgoing and 1/2 way audition consisted of major & all 3 forms of minor scales& arpeggios, a prepared piece and a lot of sight reading in various style. Each section was worth 33 1/3 % of your total score.

    Now at least on the Navy/USMC side the audition is still the same but it’s scored differently. Scales are 10%, the prepared piece is 40% and sight reading is 50%. So we were getting guys who couldn’t play their scales but still ending up with scores of 3.0 & higher. Then when they try to learn to play & improvise jazz they are dumb founded because they can’t play scales, arpeggioes etc. Just my 2 cents worth.

  7. Larry Weintraub says:

    Just read the above comments. Eric doesn’t appear to know very much what a field band or fleet band does compared to the DC Bands. Good answer to him SSGT Landrum.

    In the Army I was played in ceremonial band, jazz ensemble, concert band and a Top – 40 group.

    In the Navy I played in the ceremonial band, jazz ensemble, concert band/wind ensemble, several variety/dixieland bands, The US Navy Show Band & the rock band. I was the leader of the Fleet Jazz Combo, Sax Quartet and Dixieland/Trad Jazz Group. In addition I played in USN Backup Bands for Lee Greenwood, Keely Smith, Chuck Manigione, Marv Stamm and Roan Tinan.

    Over the years I mostly played tenor sax, clarinet and bari sax but I also played bass clarinet and alto sax. For a while I was doing a tenor sax/bass clarinet double in concert band.

    So being musically diverse can be very important. However as a point of reference I understand the USN Band Program is no longer requiring sax players to double on clarinet or flute. Also clar and flute players no longer have to learn sax. Tuba players no longer have to learn electric bass and visa – versa. I think they also did away with the euphonium/trombone doubling requirement too. But still the more diverse you are the better.

    Btw you were also correct about the travel. In the Navy I have been to Ireland, Canada, Iceland, Benin, The Congo, Gabon, Trinidad & Tobago and Puerto Rico. Stateside I’ve been from Key West, FL to NYC and Connittcut and as far west as Wheeling W. VA.

    In the Army we toured all over Colorado, to Wyoming, North & South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska & Iowa. I have a very neat picture where I look like the 5th head on Mt. Rushmore. We were also the featured band at the Glenn Miller Festival in his hometown of Clarinda, Iowa. Btw I only did 1 Army Band hitch. I did 17 yrs in the Navy Band Program for a combined 20yrs/20 days.

    I hope this stuff helps.

  8. Joe Turner says:

    I’m jumping in on this one! I’m 10 years active in the Army Band field, and my dad did 26 years in the Air Force Band field, both in the regional(regular) bands, and in the “Premier Band” world. I have many friends in all 5 service bands, both regular and premier, and our jobs are awesome! The funny thing is that no matter where you go, it’s just a little bit different, and all you can do is try to make things even better, no matter what the musical situation. Some bands only do Symphonic Concert Band, Glen Miller style Jazz Band, Rock Band, etcc. and some bands never do any of that at all. It’s really only consistant in the DC bands, because they have identities embedded in the public on what they are supposed to play, so in a way, those bands really do specialize stylistcally because they have to. Regional or regular bands have more flexibility because they get different media coverage. I used to yearn to “make it” in a special band, but as they say “the grass is always…..you get it. I have had disgruntled friends on both sides of the fence too, and honestly, no matter where you work, people will always find something to fix, change, or complain about right? So kill this thread, and go practice for any and every musical opportunity, audition, or just to improve. I feel like a dork even typing this with my studio behind me, so I’m gonna go play now! Tschuss!!!!

  9. Guys–
    I just retired from the USAF Bands about 4 years ago. Did the first 6 in Army bands and then 21 in the AF. Every assignment has its challenges and sweet spots. The trick is to make the most of the second while meeting the needs of the first. Personally, sight-reading is a real plus. We did it a lot. AND…being able to credibly play as many styles as possible is another asset, including being able to improvize in those styles. It’s called versitility, which is what we all expect from our fellow Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, and Coast Guardsmen who do all those really tough jobs every day. We bandsmen should do no less. I played in every type of group that we had in both branches with the exception of the brass and woodwind quintets. Did boot at Leonard Wood in the dead of winter, the SOM, and, much later, the NCO and Senior NCO Academies in the AF. One thing that we all have to impress upon our friends and colleagues who are not military musicians: this is a very good career, but it is the only “gig” where you take the oath of enlistment–and that means a whole lot of things that don’t happen in the civilian world. That being said, I can honestly say that I really loved my 27 years in uniform and still miss it. I got to play with some pretty big name musicians and got stationed in some pretty cool places–two of which were Japan and Italy. Made a lot of good friends who will be friends for life. And if they ever re-called me back to active duty, I’d go. Best of luck in the rest of your career, Eric. And as they used to say in the Army in ’81, “drive one, young man, drive on.”

    Respectfully,

    MSgt (ret) Peter M. Harrison, USAF
    Pianist, arranger, First Sergeant, etc.
    USAF Band of the West
    USAF Band of the Pacific-Asia
    USAF Band of Liberty
    541st AF Band
    CinCSOUTH Band
    First US Army Band

  10. Kenneth Edra says:

    I’m a big fan of your articles Josh. I was in the Army for 7 years as a Combat Engineer, deployed several times in Iraq looking for IED’s. Found a lot of them, several found us. And that’s the main reason why I called it quits. Dont get me wrong, I love the Army. The Army has done many great things for me and made me a better person. But I also love playing my music. Reading your articles made me decide to finally give it a try, to do both things I love doing, serving our country while playing music. I recently had an audition with a liaison and It’s a “GO” so far. Now I’m just waiting for a slot to open to go to school.
    You are doing great things Josh. It has been an inspiration for me.

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