Rehearsal Techniques Auditioning for Juilliard Taught Me

BY: DUSTIN KAUFMAN

I’ll never forget walking into my first cafe in New York City. The New York I thought I knew was from Hollywood films and not the romantic comedies…the Scorsese ones…so my heart was beating faster than my drumsticks ever could.


The Morning I Auditioned for Juilliard

Coming from Texas, everything felt like it was at lightning speed. The waiters spoke a mile a minute, the guests were even faster, and the food seemed to be flying from table to table. I remember standing in the corner, my nerves on edge, waiting for a safe moment to enter the chaos. And this was only the beginning! Over the next few days I would be auditioning at The New School, Manhattan School of Music, and The Juilliard School.

Now having worked with many soon-to-be college freshmen, I now know my experience was not unique. High schoolers spend hours getting ready for auditions, but nothing really prepares you to walk into Juilliard (or any other audition experience) for the first time and have a panel of judges stare at you.

In retrospect, I know I could have performed better than I did during my audition. This had nothing to do with my preparation and everything to do with what I experienced inside that cafe. As soon as I walked into the audition room, I felt like I was back in that cafe…mind, body, and spirit moving a mile a minute. As a drummer, how do you think that affects your tempo?

Every song was a blur. Was my head in the music? Not even close…

‘These drums don’t feel right.’

‘Is the tempo too fast?’

‘I don’t think we’re gelling as a band.’

‘This doesn’t feel like it did in the practice room.’

They say hindsight is 20/20. Today, I can see where I went wrong. But as a fun thought experiment, what if I could chat with my 18-year-old self and impart some wisdom?

Let’s give it a try and see if it helps some other music students who might have a similar experience ahead of them.

Rehearsal Technique #1: Stay in the Moment to Counteract Nerves

First, everybody gets nervous. I’ll repeat, everybody gets nervous. You wouldn’t be normal if you didn’t. If you’ve prepared to the best of your ability, you have every reason in the world to play with confidence. You’ve essentially ‘earned’ your confidence. Also, as soon as the song is counted off, there are no more scary judges, audition materials, and scores …just music…and if you stay in the moment, you can actually have FUN.

Rehearsal Technique #2: Practice Auditioning — in Non-Ideal Conditions

I would also tell my 18-year-old self to practice ‘auditioning.’ Pick a panel of scary-looking adults or, even better, scary-looking musicians to do a mock audition. If you’re auditioning in a jazz context, put a combo together and play the songs you’ve been working on. Also, audition in different rooms with different acoustics. Piano players and drummers don’t get to use their own instruments, so practice on different ones! Most importantly, don’t practice in ideal conditions. As drummers, practice with cymbals that aren’t as good and drums that are subpar. Try your songs at different tempos because you might not be able to count them off yourself. This can be applied to all instrumentalists, not just drummers. Having the opportunity to do mock auditions with Inside Music Schools is a wonderful way to get prepared.

Rehearsal Technique #3: Fake Confidence Until You Feel It

The judges are also not just listening to you. They are watching you! If you’re not feeling confident, fake it! Wear an outfit that you feel good in, force a smile, and walk with your head held high. The mysterious thing about faking it is that after a relatively short period of time, you actually begin to believe it. This will carry over into your playing…and then it’s time to rock! No more self-criticism. No more practice room. From your perspective, these judges are just audience members here to see you perform.

Last Tip — Get there EARLY!

Finally, arrive early with everything you need for your audition. You will already be nervous, so you don’t need the added anxiety of running late.

You can never truly recreate what will happen But, when you begin to practice the ‘event’ as well as the materials, you will give yourself a huge advantage.

I ended up attending The New School for my undergrad and Manhattan School of Music for my graduate studies. My professional life has been varied and exciting, from little venues and coffee shops to Coachella and foreign tours. I’ve been with many bands and have enjoyed many national television performances. Now, I have a private music school/studio of my own. My hope is this blog and my work will help more students who find themselves in the same shoes I was in when I walked into that cafe early one morning in New York City. 

Get an Auditioning Coach to Prepare for Your Audition

Working with a seasoned  Audition Coach can be a great advantage in your preparation.  Inside Music Schools has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college music school admissions process. The bonus? They have a stellar process that includes a mock audition where you’ll get firsthand experience speaking with auditioning faculty, answering questions, and introducing yourself and your music. Read what other parents and students have to say about their experience, and contact IMS today!

Dustin Kaufman plays the drums.
Dustin Kaufman

Dustin has been the drummer for the band St. Lucia since 2014. He has also toured with other notable artists including: Moon Boots and Gavin Turek. Some performance highlights include Coachella, Red Rocks Amphitheatre, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Late Night with Seth Meyers, Jimmy Kimmel Live, and Good Morning America.  In 2013, Kaufman was one of 12 worldwide finalists to compete in the Thelonious Monk Jazz Drum Competition in Washington, D.C. Dustin received a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Jazz Performance from The New School, a Master of Music Degree from the Manhattan School of Music, and Master of Arts Degree from Columbia University.

In 2020, Dustin started Dustin Kaufman Music, a fully virtual music school with over 20 instructors, all with degrees from the top music conservatories in the world. Every lesson is one on one with a primary focus on helping each student get into the school of their choice. Dustin’s instructors have attended Juilliard, The Manhattan School of Music and Berklee College of Music, just to name a few. Whatever your musical goals are, Dustin’s team can help you accomplish them!