The Ballerina’s Dance from Stravinsky’s Petroushka is one of the most essential of all trumpet audition excerpts. I have taken almost a hundred orchestral auditions in my career, winning 13, and it was on the repertoire list of every single one of them.
An auditioning trumpeter needs to have a good Ballerina’s Dance. It needs to be in tune, with good rhythm, great sound, dynamics, light, flexible, fast and clean. You rarely hear trumpeter do that, however. It is because with this, like most standard pieces, we first learned it when we were too young. Back then, Petroushka was “hard”. So we tried too hard, played it a bunch of times with bad habits, and learned it wrong. People struggle with it unnecessarily years later as a result of these old habits.
The Ballerina’s Dance is easy. It should should not sound or feel difficult. It is only our ingrained bad habits that make it hard today. Otherwise, it’s just a little F Major ditty, scales and arpeggios, no big deal. When I listen to auditions 75% of candidates sound bad on this excerpt. “Thank you, next”, the committee chair says. There goes months of practice, plane tickets and lost gigs in 30 seconds.
The goal is to repeat new good habits and avoid repeating the bad old ones. The neuroscience is clear: you can’t undo a habit, once the neural pathway is there it’s there for life. We must create new good habits and program them in more strongly than the old bad habits. This takes time, focus, and a good game plan. Practicing must be as focused and targeted as possible in order to lay a bulletproof foundation for awesomeness.
General Practice rules:
1: It must feel good
2: It must sound good
3: Take lots of breaks, during reps and in between.
4: Correct all mistakes 10 times.
5: Worked relaxed and focused. Don’t multitask.
6: Technique should be as simple as possible.
For the Ballerina’s Dance, the strategy is simple: get yourself as many reps of sounding and feeling good on this excerpt with as few mistakes as possible. As Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.”
My “100 Rep Ballerina’s Dance Bootcamp”:
Reps 1-10: Play it one note at a time. Every note must have a great sound. Sound is the only metric you care about at the beginning. Great sound. Every note. No rhythm, dynamics, articulation, etc. One note at a time with rest in between. If a note doesn’t have a good sound, play it over and over until it does, and then play it 10 more times with great sound. Then continue to the next note. Play through the excerpt 10 times this way.
11-20: Slur it, one note at a time. No rhythm yet. Make all note changes smooth with no sudden changes in your chops. If a note change doesn’t work perfectly stop. Play the interval slowly until it is perfect, then repeat 10 times. Continue to the end of the excerpt, and then repeat 10 more times. After good fluency is reached, shift focus to intonation. Get the pitch perfect at this stage while you are still going slowly.
21-30: Put in the articulation at the fronts of notes, but no tempo or rhythm yet. All tongued notes are long. Repeat in the same fashion as before, correcting every mistake 10 times. 10 times through.
31-40: Add basic rhythm, but go very slowly. Slow down when it is more difficult. The goal here is still to play as easily as possible, with no stress. Remember we are re-programing habits, and this takes repetition. Always be asking yourself: Can I do this more easily? Strive for minimal motors at all time. (Jacobs)
41-45: Add dynamics. Slowly. Instead of using face muscles to adjust loud and soft, keep your face as quiet as possible. If you want to play louder, give more air. Softer, give air more sweetly. Don’t try to control everything with your face, it isn’t working anyways. Slowly with easy dynamics, always correcting anything that doesn’t feel great 10 times.
46-50 Add the staccato. Easy, make it light, keep the air moving. Instead of striking the articulation like a piano, think of plucking like a harpsichord. (Craig Morris). Slowly. Every note must feel and sound great. Keep up the focus. Every time you work through this with your mind focused, you are becoming more bulletproof. You should be feeling great by now.
Time for the drum machine. The drum machine is much better than a metronome because you are then fitting into a grove instead of playing with a click. Always play musically.
- Halfway mark check. Set the drum at 116 and play it straight through and record it. How does it sound?
52-54 – 60 beats per minute
55-57 – 63
58-60 – 66
61-63 – 69
64-66 – 72
67-69 – 76
70-72 – 80
73-75 – 84
76-78 – 88
79-81 – 92
82-84 – 96
85-87 – 100
88-90 – 104
91-93 – 108
94-96 – 112
97-99 – 60
100 – 116, or whatever tempo you prefer for your final performance. How does it sound? Better right? Now, go back and start over. 200 reps and you’ll really have it.
I’d love to see if anyone actually will put in the time and master this excerpt this way. It will pay off, I promise. When I auditioned for my gig in Hong Kong, it was the only excerpt that the maestro asked to hear twice. I was glad when that happened that I had been through the 100 Rep Bootcamp.