Drum Set, Orchestral Percussion, Vibraphone, Marimba, and Hand Percussion Audition Guidelines

The Audition

Prepared Piece: Berklee embraces and values all music styles so you should prepare a piece that you are comfortable with and displays your strengths as a musician. It should be approximately three–five minutes in length, in any style, which demonstrates your instrumental proficiency and your overall musicianship. Do not choose a piece or a style of music you think the audition team wants to hear. Rather, select a piece that puts your "best foot forward" and highlights what you feel represents your best playing. Ultimately, the audition is a discovery process and we want to find out what you do well.

It is recommended to seek the guidance of your private instructor and/or musical mentor when selecting your prepared piece. Here are some examples and additional guidelines that may help when selecting your prepared piece:

  • A tune from a well-known artist or band (any style)
  • A standard or jazz tune (which may include blues and rhythm changes) with your own improvisation
  • A composition from the instrumental/voice repertoire or a movement, sonata, concerto or etude
  • A transcription of a well-known artist's solo

If composing or songwriting is your primary focus, you may choose to play an original piece that showcases your individual style. However, the original piece should be no longer than three (3) minutes, and you should also prepare a second piece from the above listing (no longer than three minutes).

If you require accompaniment for your prepared piece you may bring an accompanist, play-a-long CD or MP3 player. It is not recommended to use the original tracks of artists or bands as play-a-longs. If you are playing to a track, it is preferred that you use standard play-a-long/music-minus-one or karaoke tracks so that you are not playing your part along with the part on the recording. For example, we would prefer a drummer use a play-a-long track that does not have the drums on the track rather than playing along with an artist's original recording.

Improvisation: We would like to hear you improvise over a short progression to gauge where you are in your instrumental development. Your prepared piece may include improvisation, but it is not required.

Blues: You should be prepared to play over a standard I-IV-V blues progression.

Reading: The examples range from basic to complex in order for the audition team to gauge your reading ability. You will have 15 minutes before your audition to warm-up on your instrument and review the reading material before being asked to play the examples in the audition.

Ear Training: You will be asked to participate in call-and-response exercises. The audition team will play short rhythms and melodies, which you will either sing back or play back on your instrument. You may also be asked to identify intervals and chord qualities. The audition team will also gain a sense of your ability to match pitch during this section of the audition.

Drum Set: You may also be asked to play selected examples from the following list of grooves:

  • 4/4 Swing
  • 3/4 Swing
  • Jazz Shuffle
  • Funk
  • Rock
  • Bossa Nova
  • Mambo
  • Calypso/Soca
  • Reggae

Vibraphone/Marimba: You may choose to select a 2 or 4 mallet prepared piece that demonstrates your strengths on the instrument. You may also be asked to demonstrate your technical facility via typical practice routines and exercises (scales, arpeggios, etc.).

Vibraphone and Marimba players are reminded that they need to bring their own instruments to the audition unless they are auditioning in Boston. Our audition rooms in Boston are equipped with a vibraphone and/or marimba.

Orchestral Percussion: You should have prepared pieces on the following:

  • concert snare drum
  • solo marimba
  • solo timpani

You may also be asked to demonstrate your technical facility via typical practice routines and exercises (scales, arpeggios, etc.) on either vibraphone or marimba or rudiments on the snare drum.

Hand Percussion: You should be prepared to demonstrate the following:

  • Demonstrate specific, basic tone on the conga drum (closed tones, open tones, "heel-toe", hand rocking motion, slaps muted and slaps open).
  • Congas: Demonstrate basic "tumbao" rhythm at a slow tempo. Include some basic variations and improvisations.
  • Bongos: Demonstrate basic "martillo" rhythm at a slow tempo. Include some basic variations and improvisations.
  • Demonstrate basic performance of timekeeping for Cha-Cha and Mambo. Any knowledge of basic Afro-Cuban and/or Brazilian accessory percussion instruments can be demonstrated. Please identify which instrument(s) you are performing.

Hand percussionists are reminded that they need to bring their own instruments to the audition.

Some valuable things to remember

We have provided online audition practice materials (play-along exercises) that will help you prepare for the Improvisation and Blues sections of the audition.

Applicants accepted to Berklee will be taking core music classes including harmony, ear training and arranging classes, in addition to private instrumental studies and ensembles, so the audition is formatted to assess students' overall musicianship. In addition, we are also interested in seeing how you function in an ensemble setting.

We take a holistic approach in our evaluation process where each component of the audition helps the audition team assess your overall abilities as a musician. While each component is important, we recognize it is common for applicants to have imbalances in their playing abilities. We realize many applicants may not have advanced skills in improvisation, reading, ear training or multiple musical styles, but our curriculum

materials are designed to help students build skills in these areas.

The Interview

You will participate in a 15-minute interview with our admissions representative to discuss your goals and aspirations, and what you will bring to Berklee. The board of admissions encourages applicants to share their creative work. Instead of bringing supplemental material to your interview, please provide a link to Youtube, MySpace, or a personal website when you submit your application.


The following checklist will help to remind you of items you may need for your audition:

  • All hand percussionists are required to bring their instrument to the audition.
  • Drummers should bring their sticks and a practice pad for use in the warm-up room, as most warm-up rooms will not have a drumkit for your warm-up.
  • A standard four- or five-piece drum set with two cymbals will be provided for drum set players. Double-bass pedals are not provided.

Due to rental limitations when we travel, Orchestral Percussion principals are required to audition & interview in Boston.