I just discovered this video from 2 years ago in which the musical director and vocal coach Jake Anthony argues that there's been a shift in standard for auditioning (presumed musical theater or pop singing): that previously it was reasonable to present at an audition with a lead sheet for the accompanist, but that now, there's been a shift, and that one can't expect a pianist accompanying for auditions to know how to realize a lead sheet, so one should bring a score. He also suggests that an auditioning singer will be considered better prepared if they have score than a lead sheet.

I haven't auditioned for anything in ages, so this is news to me. Can anybody confirm or deny this? My interest isn't in auditioning, myself; I'm curious from a musicological perspective about musical practice, especially around different ways of writing music and different ways musicians collaborate, across different styles and demographics of musicians. So I'm interested to know when this shift happened (if it in fact did), if anybody knows why (or even has a compelling theory) since it's not like scores were just invented yesterday, and how wide-spread it is (what genres of music has this shift happened in).

  • I suppose if you are auditioning for X Factor and other "karaoke" type shows a score would be appropriate. But if you were wanting to show off your style or interpretation of a piece, probably with key changes, a lead sheet should be adequate. Commented Dec 1, 2014 at 21:15
  • Perhaps the general piano audition accompaniment is more comfortable reading a score's "exact" part instead of interpreting with a lead sheet (hints of improvisation). Maybe a general background of piano accompaniment has to do mostly with this.
    – user6164
    Commented Dec 2, 2014 at 6:24
  • @ShawnStrickland, that may well be true -- see discussion below -- but it does nothing to explain why it would be a recent change. Commented Dec 2, 2014 at 16:30
  • I really don't think this is a recent change, it's probably best transitioned to this over the last 20 years. But the level of orchestration and detail for these styles of music (musical theater or pop singing) probably dictates a score to be more appropriate. (Withholding the idea that in musical theaters some sections may be cut-and-pasted or a loop performed...) A lead sheet, on the other hand (assuming you're talking about one that may use degree notation or Nashville notation, since key changes are brought up multiple times) is probably too malleable to be useful in an audition.
    – user6164
    Commented Dec 2, 2014 at 16:52

2 Answers 2


This is a pretty broad question, but in general I think a score is going to be preferred over a lead sheet in almost all situations. In particular, a well-arranged piano score and NOT a PC score most of the time, as many PC scores try to jam in as much information about the orchestration and are extremely difficult to sight read.

The reason is that, short of extremely high-quality professional theater companies that can afford to hire the best accompanists in the city, accompanists are going to vary in quality dramatically. A student theater group is going to use whoever is willing, and they commonly end up with someone who isn't very good. Community and semi-pro companies tend to have reasonably skilled pianists, but they may not be completely rounded. A lead sheet is worthless to someone without the training/experience to read one--a classically trained pianist can't do anything with it. And even for someone with some skill in this area, a lead sheet still presents a lot of challenge if they're not familiar with the piece. Really, lead sheets are a good notational system for something that's going to be rehearsed, but where you want to be vague enough to get out of the performer's way. An audition is a sightread.

A score is at least providing notes that can be played, and a decently experienced musical theater accompanist should know how to fake through one if it's not easy enough to be totally sight read, even if their sheer technique is lacking.

I might expect to see auditioners to show up with lead sheets for a rock musical, but I would certainly ask first if this would be acceptable and be prepared for a "no".

He also suggests that an auditioning singer will be considered better prepared if they have score than a lead sheet.

My initial reaction to this was "no, that's not necessarily true", but when I thought back to the times that people have brought me lead sheets, I've invariably gotten the impression that they weren't well prepared. I think it's primarily other factors with the lead sheet being only a consequence (specifically, I usually get the impression that the auditioner is only using that song because it's the only song they know, and that this crappy lead sheet is the only thing they could whip up), so if you can be professional about it you should be able to avoid that.

All of that being said, most accompanists will greatly appreciate a score with chord symbols, since the aforementioned faking is based on doing an on-the-fly harmonic analysis and re-realizing the music in a simpler way, and having the chord symbols eliminates a lot of the mental work.

  • All these things are true -- I was a (classically-trained) pianist, and vastly preferred score to lead for all the reasons you mention -- but why now? Weren't these things true 25 years ago when I was a piano-playing whippersnapper? When apparently auditioning from lead sheets was normal? (BTW, thanks for the answer!) Commented Dec 1, 2014 at 21:52
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    I'm too young to know how things were in the biz 25 years ago, but I can offer some ideas based on my purely historical viewpoint. Part of it may be that MT music has gotten exponentially more complex recently--a lead sheet would probably work just fine for a Classic Broadway show, but wouldn't be as viable for much of anything written recently. Sondheim may be almost solely to blame for this.
    – MattPutnam
    Commented Dec 1, 2014 at 21:57
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    Oh, what an interesting thought! Commented Dec 1, 2014 at 21:59
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    I've done bandcalls where lead sheets ( for not-so-good readers) or scores (for good readers) have been appropriate. Although sometimes, the full scores get changed on the night, and, no, you can't write on the sheet!! If I was being auditioned, I'd hopefully have copies of each - you never know what the players are going to be like. I play in a jazz ensemble that uses lead sheets all the time, not for rehearsal, but to improvise off (your para.2).+1 for the answer ! Maybe standards are changing _ at recent auditions, some vocalists couldn't even say what key they wanted...
    – Tim
    Commented Dec 2, 2014 at 7:57

He's only kvetching. A lead sheet, in the right key, marked up with the right 'geography' is fine. (What ISN'T much use is the 'vocal book' of a Broadway show, containing JUST the vocal line, no chord symbols.) An audition accompanist's job description is 'cope'. An auditionee's job is to know the song, and present sheet music that doesn't conflict with the way he's going to sing it. But simplification is fine. Note also how much better most pianists' sight-reading gets when there are chord symbols :-)

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