Tips from Juilliard: Why Do Auditions Have to be a Zero-Sum Game?

This is a monthly column from Juilliard about the nuts and bolts of admissions. Search the archives for previous posts.

You know that as a performing artist, you will take many auditions during the course of your career. There is a lot of advice available on preparing for auditions, but what about after the audition? How do you prepare for that? I’d like to explore that question in this article.

Let’s start by looking at how we keep score. We say we have “won” the audition when we are offered admission to the school, or assigned a role, or granted a scholarship. Any audition that does not have such a result is one that we have “lost.” In some cases, such as college auditions, there are many “winners”—numerous applicants who are offered admission. In other cases, there is only one winner—only one Figaro or Queen of the Night or Sweeney Todd.

But does an audition have to be a zero-sum game, where you are either a winner or a loser? By assigning a win-loss record to ourselves, are we falling into a two-dimensional trap—one that damages our sense of self and prevents further learning?

To answer these questions, let’s look at baseball. I am not an athlete, and my short time on a high school softball team called the Born Losers was a self-fulfilling prophecy. But think about this: Baseball uses a batting average to calculate a hitter’s success at the plate. If a player never scores in all their times at bat, then their batting average is .000. If the player gets a hit every time at bat, then their batting average is 1.000. According to, the league-wide batting average of recent years is .250. This means that professional players average hits 25% of the time that they are at bat. ONLY ONE IN FOUR TRIES IS SUCCESSFUL! Or, to say it differently, three out of every four times at bat does not result in a hit (

If we translate batting averages into auditions, we can gain insights into how to prepare for after an audition.

The first note to yourself is that there can be more than one goal to an audition. It’s not just about “winning” or “losing.” Every audition is an opportunity to do something better. Maybe you’ve been working on a particular aspect of your technique. How does it hold up under the stress of an audition? Or perhaps you have a new song that you have learned. It may need two or three auditions before you feel comfortable with it. 

Auditions allow you to observe your body. Instead of trying to ignore your physical reactions, make friends of them: “Hello, cold hands.” “Welcome, shaky knees.” Not all physical reactions will show up at every audition, but each audition gives you practice in performing with physical manifestations, rather than investing energy into ignoring them.

And then there is the mental aftermath of each audition. You may feel let down, disappointed in yourself, angry, depressed. You may feel excited, pleased, jubilant. These feelings may be completely unrelated to the outcome of the audition. You think you sang your best, and you did not “win.” You think you did poorly, and yet there is a positive outcome. The context of any audition is larger than you alone. Just acknowledging this fact can help you with your post-audition emotions.

My colleague, Dr. Annie Bosler, recommends to her students that they keep an audition journal. Prior to the audition, you can write down your goals; after the audition, you can note how you did in relation to your goals. You can also track your mental and physical feelings from audition to audition. A journal provides some of the objectivity needed to evaluate your progress (although an occasional “arghh” in the pages of your private journal can be a welcome release!). 

Aim to become both the performer and the teacher. Give all your energy and artistry to the audition, and then give all your objective teaching and support to yourself afterward. Following each audition, you should be able to say, here is what I did better, here is what needs improvement. Then go forth and take another audition. That’s what we do.

Kathleen Tesar

Kathleen Tesar, BM, MM, EdD, is the Associate Dean for Enrollment Management at The Juilliard School. A former professional violinist, she was previously the Associate Dean at the Colburn School Conservatory of Music in Los Angeles, and Director of Admissions at the Eastman School of Music of the University of Rochester. She presents frequently on topics related to performing arts admission, and is co-author of College Prep for Musicians (Bosler, Greene, Tesar).