There’s a big statewide competition coming up for me and members of my studio, and all of the freshmen are starting to get jittery. Recently, one asked me, “Like, what are we even doing? What do I need to bring? Help!” I had the same panicky feeling my freshman year (and honestly still do, shhhh). Luckily, I now mostly know what I’m doing, since I’ve been around the block a couple times. There’s a couple important things to keep in mind about most competitions:

  • They are all-day events.
  • You will spend a lot of your time not doing anything.
  • It will feel like it’s taking forever.

These are just the facts of life, as far as I can tell. So, with that in mind, here’s a list of essentials to bring to your next music competition.

Sheet music. Different competitions require different amounts of sheet music, so check the guidelines and follow them! A good rule of thumb, however, is to bring the original score, a score for the accompanist if you have one, and then 5 photocopies of all your music. You may not need those copies, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Instrument and accessories. Yeah, your instrument is a no-brainer, but do you have extra picks, guitarists? Spare mallets, percussionists? A spare bow, strings? Also bring maintenance stuff. Rosin, band-aids, tea, whatever you might need to be able to play well if something has gone Wrong.

Spare EVERYTHING. Like the above, bring extras of everything. If you’re worried about it, bring two, that’s my motto.

Dress clothes. It’s better to be over-dressed than under-dressed, and most music events require formal dress. If you’re going to wear a shirt and tie, bring a jacket too. If you’re planning on wearing a dress, make sure your shoes match. Your appearance should not detract from your performance.

Water. It doesn’t matter what you play. Bring a water bottle and actually drink from it. Dehydration headaches are real, and the cost of a bottle of water at most competitions is practically criminal.

Snacks. It can cost like $6 for a ham sandwich at some competitions, and $4 for a hot dog. So bring some trail mix or something to stave off hunger pangs.

Cash. I like to bring about $40 to my competitions, because there is always a sheet music sale there. If I only let myself spend cash, then I can’t buy the $80 of sheet music I’d otherwise grab. Plus, if you do need to get one of those $4 hot dogs, it’s nicer to not have to put it on a card.

Medications. Tylenol/ibuprofen, any prescriptions you have, contact solution, etc. You don’t want to spend half the day dealing with a headache. It’s better to be over-prepared than not.

Comfy shoes. Bring comfy shoes to wear when you AREN’T performing, and your day will be nicer.

Sweater. You’re likely competing in a strange place that is always drafty. Formal clothing is not warm. Bring a sweater, and maybe a blanket if you’re going to have bare legs.

A book. Seriously, you spend so much time waiting at most of the competitions I’ve attended. Bring a book or your Kindle or whatever and you will be much better prepared.

Honestly, if you treat packing for a competition like a cross between a cross-Atlantic flight and a lesson, then you’re probably doing it right. Good luck!

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