Tuesday, 1 July 2014

My Berklee Audition Experience & Details You Probably Want To Know & That Will Help You For Your Audition [Full Story]

Hey there ! :) How are you doing ?

Well I'm writing this blog post because I believe there are countless of you who are curious about what happens during Berklee auditions - and also because I belong to the group of nervous souls who couldn't stop bombarding others with questions related to my upcoming audition then. 

Yes hahaha and there's nothing wrong with being super inquisitive about what's going to happen at your upcoming Berklee audition, because everyone wants to be as prepared as possible and do well and hopefully grab that scholarship too hahaha !

Okay so in this blog post, I will recount exactly what happened during my audition process, so just sit back, relax and read on :D :D

My audition was confirmed at 9am in the morning and I am the first to audition that day at my music school, International College Of Music (ICOM) in Kuala Lumpur. I recommend everyone to arrive early just to have proper warm-ups and to prevent a harried mood from affecting your performance.

Well that morning, I warmed-up, went through my song a couple of times and played through the blues progression for a bit as well just to enter the right frame of mood & mind.

Before the audition, you will be brought to your warm-up room and in that room, you are allowed 15 minutes to look at your sight-reading piece. And so, I went up there and attempted to sight-read both the chord progression and the notes. 

What I recall is that for the "Guitar" sight-reading page, there are 4 different passages, each more difficult than the one before. And if I'm not wrong, it is 8 bars for each passage, and each passage is indicated in a different style - there was "Swing" and "Latin". 

What I remembered pretty clearly was that there was NO "Funk" style indicated in the sight-reading passages, because funk comping is one of the rhythmic styles I practiced for and so I remember that it ain't present in the sight-reading book. [But be sure to note that this observation may change as Berklee MAY choose to include a "funk" passage in the future, who knows, or they may just leave it as it is hahaha.]

After the 15 minutes, I was brought back down and had to set up my equipment in the recital hall for the actual audition. This is the time where you should make sure that all your band mates are present (if you are getting a band to play your song with you) and get them to set up promptly along with you.

Well for me, what happened was though all my band mates were present in school, 2 of them went upstairs for a quick warm-up session (as they said) hahahah LOL and they took a bit of time to get back to the audition venue and the Berklee audition teachers were asking for them wahahah !

Nevertheless, when I was setting up, I was asked questions by the Berklee team including "How long have you played the guitar ?", "Are you studying in ICOM as a transfer student ?" etc, and don't worry it's all no-stress questions hahahah.

Oh yes, there were 3 Berklee teachers in the audition room, and of course because of that I had the privilege to meet Julien Kasper, Russ Hoffman and Jason Camelio hahaha and they are such nice people LOL. And yes, it is an absolute truth that the Berklee audition team is extremely friendly and because of that, no one has any reason to be afraid during the audition :D

Back to the part where 2 of my band mates aren't down in the audition room yet, so the audition just started with aural and rhythmic call & response (yes hahah, and it doesn't matter that other band mates are around watching at you do that part of the audition, or that people are setting up whilst you are at it.)

First it is aural call & response where you had to play back on your instrument whatever the audition team plays, and it will include certain intervals and arpeggio intervals just to test your ear - and yes, there are the "exotic" intervals too such as the diminished 5th (or augmented 4th). And for me, they definitely played the 1-3-5 of a major arpeggio and 1-3-5-7 of a Maj7 arpeggio, yep I recognize them most readily. 

Also do not worry about the key because they will give you the starting note, for me it was the "E" note, at the octave equivalent to the 1st string of the guitar open position, ie. 5th fret on 2nd string, or 9th fret on 3rd string. They will let you find the starting note before they actually start the call & response section. And then everything else will be relative to that note. 

After that it's RHYTHMIC call & response, well hahahah I had fun for that one - for one because my rhythms is always much stronger than my aural :P And the rhythmic patterns given will get harder and harder, and I remember really clearly I believe the last one I was given is either a crotchet triplet or a minim triplet because I stumbled on that one wahahah ! But it was fun :D :D

Right after that really brief call & response, it's time to play my prepared song and yes, all my bandmates have set up by then. And the audition team really would just say "Start whenever you are ready." Awesome ! 

