10 Tips for Rehearsal: Part 1

June 17, 2016 0 Comments

As the summer looms near and thoughts turn to next year's performances, here are a few suggestions to get you in the director mindset:

  1. Use the first rehearsal to establish the expectations for your singers. I once heard a teacher advise another not to smile for the first semester. While I don’t personally condone such a harsh approach for setting a serious tone, your first class meeting is nonetheless an invaluable (and irreplaceable) time to determine the ethos of your ensemble. If you want your singers to work on their parts and/or practice with learning tracks outside of rehearsal, you should exemplify a work ethic that matches those expectations (additionally, you may need to demonstrate in rehearsal (one time!) what that looks like). And in the same vein…
  2. Group time for group matters. Beyond a reasonable limit, no individual should monopolize the only time the group has to work on issues of cohesion, balance, intonation (i.e., elements that cannot be practiced by individuals outside of rehearsal). If you have to keep plunking notes for one singer, you may need to pull that person aside for a chat about respecting group time by being prepared with his or her own part.
  3. Have a game plan, but be ready to react. Rehearsing is an organic process with multiple parties involved; your students are not empty vessels into which to pour knowledge. Make sure you have clear goals in mind for a given song (or facet of a song) that are more specific than merely “polishing,” or improving “blend.” Devise steps–including backup routes–to reach said goal, and get ready to think on your feet if your initial plans don’t produce the desired effect.
  4. Use warm-ups to develop technique or improve certain skills (e.g., tuning problematic chords, locking in a rhythmic idea, etc.). Don’t worry about range (especially if you rehearse at night), as your singers will have been talking all day and thus already be mostly ‘warm.’ Anyone needing to do any range work should do so before (read: on the way to) rehearsal. If anything, the vocal warm-up is more useful as a means of setting the mood of the rehearsal, and of focusing your singers on the music (and tuning them out of their phones/devices/outside lives). It is also tempting to recycle warm-ups you did in your high school ensembles. This is fine – just think about why you’re doing a given vocal exercise and make sure it’s genuinely working for what the group needs (and, following the same logic, if you realize a warm-up isn’t working on a developing skill, don’t be afraid to toss it).
  5. Less talk, more action. Be quick, but uncompromising. Talk only when you must, not to pontificate to your students.
    • Relatedly: don’t just run the entire song, make some general comments, and then run it again. (Spoiler: nothing will change.) If you’re stuck, the ‘whole-part-whole’ approach can be a helpful way to start: run a chunk of the song, isolate a section, chord, or other smaller moment to work on, and then run that moment in the context of the larger chunk again.
  6. Maintain perspective and humor. Practice the art of zen. It doesn’t matter how closely your performance is looming: losing your cool isn’t worth the long-term damage to your singers’ trust and confidence in you. At the same time, don’t make the mistake of prioritizing being ‘liked’ by your students over pushing them to grow. Respect their humanity and individuality by honoring your role as their teacher.
  7. A group that does not respect its members will not function well together, no matter how often they rehearse. While there are plenty of infamous music groups who did not ‘get along’ offstage, many alumni of collegiate a cappella groups have remarked that their singing group was also their social group. By the same token, it is likely that in a group of 12-16 people you will not get along with every person equally. That’s okay! But rapport still requires time to form, and cliques can grow to be divisive if not fostered healthily.
    • Budget time for at least one get-to-know-you activity outside of rehearsal, ideally early in the term. This may take the shape of a weekend retreat, a karaoke night, or (perhaps preferably!) a non-musical activity such as bowling, movie night, scavenger hunt, or what have you.
  8. When you have a particular performance coming up, rehearse your pieces in concert order. This helps your singers to not only rehearse the order (so that you don’t need to remind them mid-performance) but also the key areas of those songs.
  9. Practice entrances, exits, and in-between talks. These can pose major logistical problems and shouldn’t be left to the last minute. Your group will thank you for devoting some time to addressing the line-up, staging, and how they should enter – and it will mean a world of difference in how ‘professional’ you come across to your audience.
  10. It will be discouraging at times. Press on anyway. I won’t tell you something as naive as “don’t get discouraged” – you will, and it’s probably best that you do. This means that you’re not satisfied with the result or your methods (likely both, as they are inextricably linked), which is a necessary step toward improving your rehearsal technique. Recognizing and admitting when something isn’t working