Last time, we explored how to be pro-active in dealing with potentially disappointing results from a State Solo Competition or an audition for college or All-State. As a music teacher, you taught lessons on critiquing and keeping the environment safe to do so, and provided more performance opportunities (or recommended venues outside of school for parents to explore). As a teacher (or parent), you demonstrated how to deal with negative criticism and used your own life experiences as examples. You also were more aware of the students’ reactions to criticism, checked in on the ones who appeared to have low self-esteem, and reminded them that a performance does not define a person.

Audition time has arrived; the students report that everything went as well as possible. The results are back and they’re mixed. Students who you thought would ace their All State audition did not score high enough to be recommended. How do you deal with the result? What do you tell the student?

Points to consider at the Festival/Audition site:

  1. If you are able to attend your area’s Solo Festival/All State auditions, check in with as many students before and afterwards. This gives them the support they need and in the extreme case where an instrument breaks, you can do a quick fix. (More about this in a future blog.)
  2. Festivals are also a great time to talk with students’ parents and see how the support system is at home. You also find out a lot about how much the student really did practice!
  3. If you are able to listen to some of the auditions outside the room, try to do so to form your own objective opinion. If you are familiar with your state’s rating system, think like a judge and determine a general idea for the student’s rating. (This will be important later if the score is not reflective of what you heard. Keep in mind that you are listening through a closed door in a potentially noisy hallway, you can’t usually see the performer so there may be posture and hand position issues not evident to you at that moment.)
  4. In some states, parents and teachers are allowed to be in the audition room for the solo and scales portion, but not the sight-reading. Be sure to inform the parents of this beforehand. (This should have been stated in your Solo Festival Information letter to the parents in December. See my blogs on Solo Festival Preparation: Tips for Teachers, Parents and Students,  Part 2-Preparing Students and Parents, Part 3-What a Festival Judge is Really Thinking ) It’s up to the student if they want their family and/or teacher in the room.
  5. Try to talk to students after their auditions to get their impressions and feedback. (Keep in mind, students tend to exaggerate their mistakes and think they bombed the audition.) Congratulate the student, and provide encouragement and support to the student and parents; they value your advice at this time.
  6. Many times, students say that the judge was writing the entire time. The student then assumes the judge is writing all bad things about the performance. Assure the student and parents that the audition time is so short, many judges do write while the student is playing only to keep the room moving and not delay the auditions. I always tell my students that the judge can be writing down compliments as well as suggestions for improvement. Not every comment means there’s a point off.
  7. Remind your students that a judge doesn’t take a point off for every mistake. It is the overall performance that counts!
  8. DO NOT GIVE YOUR OPINION ABOUT THE STUDENT’S POSSIBLE SCORE! You are not the judge; you don’t know what the score is at this point. Respect the judge’s opinion.

After the Festival/Audition:

  1. When the Festival is over, take notes about how your students performed, especially if there were issues such as an instrument breaking before or during the solo, students getting very upset about the experience, a student reporting that there were certain elements in their sight-reading that they were not prepared for, etc. I have had situations in the past where percussion students told me there were certain rudiments in the sight-reading that should have been for a higher-level solo, clarinet players sight-reading music that went “over the break” which was too advanced for their level, and even some times where the students said they were given sight-reading one level higher than the level they were playing. Keeping good notes can help if you need to dispute a score. (Remember, judges are human, they do make mistakes! Judging upwards of 40 students in one night with only a dinner break in-between can be grueling.)
  2. Get familiar with your state’s Solo Appeals Procedure. In New York, we have an outstanding NYSSMA (New York State School Music Association) Manual that covers everything from all the Rules and Regulations, solo listings with publishers, scale, improvisation and sight-reading requirements to the Appeals procedure.
  3. When the scores do come back, first photocopy the sheets! Don’t hand back sheets until you have your own copy. You will need this if you need to dispute a score, but also to send to All County and other Festival committees for future performance opportunities.
  4. Read all the comments and see if the scores are reflective. I have only had 1 issue in the 14 years I have been teaching where there was a clear mistake. Judges tend to be well trained and are more humanistic than we tend to think.
  5. If there is a score that needs to be disputed or checked, or if you want to appeal for a rehearing, check your state’s Appeals Procedure. Usually this information is in your state’s manual. Act on this quickly; in New York you have 2 weeks to submit a written request for a rehearing.
  6. If possible, try to individually hand out the score sheets to the student outside of the classroom setting. Some students need privacy to look at their results and everyone always wants to know each other’s scores. Arrange for students to come down to your office/room during lunch, recess time, study hall period or before school. Another idea is to meet with each student during his/her lesson time and give some time to ask questions.

What to Tell Your Students:

  1. If time allows, during an ensemble rehearsal, leave aside a few minutes for discussion on performance results. Keep in mind, students will vent and commiserate, but bring it back to looking at the overall picture objectively.
  2. First, remind all your students that one performance does not make or break a career. Yes, it may prevent someone from going to a particular college or getting into All-State, but that doesn’t mean the student is a poor musician. It is just one result from one instance in time.
  3. Use your own experiences, or use a popular celebrity’s experiences as an example of someone who had a disappointing result, but picked themselves up and went on to achieve success.
  4. When you meet with your students individually, encourage them and let them feel safe to comment on their performance.
  5. If there was a performance where there were some issues (and you written notes about it), get the student’s feedback first, see if the score was greatly affected by the issue and talk to the student about their options (disputing the score and getting a rehearing vs. letting it go and looking at it as a learning opportunity).
  6. I always like to tell my students that the judge is there to give objective feedback. They may find something (a technical performance issue or even a musical style issue) that I have missed. It is a type of critique and I remind my students about the critiquing process.
  7. If you feel that a student will be devastated by the results (this does happen!), talk to the school psychologist and the student’s parents. This could be indicative of an underlying self-esteem issue.
  8. Remind students that putting too much pressure on one performance is not only unhealthy but also not fair to themselves.


Performing in Solo Festivals and even auditions should be a fun process as well as a learning experience. It is important to stress that it is only one moment in time, and does not make or break a person or their future career.

Action Steps:

  1. Try to go to the Solo Festival to provide support to the students and families.
  2. Take mental and physical notes of any unusual situations that may arise (broken instruments, etc).
  3. Try to listen to as many of your students’ performances as possible. Think, to yourself, what the possible score may be. Don’t share this opinion!
  4. Allow some time for discussion about the Festival during an ensemble rehearsal. Bring the conversation back to the overall picture, and use examples from your own life or well-known people about success stories after performance that didn’t go so well.
  5. Know your state’s Appeal Process – check your state manual for this information.
  6. Try to meet with students individually to discuss scores and gauge their reactions. Alert parents and school psychologists when students appear to be devastated.
  7. If you liked this article, sign up for my Newsletter, with Weekly Practice tips and other information to improve your performance skills.