BHS Jazz Audition

Frequently Asked Questions

Each student is responsible for reading and understanding the information contained in this FAQ. If you have any additional questions please review the instructions at the bottom of this page.

Question: What jazz bands at BHS require an audition?
Answer: We have three levels of bands – here are the descriptions from the course catalog:

Jazz Lab Band I: 

Auditions required for piano, guitar, bass, drums and vibes only — highly recommended for woodwinds, strings and brass
This class focuses on developing skills necessary for woodwind, brass, string, and rhythm section players to play jazz with facility. Topics include jazz theory, history, improvisation, sight reading of typical jazz rhythms, and ensemble playing techniques for both big band and combo arrangements. Students are required to participate in 3 concerts and 2 jazz festivals per year.
Prerequisite: at least 7th grade level ability to read music and play your instrument with good technique. This class is not for beginners, but is a continuation of middle school music classes. Woodwind, strings and brass players can register for this class without an audition, however, if space is limited priority will be given to students who have taken an audition. Because this is a performing ensemble, class size is limited to 2 each of piano/bass/vibes/guitar and drums, and because so many students play these instruments, rhythm section players must audition for Jazz Lab I (auditions held at the same time as for Jazz Lab II and Jazz Ensemble). Up to 10 woodwinds (saxes, clarinets, flutes), 6 trumpets and 6 trombones are also invited, and strings (violins, violas, celli) are also welcome!
This course fulfills UC/CSU Visual and Performing Arts (f) requirement.


Jazz Lab Band II:

AUDITIONS: required for all students
In this class we continue the work begun in jazz lab I, focusing on more advanced jazz theory, improvising over more complex harmonies, sight reading more complex passages, and working to perfect harder big band arrangements. This band performs frequently – at least 4 concerts and 2 competitive jazz festivals per year, all of which are required (calendar handed out the first day of school).
Prerequisite: all students must read music and play their instruments at a 10th grade level or higher. Although satisfactory completion of jazz lab I is preferred, it is possible for advanced students to audition into lab II without taking lab I. Admission is by audition only. Auditions are held in early May. Instrumentation is limited to 2 each of rhythm section players (piano, guitar, vibes, bass, drums), 5 trumpets, 4 trombones, and up to 8 saxes. On rare occasions an advanced player on a non-traditional big band instrument may be granted admission by permission of the instructor.
This course fulfills UC/CSU Visual and Performing Arts (f) requirement.

Jazz Ensemble

AUDITIONS: required for all students
The Berkeley High School Jazz Ensemble is one of the top high school jazz groups in the country. This is an Honor’s Course (pending approval).  Advanced students on traditional big band instruments are encouraged to audition. The focus of the class is on performing advanced big band charts. Skills addressed include jazz articulation and phrasing, sight reading advanced charts, group blend and balance, developing hard swinging grooves, comping effectively, maintaining a consistent tempo, etc. Jazz theory is not directly taught in this class, which is why it is preferable that students take jazz lab classes first. This band performs frequently – at least 6 concerts and 3 competitive festivals yearly, all of which are required (calendar handed out the first day of school). The band tours internationally every other year, and fundraises actively.
Prerequisite: Satisfactory completion of Jazz Lab II is preferred but not required. Admission by audition only. Class size is limited to one or two each of rhythm sections players (piano, bass, drums, guitar and vibes), 5 trumpets, 4 trombones, and 5 saxes.
This course fulfills UC/CSU Visual and Performing Arts (f) requirement.

Question: OK, now I’m totally confused – which band should I audition for?

Answer: Take a look at the audition materials, and talk with your current school music teacher or your private teacher about this. If the material for both the Lab II Bands and the Jazz Ensemble look impossibly difficult to you, and you play a wind instrument, you should sign up for Jazz Lab I. Jazz Lab I is designed for entering freshmen who play on grade level. On the other hand, if you like to take on a challenge and you play well for your age, you will probably benefit from trying out for Jazz Ensemble or the Lab II Bands.

Question: None of the audition slots available are convenient. Can I audition at another time?

Answer: Unfortunately, because of the large number of students who would like to audition for BHS Jazz, and the process used to insure fairness to all (auditions heard by a professional musician who is present only on that one day), we cannot accommodate special scheduling requests. If you’d like to be in BHS jazz, you need to sign up for one of the audition slots available on the day your instrument is auditioned.

Question: When and where should I show up for my audition?

Answer: 20 minutes prior to your scheduled audition time. Enter the Berkeley High Campus through the “A” gate on Allston Way just south of Milvia Street. Enter the “A” Building through the door marked “MUSIC” – first door on your right. Come up to the 2nd floor, and a volunteer will be there to check you in.

