Student Blog: A Big Guide to Making a Musical Theatre Audition Book

From someone who is still working on hers.

By: Mar. 23, 2024
Student Blog: A Big Guide to Making a Musical Theatre Audition Book
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Hi! I'm back with another post that has advice about something that I am actually really confused about in my life right now! The topic is: making a good audition book of musical theatre songs. Some of you may have a well-bred audition repetoire that you've been using for years and that is great! Me, on the other hand, I feel like I've never had a complete, tried and true audition book and it's honestly just becoming harder and harder to deal with now that I'm in college. Of course, there are songs I know and have used for past auditions that are well-practiced, like my college audition songs, but they never seem to truly fit what each individual audition calls for. Therefore, my goal is to create a solid audition book for myself throughout the rest of this semester and over the summer. Right now, I'm researching what makes a great audition book and here's what I know that may help you:

Good Things I've Done With My Past Audition Books

I think the best thing I've done with my audition books in the past was the way in which I organized them. I don't claim that my methods are perfect but they will help people starting from square one.

  1. Get a sturdy 3-ring binder that is thick enough to hold sheet music but not so thick it will fall off the piano when you set it down for the pianist to read. 

  2. I use dividers to section off my binder and the organization usually begins with separating the uptempo songs from ballads. Don’t know the difference between an uptempo song vs. a ballad? Watch this video from Tina’s Vocal Studio on Youtube which thoroughly explains it (click the blue text). After dividing the binder into two master sections, organize your songs in an order that you will remember. Whether it is ordered based on style, Contemporary songs vs. Golden Age, the alphabet, etc., you must know the order so you can easily find the song you’re looking for during an audition. Some people even make a table of contents for the front of their audition book to remember. Next, I take each mini section and put the songs into a sequence based on the length of each cut. I put shorter cuts (16 bars) closer to the front of the book and then longer cuts (32 bars, 1-minute cuts, full songs) towards the back. 

  3. Sheet music preparation: there are a lot of opinions about what is right and wrong regarding sheet music prep and I’ve definitely made some big mistakes with this in the past. A couple of good tips I’ve learned from my voice teacher at Wagner College and my time working with my coaches at MTCA (Musical Theater College Auditions) include:

    1. Mark the beginning and end of your cut, moments when you’re cutting to another section of the song, notes for the pianist, etc. clearly and concisely. Avoid using too many words and highlight your markings or use a symbol (like a star symbol) to signal something important to the pianist. This tip will help you when explaining your cut to the accompanist by making the process more quick and simple. 

    2. Don’t always print the pages exclusively single-sided or double-sided. Although this may seem like the go-to way to print your music (and for some songs, maybe it is), you have to put yourself in the shoes of the pianist turning the pages. They need to read your music effectively while making quick page turns. If you have too many page turns one right after the other, maybe double-sided pages aren’t the way to go. Many songs require two pages of music with phrases that come one right after the other to be in a view at the same time. Sometimes, though, you have to double-side. Keep that in mind when printing. You can always print things single-sided and make them double sided by CLEANLY gluing the pages together. DON’T use staples to put the pages together (I’ve done this… it’s no good). Also, make sure your hole-punching is done well and on the correct side of the page so the music goes into the binder neatly. 

For more information on sheet music prep, check this insightful article out by Jose Simbulan on Broadway World's website!

What I’ve Learned (Mostly About Song Selection)

Disclaimer: a lot of the information I discuss in this section comes from this video by Broadway pianist/music director Austin Cook on the YT channel 32 Bar Cut and the articles by various authors that I have linked below. Thank you trusty sources!

  1. Know your aesthetic as a performer. 

The songs in your book should reflect your personality and goals as a performer so you can market yourself to directors, casting agents, coaches, etc. Without an awareness of what roles you would play well and the styles of music that you are inclined at portraying, your song selection will not benefit you the way it can. Don’t copy the exact song book of another performer but instead honor yourself by picking songs that represent you as an individual. Don’t know what kinds of music would represent you well? Make a list with a coach or peer who knows you well of roles you would play comfortably to start brainstorming. Examine roles you’ve successfully played in the past and figure out your “type” (roles that reflect your look and nature as a performer). 

  1. Be aware of what’s “on the market” right now on Broadway (Music Genres, Composers & Lyricists)

Currently, contemporary musical theatre is full of music that has strong influences from pop, jazz, rock, and sometimes soul or folk origins. Picking some songs that reflect what’s popular can make your book more well-rounded. Also, having at least one or two songs by one of today’s most influential composers/lyricists is important. Make a list of whose work is being pursued by audiences right now (Pasek and Paul, Anaïs Mitchell, Sara Bareilles, Stephen Schwartz, etc.) to get you started. By the same token, one or two songs by creators who have cemented themselves as classic legends in the industry (Stephen Sondheim, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Leonard Bernstein, Kander and Ebb, etc.) should absolutely exist in your book. 

  1. Categories of songs!

Austin Cook recommends that you have around 20 songs in your audition book. Although that is a lot of music, once you see how many categories of songs you could have in your book… you’ll understand why you need so many options. From my research, here are some of the most recommended types of songs you should consider when making a book:

(From Austin’s video)

  • Disney (Uptempo & Ballad)
  • Singer/Songwriter (Uptempo & Ballad)
  • Classic Pop (Uptempo & Ballad)
  • Current Pop (Uptempo & Ballad)
    • Examples: Billie Ellish, Giveon
  • 1 song R&B or Hip Hop 
  • Golden Age (Uptempo & Ballad, generally songs produced before 1965/66)
  • 4 Modern Musical Theatre Contemporary (songs produced after the Golden Age)
    • Examples: Beetlejuice, Dear Evan Hansen
  • 4 Modern Musical Theatre Legit
    • Examples: Les Mis, Miss Saigon
  • Sondheim (1 song)
    • Suggestion: go for something a little more standard of his work because something more obscure could be difficult for a pianist to play on a whim. 

(From written sources linked at the end)

  • A song from a unique genre like folk, country, or an operetta. 
  • At least one song from a MEGA MUSICAL: Phantom of the Opera, Jesus Christ Superstar, Pippin, Godspell, Les Mis, Jekyll and Hyde, Once On This Island, etc.
  • A wildcard song
    • Something vocally unexpected (goes against your type) or your favorite song
  • A Doo Wop, Dance, or Disco piece (think decades like the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s)
  • A jazz standard or something with a jazz or blues feel (work of Gershwin, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Kander & Ebb, etc.)
  • Something that is gender-bent or a re-interpretation of a song or well known character.
  • A song from a dream role.
  • A song you could easily sing sick, not warmed up, or acapella.  
  1. Last Tips (some from me and some from my sources) 
    1. “Overdone” music can be acceptable if it reflects who you are as a performer. Should every song in your book be as popular as “On My Own?” No. However, don’t be afraid to do some overdone work. 
    2. Pick songs that represent a conflict or a character arc (something that goes somewhere and takes the audience on a journey) so you as an actor have room to play/show your chops. Even if you are picking a pop or rock song, try to find one that conveys a story/does not repeat the same lyrics over and over without meaning. 
    3. You don’t need more than a few ballads in your book. 
    4. If you do a specialty very well, comedy for example, you may have one or two more comedic songs in your book than the average person and that can be good.
    5. A song that is from a brand new composer or is so underdone that it is unrecognizable can actually draw the audience’s interest away from you and make them focus more on the song itself. Be careful with that. 

That’s all and I hope this helps!

Written Sources:

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