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How to Prepare for Your Next Audition or Big Gig

Are you nervous about your first audition to play drums in a band?  You might not feel prepared and you’re not sure what to do next.  Or maybe it’s not your first audition.  Perhaps you’ve had other auditions but you’re still feeling uncomfortable about playing with musicians you don’t know.

Or maybe it’s a gig in front of more people than you’ve ever entertained before.  I get butterflies when I know the crowd’s going to be over several hundred people.

Or how about playing in front of your toughest critics:  family and friends?  That’s always worth some butterflies in your stomach!

And there’s one more scenario that I’m going through right now.

It’s been a couple months since I’ve played with my regular country rock band and now we’re heading into our busy season for the year.  We’ve got a gig coming up next week playing for over 300 people and I’m feeling a little out of shape.

Sure, I’ve been practicing several times a week.  I’ve been playing my church band gig regularly.  And I even rehearsed with the Brazilian/Jazz group a couple weeks ago.  But none of the recent playing I’ve done matches the energy and power needed for the country rock gig.  We play three powerful sets of music.  Each set is one hour long so it takes some physical endurance to get through the show.

The steps that I use to prepare for my big gig are the same steps that you can use to prepare for your first audition or any other playing situation.

The first time you play with other musicians is wonderful, scary, empowering and intimidating all at the same time.  It is a rush of emotions that you may never have felt before.  Kind of like playing in a sporting event for the first time.  Or speaking in front of a group of people.  With a little preparation, you can make it an experience to remember where you’ll have fun, make some good music and impress the other musicians.

Let’s say that you’ve followed all the steps in The Plan and that you’ve been learning to play the drum set for a while.  You’ve bought a set of drums, you’ve been practicing, and now you’re ready to play some songs with other musicians.

Here are some tips to help you prepare for that first encounter with a band or your next big gig:

  1. Practice every day even if it’s for just a short period of time.
  2. Focus your practice time on learning songs.  Choose a song.  Sketch it out.  Learn the drum beats for the different song sections.  Learn the fills that transition between each song section.  Put on your headphones or plug in your ear buds and play along with the song.
  3. Try to learn at least 10 songs before your audition or gig.  If you know the band you’re auditioning for, get a list of songs they do and learn as many as possible.  Make sure the songs have different tempos (like slow, medium and fast), and different beats (rock, blues, Bo-Diddley).  Learn the tempo for each song well enough so that you feel comfortable counting it off for the band.
  4. Make sure your drums are tuned and in top shape.  Remember: first impressions are important. Your drums should sound good and look good.
  5. Make sure that you have a carpet for your drums.  If your first practice is on a hardwood floor or on a cement slab, your drums will slide around if they’re not on a carpet. Ideal size is at least 4 feet wide by 5 feet long.
  6. Practice packing and setting up your drums.  Tear them down so that you can haul them in a car, and then time yourself setting them up again.  Make sure to arrive at your gig/audition with plenty of time to set up. Don’t forget to make sure your drums fit on your drum carpet.
  7. Put together a drummer’s emergency kit that includes an extra set of sticks, a drum key and any other tools you may need to help with set up.   You never know when you’ll break a stick or need to do some last minute drum tuning.
  8. You may want to buy a folding music stand to hold your song sketches.  Some bands may frown upon someone who’s reading music instead of “playing by ear.”  But if you plan to play a lot of songs or some of the songs are super complex, you may want to bring a music stand.
  9. Think about how you look and the clothes you’re planning to wear.  Wear something comfortable that’s appropriate for the music you’ll be playing.


Next, put together your own make-believe concert.  Pretend that you are playing in a band that has a concert in front of thousands of adoring fans.

Build a song list (also known as a “set list” because you’re playing a set of music) that has the pacing of a live concert.  Have you ever noticed that the best concerts have a certain order to their set of songs?  Usually a band will start out with a bang:  with a fast song.  Then they’ll play something medium tempo, then they may slow it down.  If a band’s songs are all the same tempo, then the crowd will eventually get bored.  As a band, you always want to use tension and release to pace your sets of music.

Here’s one way to order the songs in your private concert:

Song 1: Fast.

Song 2: Medium.

Song 3: Fast.

Song 4: Slow.

Song 5: Medium.

Song 6: Fast.

Song 7: Medium.

Song 8: Slow.

Song 9: Medium.

Song 10: Fast.

Encore (Yes – You’ve got to have an encore!): Fast (Leave them wanting more!) or Slow (Chill out and say “Goodnight”).


Put the songs in order on your music player.  Put your song sketches in order in case you need to refer to them.  Start with the first song and play all the songs through without stopping.  Remember:  It’s a concert!  Get into it!

Try to play a private concert on a regular basis.  If you’re preparing for an audition, play your concert once a week and preferably the day before your try out.  When I’m preparing, I’ll play my private concert a couple days before my big gig. 

One of the sets of music that we play in our show is a tribute to The Eagles.  So here’s a set list that I’ll be practicing this weekend in preparation for next week’s big gig.  If you like The Eagles, this is a great practice set.  Notice the pacing of the music (the song tempos are in parentheses):

  1. Take It Easy (Fast – 139)
  2. Lyin’ Eyes (Fast – 132)
  3. Long Run (Medium – 101)
  4. Best of My Love (Slow – 91)
  5. Seven Bridges Road (Medium – 113)
  6. Hotel California (Super Slow but Rockin’ – 74)
  7. Tequila Sunrise (Slow – 111)
  8. Peaceful Easy Feelin’ (Fast – 144)
  9. Heartache Tonight (Medium – 113)
  10. Love Will Keep Us Alive (Slow – 99)
  11. Already Gone (Fast – 147)
  12. Life in the Fast Lane (Medium but Rockin’ – 110)
  13. Desperado (Slow – sung solo by the lead singer)

After following the steps above, especially learning songs and playing along to a full set of music, you’ll feel prepared.  And when you arrive at your audition or big gig, you’ll be surprised how confident you’ll feel, how good you’ll sound, and how much fun you’ll have playing music!

Did this post help you?  What steps do you take to prepare for your next audition or big gig?  Do you have a sample set list you’d like to share?  Please leave a comment below and let me know your thoughts.