Many people get nervous about auditions, but there's no need to worry.

Remember, everyone else is in the same boat – everybody has to audition for a place each year, even if they have been a member of the NCO before.  A big part of the NCO experience is about enjoyment, and we want that to happen right from the start, at your audition.

NCO is the first orchestra I have auditioned for and I loved the experience. Even if I don't get in, I thoroughly enjoyed auditioning and I will try again next year!


NCO auditions usually last up to 15 minutes and is your chance to show the adjudicators how good you are. Percussionists and harpists need additional setting up time, so their audition lasts up to 30 minutes.

Auditions take place in October each year - read more here

Previous applicants say that the more prepared they are, the more relaxed they can be in the audition. So make sure you know what you have to do.

Prepared pieces

We ask you to play two pieces of music, up to five minutes each.  They should contrast in speed and style, to show the range of your ability.  It is fine for them to be extracts of longer pieces, but remember they should be no longer than five minutes each.  It is not enough to play one longer piece with contrasting sections, please prepare two.

There are no set pieces of music which you have to learn.  When choosing what to play, please think carefully about what you can play confidently.  It's much better to play something you're familiar with really well, than to overstretch yourself with something new that you haven't had time to practise.

We don’t ask you to play scales.

Sight reading

Sight reading is a really important skill for an orchestral musician to develop, so we also ask you to play two pieces of sight reading.  You'll receive one of them five minutes before you go in for your audition.  During these five minutes you can practise the music as much as you like.  The adjudicators will ask you to play the prepared sight reading in the audition.  Then they'll give you a second piece of sight reading, which is unprepared.  You'll have 30 seconds to look through the music, during which you can practise fingerings but not actually play.  After 30 seconds the adjudicators will ask you to play.

Both pieces will start fairly easy and get more difficult.  We use the same pieces of sight reading for all ages, but if you're younger we won't expect you to play to the end.  You'll be given guidance on how much you should play.  The unprepared sight reading is easier than the prepared.


For your prepared pieces, you can choose whether or not you wish to be accompanied.  NCO doesn't provide an accompanist because there isn't sufficient time for you to get to know each other in the time before your audition. So if you would like to be accompanied, you need to bring your own accompanist. The following website may help you to find an accompanist should you decide you would prefer to be accompanied: There's no disadvantage to playing unaccompanied, so please think about what will make you feel most comfortable.

Please note that recorded accompaniment is not permitted.


There will usually be two people listening to your audition.  They will introduce themselves and ask you what you are going to play.  They are very experienced and understand what it is like to feel nervous.  They are also very friendly and want to hear you play your best.


We film every audition.  This is because we have different teams of adjudicators around the country and we need to make sure that marking is consistent.  Moderation is done by the Artistic Director and Principal Conductor and specialised instrument tutors; they are the only people who will see the videos.

Notes for particular instruments

  • Viola players aged 12 and over should be able to read the treble clef fluently.  We prefer younger players to have at least been introduced to it.
  • Cellists aged 12 and over should be able to read the tenor clef fluently.  We prefer younger players to have some familiarity with it.
  • Trumpeters may come across transposition on an NCO course.  It is a good idea to practise some parts in A and C with your teacher beforehand to help you prepare.
  • French horn players may also come across transposition.  Ask your teacher for help with F and E flat.
  • Trombonists aged 13 should be able to read the tenor clef fluently.  We prefer younger players to have some familiarity with it.
  • Percussionists are expected to play tuned percussion (usually xylophone), timpani and snare drum at audition.


We know that candidates anxiously await the results of their audition so we release the results as soon as possible.

We don't give out any results until all auditions have taken place and the marks have been moderated.  Once decisions have been made we will contact you by letter to let you know whether you have been successful

We don't give out results over the phone.