A Student's Guide to Preparing for Your First Solo Orchestra Competition

A Student's Guide to Preparing for Your First Solo Orchestra Competition

Written by Matrick Thorpe | Originally posted February, 7, 2021


Let your parent/guardians know the date, time, and place you need to be at for the competition and make sure that they are totally on board with it (as well as any costs involved). 

As a young cellist that *coughs* may or may not have neglected to tell his own parents ahead of time about competition commitments… This is critical. 

Read the rules

  • Most competitions require a registration fee. If you are a student, sometimes your school may cover this. 

  • You may be required to provide recommendation letters from your music teacher/private coach. If this is necessary, make sure to give them a few weeks’ notice. 

  • If the music and required scales are provided…make sure to print them and put them into a practice folder so you can easily locate them. 

  • You may need to purchase the music from a music shop or through an online store. If you are purchasing a piece online, make sure you are buying the exact version that is necessary.  

      • You are often required to provide an original version to each judge before you sit down to play. Yes, this means that you often need to purchase 2-3 judge copies and one for yourself.

  • If it’s a piece requiring accompaniment, check to see if you must have a pianist or if a recording will suffice. 

  • If a pianist will be required, do they supply one or do you need to bring your own? 

      • Unless it’s a fellow student. Teacher or guardian, you will need to pay the pianist for practice time and performing.

      • Remember to share all of the audition details with them, and it is your responsibility to provide them with the music.

  • Unless it’s a fellow student. Teacher or guardian, you will need to pay the pianist for practice time and performing.  

  • Remember to share all of the audition details with them, and it is your responsibility to provide them with the music. 

Make sure you have enough time to learn the required piece/pieces. 

Don’t forget to actually register. 


  • Acquire the music quickly and keep it together. 

  • If applicable, purchase a clear piano recording for accompaniment, or give the piece to a pianist you are hiring. 

  • Set aside time each day to practice.

  • Practice with a metronome.  

      • This will help you play the piece correctly.

      • Also, it is very common to play through a piece too fast when nervous. A metronome can help instill muscle memory.

  • If you have a private teacher, you need to schedule time to work out bowings, fingerings and dynamics. 

      • Remember to copy all of the markings onto each version for the judges as well. 

  • Once you have the piece ready for competition, schedule 1-2 practice sessions with your pianist.

  • Remind your parents/guardians of the upcoming competition. 

      • I put a magnet with the details on our front door leading up to the competition (again,  lesson learned)
      • Also, your accompanist.


Make sure you eat and hydrate. Don’t wait until after. Sometimes it can take forever to actually play for the judges, and you do not want to be driven to distraction with hunger… or lightheadedness…or thirst,  etc. (Trust the cellist – I speak from experience). 

Don’t forget to bring your: 

❑ Instrument 

❑ Bow (I also carry a backup bow) 

❑ Rosin 

❑ Music (and the extras for the judges) 

❑ Tuner 

❑ Rock stop or strap if you are a cellist. 

❑ Shoulder rest if you are a violinist/violist. 

❑ I have seen bassists bring their own stools (but check with the coordinator first)

❑ Extra strings – just in case 

❑ Fingerless gloves or a disposable hand warmer (it’s hard to play when your fingers are cold)- take them off before you play. 

❑ Piano recording and MP3 player (if applicable) 

If you are lucky enough to have more than one supporting Guardian, you may find that one (or more) of them may not be the best in high-stress situations and tend to upset your calm. If possible, leave that one at home or give them a book or something to focus on other than you.  

Again, trust the cellist – I (unfortunately) speak from experience. 

Dress as they require. Sometimes it might mean concert attire, but generally be comfortable and dress nicely (I have yet to see rules requiring Lord of The Rings cosplay, but one can always hope). 

You’ve arrived:

  • Sign in. 

  • Use the restroom. 

  • Check-in with your teacher if they are there. 

  • Tune up before you are called to stand in line. 

  • You will likely be standing in line outside of your assigned judges’ room for a bit. Be respectful of the players inside. Don’t talk too loudly or fidget with your instrument. 

When it’s your turn: 

  • You (and your accompanists) will say hello to and hand the judges the music if required  (remember, copies are not acceptable) 

  • Sit down and set your music in front of you if you have not committed the piece to memory. 

  • The judges will signal you when to begin. 

  • Take a moment to breathe… I count to 5 before I start. 

  • Do your best! 

After you finish your piece: 

  • Some judges will ask you questions, some will not. 

  • Some judges may ask you what you know about the piece or the composer.  

  • They may ask you to repeat a few notes. 

      • This is not a bad thing, don’t freak out if you are asked.

  • Also, don’t freak out if you are not asked. 

  • They may provide some initial feedback. They may not. 

  • Remember they are professionals and there to help you get better, so listen to what they say (even if it differs from the approach you’ve been taught). 

  • Remember to thank the judges and retrieve your music. 

  • Wish the incoming player good luck. 

Congratulations on taking your first steps into the world of competitive music! 

Check with the organizer so you don’t drive yourself crazy wondering but, it may be several days or several weeks until you get full feedback from the judges. 

However, that feedback that you got right after you performed… that may have been the whole enchilada. 

Speaking of food, go get something to eat again. If you’re anything like me… You’re probably starving. 

Important Personal Note If you didn’t do as well as you would have liked to, that’s ok. I’ve screwed up lots of times. 


A lot. 

But as a student actively competing, I cannot stress enough how important it is to remember that auditioning is a skill set that requires (just like music) practice. 

The more you practice. The easier it is. 
I promise. 

In Cellos We Trust – Matrick

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