Context: In my city, the government is going to open a music school for free. In two weeks they going to make auditions for the jazz class for beginners, intermediate and advanced players. I play the bass guitar. I have some experience playing for metal bands and church groups. I consider I have a beginner-intermediate level.

So, my question is What can I expect from the audition? What kind of things they are going to ask me? What things are a must for a beginner? As a bassist, I understand the role in metal music but in jazz, I think, the bass has major leadership in the band.

Forgive if this is a dumb question.

Thanks in advance!

  • 3
    Two weeks should give you just enough time to watch all of Adam Neely's videos on YouTube :-) Aug 1, 2019 at 17:39
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    I definitely recommend asking them in advance what the audition will consist of. That's a totally fair and reasonable thing to do. Worst that can happen is they tell you the audition details are confidential... In which case you have your friend audition before you and then ask him/her what happened!
    – jdjazz
    Aug 2, 2019 at 11:26
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    It's jazz, surely you just play any note you like ?
    – Neil
    Aug 2, 2019 at 13:31
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    @Neil - yes, obviously. But jazz musicians tend to like the notes that fit best...
    – Tim
    Aug 2, 2019 at 16:01

4 Answers 4


In my experience, here's what jazz performance auditions usually consist of:

  • play a standard 12 bar blues (usually in F, and it would help if you know this form--shown here in the key of C)
  • play another song (sometimes of your choosing, sometimes of their choosing)

For jazz bass, "playing" these songs could include any of the following:

  • playing the melody
  • walking basslines
  • improvising a solo
  • sight-reading notes and/or rhythms written on the page

They will definitely have you walk basslines, which essentially means you will make up your basslines on the spot as you read through the chord changes. For example, you see the chords | Cm | F7 | BbΔ | EbΔ | and improvise these quarter notes: | C Eb G Gb | F F C B | Bb D G F | Eb D C Bb |. Similarly, if you're asked to improvise a solo, most likely you will only receive chord changes like | Cm | F7 |... For the final item, sight-reading, you might be given some rhythms (like this), or you might be given some music written in bass clef. The idea is that you'll never have seen it, and you'll play it on the spot.

They may also ask you what standards you know, or how many standards you know. A standard is a classic jazz tune that is widely known within the jazz community. "Knowing" the standard means you can play on the spot (typically without any music in front of you).

If the audition has a theory component, then that's another can of worms entirely. To test theoretical understanding, you might be given a quiz, or an unfamiliar song to analyze, etc. A theory component would probably focus on (a) key signatures, (b) modes and scales, (c) chord analysis / Roman numeral analysis, and (d) ear training (e.g., they play a chord or an interval and ask you to identify it, or they play a melody and ask you to sing/play it back).

This isn't as common, but you might also be asked about (or asked to play) some chords on piano. A "chord voicing" refers to the way in which a chord is expressed. For example the chord Dmin could be played as D-F-A, or E-F-A, or E-F-C, or D-G-C, etc. (Some of those voicings are rootless--they don't contain a D.) The teachers might ask you to play a few basic chords on piano, even if that is not your primary instrument. The reason for this is that many jazz programs will require all students to learn some elementary piano, regardless of their primary instrument. The reason for this is that the piano is a great tool when composing and arranging songs, and when learning about harmony. The fact that the notes are all laid out in front of us makes the piano a great, visual teaching tool.


'In my city' - not a clue where that may be. But what I would expect from a bassist (who may be teaching?) is that they would be able to follow a lead sheet, first time through, and improvise on about the third time through.

They would be able to explain chord sequences in as far as how a bassist would translate them on the fly. They would be able to understand where a piece is likely (or does) modulate, and guess to where. To be able to play a standard in the original, and probably in a different key.

Or have I missed the point entirely?

  • In fact, it's me who is gonna present the audition. I'll be evaluated for a group of teachers and musicians. But, I got your point. For example, I have to be able to follow them if they ask me something like "ok, let's play something in e minor".
    – Lvcios
    Aug 1, 2019 at 18:36
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    OP's profile says Mexico City, Mexico. Aug 2, 2019 at 15:17

As for any audition, they are going to try and figure out how much you know about playing jazz music. Since it's for school, all you should need to do is explain your interest and show them what you already know, and then allow them to determine what your grade level might be. Their purpose in having you audition is not the same as it would be if they were hiring you into a band.


When I auditioned for our Community College jazz band (which is beginner/intermediate level), he had me play a few bars of blues and do some simple sight reading. In a jazz band, I would expect a bass player to be able to read music (a lot of them can't) and have some knowledge of what a chord is and an understanding of rhythm. Having an appreciation for the genre is also helpful. For a beginner/low intermediate, being able to improvise (for more than a bar or two) and knowing tunes from memory may be a bit of a stretch.

  • 1
    Although the audition isn't for a player as much as for a teacher. A very different kind of beast! Many players would never make teachers!
    – Tim
    Aug 2, 2019 at 16:03
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    @Tim- Did I miss something? I thought he was auditioning as a student-for placement in a proper grade level Aug 3, 2019 at 0:25

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