Yep I had a whole ton of fun playing my song, I played "Wonderful Slippery Thing" by Guthrie Govan. And I can't believe how crazy good it feels playing on stage and I know the teachers were "peeping" at me whilst I was playing my lines wahahah ! Alright, not peeping but yeah. The song went on great and well, and I'm eternally grateful for my band mates who played for me for that song.

And guess what ? I only had a total of ONE practice hour with the band when preparing this song for the audition ! And it was all chaotic band practice arrangements. Yep my first practice session with my band was 40 minutes long and then the second one was a mere 20 minutes, yes because of certain circumstances... 

Nevertheless, I didn't have to worry about the band though, hahaha and that's why I love playing with totally awesome musicians - because I'm totally assured of the fact that they know their stuff well and they will always have the ability to deliver. In fact the "minimal" practice with the band didn't compromise anything and I am still awarded scholarship to Berklee hahaha :D :D

After playing the prepared piece, it is time for the blues improvisation section. I admit that this section is the one that gave me the most headaches/anxiety before the audition hahahah ! Well firstly because it COULD be the most unpredictable section of the entire audition - but well post-audition I realized that all the worries are totally unnecessary, in fact there is absolutely NOTHING to worry about for this section.

But well I'll give you into a peek into what initially set me worrying about this section. For one, my school teacher told me that Julien Kasper is coming and he is an absolute beast at blues guitar, so I had to better play my chord changes well. Right this in one way contributed some stress.

And we had a mock audition in school weeks before that sort of attempted to simulate the actual Berklee audition. During the mock audition for the blues improvisation section, we were given a pretty slow swing blues backing track to solo over. And given that I am most comfortable soloing over medium-tempo funk-rock grooves, the SLOW SWING groove caught me totally off-guard. Yes I know we as musicians have to be versatile, but yeah there is always something called our comfort zones or certain grooves that we always play best over.

That made me worry a bit because my school teachers aren't sure as well what would ACTUALLY be given during the audition. There is the question as to whether a backing track would be given, or you will be jamming with the audition teachers, or something else.

Plus my external guitar teacher Az told me that I can actually do the blues improvisation section with my band at a groove and tempo of MY choice, but which my school teachers said that the band would actually be dismissed right after the prepared piece is performed. So there are uncertainties.

But well I will now let you in on what REALLY happened during my audition hehe :D

After my song, my rhythm guitarist left and I had my drummer, bassist and keyboardist for my blues improv section ! Yayy !! Hahahah I was immensely relieved. I had the freedom to choose exactly whether I wanted a major blues or minor blues progression, and whether it would be the simplest major blues form or slightly embellished, and I can decide for myself what drum groove it will be ! 

I was like telling my drummer "Umm the funk groove, the 16th one." Hahaha and he was like "Shuffle or straight ?" Then I reckon we were having a bit of a communication barrier wahahah, or rather I was a bit confused on the "straight" because I never really referred to a groove as straight, I called them by genres hahaha. But well after that day I learnt that if I wanted a straight groove, I should just call it a straight groove directly and then the drummer would understand me right away LOL.

Hahaha what happened was my drummer started to play some shuffle groove, and I'm like "Umm umm not that one... umm" and struggled to find words to describe what I had in mind LOL. Right, and so Jason Camelio suggested "Half-time ?" and my drummer did half-time hahaha. And I don't really recall whether double-time was mentioned but I think it was maybe...

But eventually we managed to stumble upon "yes, the straight funk groove, the chicken groove." Hahaha and off I went and solo-ed over it. The only thing I realized at the end is damn, if I had been more aware, more calm and perhaps less harried, I could have remembered to ask my drummer to play the groove slightly slower :P

Yep my lines aren't as clean as they have the potential to be and my phrases aren't as refined and developed as it can be because the tempo was a bit too fast for me :P And all I felt was that I seem to be "flying" over the groove instead of playing exactly in the pocket :P Well I learnt my lesson now - never ever forget to adjust the tempo even if you could have been pre-occupied with other aspects :P even if it's under audition circumstances - I think all we can do is keep trying our best to remind ourselves.

