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Audition for Honor Bands and Orchestras

In today’s music lessons we’re going to discuss how to audition for honor bands and orchestras. Brass instructor Bryan Powell will cover some great resources to prepare for your big audition.

Brass Lessons with Bryan Powell, The Lesson Studio, Boulder, CO

The Colorado Music Educators Association (CMEA) offers a variety of prestigious honor bands and orchestras open to middle and high school students all throughout the state. These ensembles include jazz bands, symphony orchestras, wind ensembles, as well as both traditional and contemporary choirs, all of which are audition-based.

As the Lesson Studio’s brass instructor, I encourage all eligible advanced students to apply each year to play in these wonderful ensembles. Below you will find helpful suggestions and practice tips to prepare successfully for these auditions, along with several additional resources to investigate.

Although this article will focus on brass auditions overall, generally speaking any instrument seeking placement in an honors band/orchestra/choir anywhere in the country will be able to glean something practical from the advice below.

Please feel free to leave a comment or question via the Reply-link at the bottom of this page. Thank you for reading, and happy practicing!

Where to Start? 

So you’ve decided to audition for honors bands and orchestras? Maybe for a Colorado All-State Group? Great to hear! In addition to meeting with your individual music director, I suggest you study this page of the CMEA website closely:


On this site you will find critical information concerning every available All-State ensemble. You can find, for example, your school’s eligibility to participate (e.g. fees, age/grade restrictions per ensemble, whether or not you are active in your own school’s music program, instrument requirements per group, etc.). Brass instrumentalists are eligible to audition for the Wind Bands, Orchestra, and Jazz Bands (trumpets & trombones only in this case).

Once you have decided your eligibility and which ensemble(s) you want to audition for, it’s time to discuss the logistics.


At the CMEA website above you’ll want to find your specific ensemble’s paragraph, read the information carefully, and then follow the link just below that info. You will learn what it costs to both audition and participate (should you be accepted), when and where auditions take place or if you are to send a recording, dates of the actual festival (these vary by ensemble but are typically late-winter, early springtime), ensemble rosters, conductor info, and additional contact info in case you have any specific questions/concerns regarding your CMEA group.

How to audition for Honor Bands and Orchestra – it’s all about the details

Please pay close attention to all of this information! All it can take to be disqualified is to overlook a simple detail. Maybe you pay the wrong fee, submit audition materials past the due date or to the wrong place, or prepare audition material from the wrong year/ensemble.

Most material/audition due dates are by December 1st fyi. But take special care to observe all of the CMEA guidelines listed in order to give yourself the best shot at success. Your band or orchestra director is also a terrific resource to make certain you’ve got all your ducks in a row. He may even be able to help find funding for your fees/registration so don’t hesitate to ask for advice!

Finally, the Music!

Last but certainly not least, let’s discuss the audition excerpts themselves and some helpful ways to prepare your piece(s).

Plan long term!

Although your recording or physical audition will likely be due around the first of December, the required excerpt(s) you will need to prepare will be posted several months before hand. Usually this is one or two brief passages from an etude book written specifically for your instrument and can be found via the same link above once CMEA has posted it:


Be sure to have the correct year and “pdf-ed” sheet music for the specific ensemble you’re auditioning for. In rare cases, you may even need to order a book yourself so be sure to find your audition piece(s) well in advance to prepare as best as possible. Typically the music you’ll be looking for will be posted by early September and there’s no reason not to begin studying it right away. If you need to audition in person your date(s) will also be posted around that time. And recordings may be submitted at any time after the materials are posted, so please try to stay on top of things.

Do your musical homework!

Take a look at your audition music with great attention. Very likely it is less than 90 seconds worth of music so every little detail absolutely matters! It’s not just a set of pitches and rhythms. Observe the dynamics, tempo markings/changes, style markings, road-map instructions, articulation info, phrase suggestions, among all other details. I promise you that they picked this piece(s) for your instrument very deliberately so take nothing for granted. Likely they’ve listed a specific tempo marking, so please do your best to honor it.

Never forget to sing and tell a musical story

Never forget to sing and tell a musical story either when performing these etudes. If there isn’t a name of the piece or composer, see if you can figure out more info about the piece and maybe even find a reference recording. Your teacher(s) may very well be able to help with this too.

I’d absolutely suggest playing your audition material for lots of people as you prepare, such as parents/directors/friends)  And definitely bring in your audition music to your private teacher. If you don’t have a private instructor yet I would certainly recommend getting into weekly lessons ASAP. There is no substitute for individual instruction on your specific instrument, especially when preparing for an audition on this level.

In preparing for your audition it may also be wise to check out this rubric. All CMEA judges will assess your playing with this exact form.


If you are auditioning live, be sure to plan travel logistics well ahead of time. If you are submitting a recording, be certain to observe the specific requirements for that audition to the letter too (recording format, video or audio, possible analog clock in the background, whether or not to include personal info on the track, etc.). Don’t let any of these small details become the reason you aren’t considered for the group(s) you want to play with, these are amazing opportunities to be a part of!

In closing

I hope that this has been helpful and informative. If you practice hard and thoughtfully, plan ahead and prepare your material as musically as possible. I believe that any student has a great chance at making it into these excellent groups. Best of luck in your audition process, as well as your music making future as a whole. Happy practicing!