Auditioning at college/university with a cheap instrument?

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by RiseOfTheWooten, Mar 7, 2006.

  1. Does the make or quality of your instrument make any difference if one was to audition for a place at university? Would they pay any notice to what you're playing, in contrast to how you're playing it?

    I'm talking about walking in with a cheap Chinese-made doublebass of a lesser-known (or no-brand) make. Say if you kept the instrument in good nick and everything works as it should, I can imagine the only problem might be intonation at the audition?
  2. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    To be honest I have no knowledge or experience of this situation - but as a big fan of orchestral/chamber music etc. - you seem to be leaving out the one big thing ...

    That is - it's all about having good tone and making a beautiful sound - if you make a wonderful sound, then who cares what it is you're playing!! :)

    Conversely - I would have thought a nasty sound is going to detract from any performance...but as I say, I have no experience of this situation,though it must be a natural reaction for any music lover....? :meh:
  3. Agree, as long as the instrument can produce the right sound-true bass sound, and allow you to play beautifully music and tone, who cares the brand-any company can put their brand on the bass.

    I can imagine you cannot go into an singing audition with a broken voice, right?
  4. on a DB, intonation is in your hands and not determined by the instrument. Of course, it has to sound good. My opinion is: if you can play it with a good sound and intonation, it will suit just fine. If it is hindering your ability to play the audition piece, find something else.
  5. bpclark


    Apr 30, 2003
    West Central, OH
    If it helps, I heard this story from a well-known bassist last summer. Apparently, he arrived a day ahead for his entrance audition to a prestigous music school that starts with a "J." Unfortunately, his bass and bow didn't. So the school gave him a bass (found out later it was the worst bass the school owned) and a french bow (he played german) to do his audition. Long story short, he got in and is living happily ever after.

    It seems to me that for an audition to university, an enlightened panel will be judging the potential of your playing and not the quality of your instrument.
  6. Thanks for the input and stories. This is giving me something to think about. So it's not entirely good enough to be able to play everything technically correct, not enough to show that you can improvise in a jazz context or that you can technically play Bach? How much emphasis is placed on your tone amongst these other factors?

    I'm assuming that occassionally there is a bit of leeway (as seen in bpclark's anecdote) for a student applying for college/university with the hope of one day purchasing a 'proper' instrument and becoming a professional, in that if you can show that you have the skills now, when you can afford to purchase an intermediate or pro instrument your tone should be relatively easy to develop (or may already be there hidden by a less-than-stellar instrument)?

    I have an alternate scenario to my original post:

    What about, say, applying to a place like Berklee for Jazz/improv studies. You have a crappy doublebass but a world-class EUB. Would you rather audition with the doublebass or take the EUB?
  7. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I have no idea what your audition process will involve - I'm just saying that this was what you weren't considering in your initial post - i.e. that if you make a beautiful sound, this can't help but influence anybody listening in a positive way ...

    Whereas I would have thought it would be difficult to ignore an unmusical or abrasive tone etc....but then I'm not a college music teacher/director - I was just saying it was something to think about...that you seemed to be ignoring?
  8. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    As a PS to the above, if I'm talking as an a audience member at a classical concert for example - then I'd always rather hear a solo from an instrument that is musical, played with expression and which has a rich and beautiful tone - as opposed to technical virtuosity without any of those features...?
  9. I wasn't ignoring your post. I was pitching a scenario where the audition for further studies is the context (and judgement of your skills/playing is based on that understanding), as opposed to a situation where you're performing for an audience at a performance venue who are expecting a perfect performance here and now.

    I understand what you are saying about how producing a good tone will affect how listeners perceive or accept your performance. But for an audition for further studies, sometimes students cannot afford the best instruments. So I was wondering whether in that context the college/university would see through your crappy student instrument and evaluate you based entirely on your technical skills and other factors unrelated to your crappy instrument.
  10. Phil Smith

    Phil Smith Mr Sumisu 2 U

    May 30, 2000
    Peoples Republic of Brooklyn
    Creator of: iGigBook for Android/iOS
    Part of virtuosity is coaxing the sound that you hear out of any instrument that you play even when the situation is less than optimal i.e. unkown bass, different bow, etc, etc.
  11. jmpiwonka


    Jun 11, 2002
    a player with good technique skill and tone will still sound good on a lesser quality instrument, the jury will know this but i'm sure they will take into account the fact the lesser quality instrument still provides limitations........i guess you could say a bad instrument is not an excuse for horrible sound, but you can't expect it to sound like a fine italian instrument just because a good player is playing it.