Question: Will there be somewhere I can warm up before my audition?

Answer: Yes, practice rooms will be available for warming up.

Question: How should I prepare for my audition?

Answer: Take the audition materials to your current music teacher(s) and ask them to help you with practice strategies.

Here are some additional audition prep suggestions:

  • Scales: practice slowly and make sure you focus on sound quality and intonation. Only when you can play with great sound and intonation should you begin to practice at a faster tempo!
  • Prepared piece: try for a great jazz feel, pay attention to dynamics and articulation marks as you prepare. In almost all cases the prepared piece is a swing tune. You might consider listening to some great big bands playing swing tunes (for example, the Count Basie or Duke Ellington bands) and try to play your piece the way you imagine they might play it.
  • Sight-reading: see if you can get your hands on some music to sight- read. If you are not good at reading rhythms, find some music and go s l o w l y until you are sure you are playing the rhythms correctly. Make sure you pay close attention to the key signature! Try to look through a tune before you start playing it, to anticipate difficult spots.
  • Soloing: practice playing along with the sound file provided at Listen to great jazz masters playing solos on the same tune — or over a blues in the same key. Learn their solos, if you can! Not so you can copy them note for note, but so that you learn some of the jazz vocabulary they are using, and let them influence you in some way. Ultimately, jazz musicians sound like a mixture of all the musicians they have listened to very closely – plus a little bit of their own magic mixed in. Use this audition as an opportunity to get started on this great, life-long project.

Question: What will my audition be like?

Answer: You’ll arrive 20 minutes early, check in with the volunteers and get a practice room to warm up. About 5 minutes before your audition a volunteer will let you know to head to your audition room, where you’ll wait for the person before you to finish. Your audition will be with a friendly local professional musician who plays your instrument (or a closely related one).

On most instruments you’ll start out playing scales, then move on to the prepared piece, the sight-reading, and finally soloing. On drums and percussion you’ll start out playing grooves, then prepared piece, sight-reading, and soloing. Your audition will take 10 – 12 minutes.

Question: When and how will I find out the audition results?

Answer: we will publish audition results here at on June 8th.

Question: How many musicians will be accepted into each band?


Jazz Ensemble

  • 5 – 6 saxes, 4 – 5 trombones, 5 trumpets, 1 – 2 pianists, 1 – 2 guitars,
  • 0 – 1 vibes, 1 – 2 bassists, 1 – 2 drummers, 1 percussionist, 0 – 1 violins

Lab II Bands

  • 5 – 8 saxes, 4 – 5 trombones, 5 – 6 trumpets, 1 – 2 pianists, 1 – 2 guitars,
  • 0-1 vibes, 1-2 bassists, 1 – 2 drummers, 1 percussionist, 0 – 1 violins

Lab I Band

  • 6 – 8 saxes, 4 – 5 trombones, 4 – 6 trumpets, 2 pianists, 2 guitarists,
  • 1 vibes player, 2 bassists, 2 drummers, 1 percussionist

Question: I play an instrument not usually found in big bands. Can I play in BHS Jazz?

Answer: Possibly. The reason saxes, trombones and trumpets are the main instruments in big bands has to do with the way they blend together. However, there have been violinists and flutists in the BHS jazz program in the past. If you play a non-traditional instrument and would like to audition, please contact us at

Question: What if I play really badly on my audition, even though I’m a good player?

Answer: The only way to make the process of selecting musicians for the BHS jazz bands fair for everyone is to use this audition process. We already invest a tremendous amount of time in hearing auditions (well over 20 hours!), and cannot also hear make-up auditions for those who feel they didn’t play up to their potential the first time around. To insure that you DO play up to your potential – practice a lot! And … practice for consistency. That means, don’t just practice until sometimes you can play the material well – practice until you can play it up to your highest standard many times in a row.

Question: Months ago, I signed up for a jazz class. What if I audition into a different class than the one I signed up for?

Answer: After the auditions are over, Ms. Cline will sit down with a BHS counselor and shift all jazz students’ schedules around so that they are placed in the class they auditioned into.

Question: I didn’t sign up for a jazz class. Can I still audition?

Answer: Yes. If you audition and get into a jazz class, we’ll take you out of the other elective you signed up for and put you into BHS Jazz.

Have another question not answered here? Please DO NOT email Ms. Cline, but instead send an email to

This email address goes to parent volunteers, so … please be patient! We WILL get back to you as soon as we are able!