I had an audition two weeks ago for the San Diego State Master of Music program in Jazz Studies. I didn't find time to blog about my strategy while I was preparing, so I'll do it now.

Per the audition policies, I had to choose two tunes from the graduate repertoire list and brush up on a few scales, specifically melodic minor, harmonic minor, and symmetric dominant (I call it half-whole diminished). I chose John Coltrane's "Moment's Notice" and Wayne Shorter's "Nefertiti". I also knew I would be asked to sight read various chords and melodies from standard jazz arrangements.

I began my preparation back in August when I learned most of the required scales for the entire program while watching the Olympics. In November, I signed up for lessons with local jazz (and everything else) guitarist Steve Nichols at The Blue Guitar. He gave me improvising advice and helped me nail my chosen tunes.

I also had my own methods and daily routines I stuck with for several weeks leading up to the audition. I divided my work between sight reading and improvisation. My top priority every day was to play a few unfamiliar tunes out of my Real Book. I used this list of jazz standards to choose tunes. I'd sight read the chords first, then the melody, then try to improvise sans accompaniment, all at a tempo slow enough that I could at least keep the tune discernible. My second priority was working my way through Sight to Sound, a book on sight reading specifically for guitar. (I made it halfway through before my audition. Almost done with it now. I recommend it.) I also ran frequent exercises on my sightreader program (another of my tools, as of yet unreleased, that creates pdfs of tons of random notes in any position, range, or key I want). I tried to stick with the Real Book more than anything else, because it's real music.

I made extensive use of Band in a Box for my improvisation training. I played over the changes for "Moment's Notice" and "Nefertiti" for up to an hour every day, experimenting with different tempos and isolating certain trouble spots. I also made sure to run at least one version of my Mother of All Major Scale Exercises every day. That was a huge help in navigating the rapidly changing ii-Vs in "Moment's Notice". I also transcribed a chorus of Coltrane's solo on that tune and learned a few of his phrases in all positions and all keys, to be used at any point in my own playing.

By the time the big day rolled around, I was astonished at my progress. I credit my major scale exercises and the Coltrane transcription. I'll definitely be doing more of those. However, I shortchanged myself on sight reading. I was okay sight reading chords at the audition, but I totally locked up when they gave me a melody. I was already nervous, and it was in Db (five flats), and I don't recall playing more than one consecutive note correctly. I was less than pleased with myself, but managed not to punch anything afterward. (I instead went straight home, bought two more sight reading books on Amazon, and spent the rest of the day plunking through Sight to Sound.) I thought the rest of the audition went pretty well, so we'll see what happens. I should hear from them within a month. I intend to have vastly improved sight reading skills in six months, either to start school or to audition again if I don't get in this time.