How To Select An Audition Song: The 5 C’s of Refreshing Your Repertoire

Published January 14th, 2017

Selecting the right repertoire is a critical part of any audition, and it may be one of the most challenging tasks you face as you prepare. So, if you’re finding yourself Googling “how to pick an audition song,” then look no further.

Meet Your Audition Song Mentor

Catherine Walker

The Songbook Academy® is the only summer music intensive that is dedicated to the “Golden Age of American Song”- Broadway and movie musicals, jazz, and standards written between approximately 1920 and 1960. High school singers with an interest in the Great American Songbook may apply for the program by submitting video recordings of two contrasting selections from the Great American Songbook.

Every applicant receives written feedback on their video submissions from a panel of nationally recognized experts. Forty students are invited to Carmel, Indiana, for a week-long intensive with leading theatre professionals, GRAMMY-nominated recording artists, and top university professors from around the country.

The Songbook Academy introduced Acceptd to one of these professionals, Catherine A. Walker, who is an Assistant Professor of Music at the University of Michigan and a mentor for the Songbook Academy. As a highly recognized and in-demand educator, musical director and clinician, Walker has come up with a formula for selecting audition songs that are the perfect fit.

The 5 C’s for Choosing an Audition Song

“True artistry is the combination of technical, musical, and interpretive skills” – Catherine A. Walker


Do you have a connection to the story? Walker shared that, at the Songbook Academy, students are often asked: “Why do you want to sing this song?” Another way to ask this question is, “Why do you want to tell this story?”

Ask yourself:

  • What are the primary ideas and themes you want to share in your performance?
  • Why is it important to share this song with your audience?
  • How is the story you are trying to tell relevant to your present age and life experiences?

Walker strongly advises to choose a musical topic that is close to your own life experiences. You’ll be able to imagine it more clearly and, therefore, communicate it to the listener more effectively. There is a vast body of quality music to be performed, so choose songs with messages that you are personally interested in sharing.


Is the song you’ve chosen correct musically and lyrically? Is it in the correct key for your voice?

“Nowadays, a lot of people purchase music via the internet. Frequently, that isn’t the original source material,” Walker shared. Music purchased via download-on-demand services often contains variations of the melody and lyrics. You may also find these versions have been arranged in certain keys so they are easier to play on the piano. This may not be the best key for you to sing it in- “and it’s likely not,” added Walker.

Walker’s Guide to Choosing the Correct Song

  • Find the source material (the original version of the sheet music). That can sometimes be a challenge, but it’s important that you learn the song correctly. Try looking at your local library or university, or contact the Songbook Foundation to see if they have a copy in their archives. If they do, they will be happy to send you a copy.
  • “The key is key.” Be aware that there isn’t a correct key for popular songs. Choose the key that allows you to sing the song as well as possible. Your choice of key impacts the technical aspects of your performance, which will ultimately affect your interpretation of the piece.


Is it a creative choice?

Walker advises, “Avoid repertoire that’s associated with an individual artist, or has become representative of that artist’s body of work.” When singing these songs, it will be difficult to avoid comparisons to that artist. If you like a particularly iconic song, such as Etta James’ well-known version of “At Last,” Walker has two recommendations.

  1. Listen to other songs recorded by that artist, and then choose something that is less iconic.
  2. Investigate the songwriter/composer’s catalog, and find a similar piece you like.

You will often need to dig a little deeper to find a piece that is perfectly suited to you and your skills. The Songbook Academy has compiled a “Greatest Hits” playlist of some of the most well-known tunes from the Great American Songbook (Click Below!). If you’re considering any of these songs, you might want to follow Walker’s advice to find a unique piece for your audition.


Does the piece challenge you appropriately as a singer?

The key word is appropriate. You should not (we repeat, not) seek out the most challenging piece you can find. “The problem is this: if the song is right at the edge of your technical abilities, you will be focused on that aspect of the performance,” Walker said. “You will likely lose the focus of the story you are trying to communicate because the technical demands will overwhelm that.” Make sure you are comfortable with the difficulty level of the material you choose.


When choosing a pair of pieces for an audition, be sure that your repertoire selections contrast and complement one another. Variety is essential. Walker advises comparing the feel, style, tempo, mood, and subject matter of your selections, as each area is an opportunity to find contrasts. She also suggests considering how you personally relate to the pieces you select, as the emotions you express in your performance may add additional layers of contrast for your audience.

To learn more about the Songbook Academy, click here to visit the program’s Acceptd profile.

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