Okay for the blues improvisation, it is always ALWAYS encouraged for musicians to solo according to the chord changes. Let me clarify, it means adapting the arpeggios/scales you use to solo according to the prevailing chord at that time. 

For me, I chose blues in the key of F. And so there is the F7 chord, the Bb7 chord and the C7 chord - and I will then solo using the F7 arpeggio when the F7 chord is playing, and the Bb7 arpeggio when the Bb7 chord is playing and so on. And of course, what I mean by the arpeggio would include playing the tensions as well to make your solo more colorful, and also at your own discretion & personal choice, using other arpeggios as well to have more interesting and even 'out' sounds.

I'm mentioning chord changes because I noticed that it is not a concept that is common amongst all musicians, in fact it is usually the jazz musicians who practice it the most. But of course, as my guitar teacher told me, even rock musicians or pop musicians have to learn to incorporate chord changes soloing into their improvisations. 

And to be honest, if I wasn't pushed by 2 of my guitar teachers, I wouldn't start practicing chord changes because in a way, it's much much easier to just solo using a single scale throughout the entire chord progression. For chord changes, it is definitely more challenging in the beginning but once you get used to it, it's really fun :D And besides, it means more improvisational control. So for those of you not practicing chord changes yet, it's time to consider adding it into your practice routine :D And yes, because my teachers said that being able to solo to chord changes would score points at the audition.

After that it was sight-reading time. And I'm glad that section was a breeze hahaha :D And if you've read from the start of this blog post, you would know what to expect for this section. For me, I was asked to play the chord progression and sight-read the notes for the 2nd passage on the page, only a mere 8 bars and I'm done. I wasn't asked to do the 3rd passage or the 4th one.

What's even better is that for sight-reading, Julien Kasper even walked up to the stage (well for my audition venue, we auditioned on the stage), stood right beside and kept tempo for me !! He counted in and all I've got to do is just play the progression or the notes. And since the 2nd passage says "Latin", I could clarify with him that all I needed to do was to play a bossa comping pattern.

Well I had no problems with sight-reading the chord progression smoothly through on the first attempt, but I "crashed" once or twice when reading the notes, hahahah crashed LOL well not crashed, but just couldn't catch up with the tempo slightly. And then all Julien Kasper said was just "okay, let's start from this bar again" and counted in for me again hahaha. Well it's a total truth that it makes the audition process a much more nurturing and encouraging experience. 

Alright, the last component for the audition - scales and arpeggios. My music school actually told the students that scales & arpeggios won't be tested LOL and the teachers said the same haha, but I'm glad I practiced them all the same because the Berklee website mentioned that scales & arpeggios will be a part of the audition.

Not sure if I recollected correctly, but I'm pretty sure for scales I was asked to play G Lydian and B Locrian, and for arpeggios I was asked to play A Dom7 and a minor triad (forgot which key). And as long as you have practiced and know the shapes of the different modes and arpeggios by heart, you shouldn't have any problems with this section. Haha and yep, because I had been going through all my modes and arpeggios for quite a fair bit, this section actually felt pretty straightforward and really simple.

And we are done !! Hahaha the audition is over ! That basically sums up my entire Berklee audition experience (minus the interview) and I hope this manages to answer certain questions or doubts you might have or give you a better idea on what to expect during the audition and most importantly, to ease any of the fears and worries you might have. 

Always remember, really at the end of the day, there is no practical need to fear or worry. Just work hard, do your part, perform the best you can, and forget about the rest. Really just be happy and continue to love & be passionate about what you do, I think that's the most important thing.

And if you are going for an upcoming or future Berklee audition, I wish you all the best ! I know you will do well because as long as you have faith in your own abilities and put in the right amount of effort, you will always get what you deserve.

You take care alright ? And I love you guys !

Woohoo keep following my blog as I will be writing about my life in Berklee/Boston & posting materials I receive for my classes, & even posting my assignments here so that you guys can have a glimpse of the nature of homework we get in Berklee, and of course that is specific to my major.

And until then, see ya ! :D 

Sapphire Ng xoxo

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