    a good example is the post that talked about the guy who auditon for J and his bass didn't arrive. they gave him the worst bass they had (which most likely still had a nice setup on it) and judged him with what situation he was given.
  12. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I agree entirely - so in Jazz workshops I have heard the tutors (pros) make a bass sound great, that was previously sounding pretty nasty in the hands of a student! ;)

    I was just trying to point this area out for consideration, as the original post at the start of this thread, seemed to be ignoring this and I've picked up some basses that were beyond redemption by even the most seasoned of pros!! ;)
  13. WalterBush


    Feb 27, 2005
    Yuma, Az
    Universities don't generally get viruosi in to study--most people show up there looking to become one, not because they already are. Any panel you see will be judging things like basic ability, potential, and most importantly, whether or not your check cleared :)

    Remember, if you already knew everything, had the perfect instrument, and could make the judges cry with the beauty of your tone, you wouldn't need to apply.
  14. I think some major schools will look poorly on a student with the means to a better instrument who does not have one. Some may even judge you regardless of your means. Face it, there are plenty of people out there who judge musicians on the quality of their axe and people who bring in a poor instrument really have to make a jaw-dropping impression to compensate.

    I'm not at all saying this is fair or even saying it's often the case at universities, but it is a fact of life.
  15. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    On the other hand if you sound like a rusty handsaw..then it might be hard to ignore....;) ?
  16. Farin


    Oct 19, 2004
    Akron, Ohio
    Often times, it looks more professional and looks like your more serious if you have a decent instument, or at least one that looks good. If it doesn't look good then make sure it at least sounds good.
    I know I auditioned at Berklee, and they were impressed with my moderatly priced Sam Shen Willow Bass. It's so good to know everything about your axe, such as when it was made, by who, how much it's worth and what not. A real bass professor will probably ask you about your bass.
    So bottom line, they probably won't notice if you have cheap bass, if it sounds half decent, but try not to go into the audition with half a roll of duck tape on your axe. heh.
  17. Marcus Johnson

    Marcus Johnson

    Nov 28, 2001
    Bruce, can I use that as my stage name? "Ladies and gentlemen......Rusty Handsaw!"
  18. Having a better instrument, of course, is going to help. It ought to help your playing, and it might catch the professor's attention.

    When I was at Rice this last weekend, we actually spent part of the audition talking about my bass. I'm sure that if I went in with a cheap bass and played just as well, it wouldn't make a difference whether I get accepted or not. However, I think I play best when using a top quality instrument.

    Some judges might not mind. Some judges might be more superficial and decide to knock you down for having a cheap instrument. I know at Curtis two weeks ago, somebody showed up with a bow and no bass and decided to borrow one of the school's. I certainly wouldn't have considered doing that, but I'll bet if he gave a really outstanding audition on a borrowed instrument, it could only serve to impress Hal Robinson and Edgar Meyer.

    Ultimately, the professors are looking for a player, not someone with a good instrument. Most good schools have a number of basses that they lend out to students. Some schools have very high quality basses that they lend out. Even if you show up with a lousy bass, that doesn't mean you can't go to the school and learn on a much better instrument.
  19. No, you're ignoring my original query.

    I was asking in the context of an upcoming student auditioning for a place at college/university. This has absolutely nothing to do with a pro performing in an orchestral/chamber performance for a paying audience who expect an epic performance that lasts longer than 15mins and an interview. Sure when it gets to that stage it involves having a good tone and making a beautiful sound but that isn't 'all about' what auditions look for in this college context.

    You cannot pass an audition for college just because you have a good tone and are making beautiful sounds. What about technical skill, knowledge of your repertoire, basic skills with scales/studies and aural ability. You can easily demonstrate these skills on a cheap instrument. As educators, many academic institutions hope to help you develop your tone and your sound during your studies after all.

    So I was asking how much does the make of your instrument and the tone you're able to get out of it matter in that kind of audition in context of everything else that the audition looks for, this isn't an audition for the New York Philharmonic where they'll expect a pro instrument, a pro performance with pro quality tone and sound. There won't be many young students who can walk into their college audition with a $30,000 doublebass from the 1800s producing a tone to die for. Hell, if they are inexperienced the $30k instrument would still sound crap anyway.
  20. sibass89


    Jan 29, 2006
    Cincinnati, OH
    Your instrument doesn't have much to do with your audition. When you walk into an audition, they want to see solid technique, they want to hear good intonation, they want to hear good musical interpretation and expression, and they want to hear a solid player. Your bass isn't going to affect their decision on accepting you. This isn't the NY Phil were they are looking for a sound that they think will fit in best with the orchestra so your bass means something. It's college and first and foremosts they will look at if you're a solid player and if you have the potential to continue to grow.