Make your Rehearsals Efficient

by Amy Rice-Young (1984)

What is a rehearsal? A necessary function for a performance. It is very important that a rehearsal be run as efficiently as possible, and each conductor has many ideas on how this is accomplished. As the conductor for the Rocky Mountain Flute Choirs, I have tried to decide what makes a good rehearsal and how to run it efficiently. The following paragraphs are a few of my ideas on this subject, as well as some rehearsal techniques that we incorporate.

What makes a good rehearsal?

  • 1) Good organization - Every effort should be made so that performers waste as little time as possible. In a world where everyone is squeezing as much as possible into a limited amount of time, consideration of this time has become increasingly important.
  • 2) Challenge - No one wants to be bored, or feel that they are not adequately stimulated.
  • 3) Fun - Enjoyment is a key factor in what music is all about. Any rehearsal that contains these three factors is well on its way to being a good rehearsal.

To keep a rehearsal running efficiently, there must be a schedule. Set a date, time and length, and stick to it! This enables your players to make plans, and avoids confusion. When setting the date and time, it might be wise to initially consult with the members so that both you and they know in advance of potential conflicts. The length of the rehearsal depends on how much you need to get accomplished, and also varies with the age levels. In the Rocky Mountain Flute Choirs (RMFC), each choir rehearses separately and has their own schedule. The student choirs each rehearse weekly for one hour. The ALRY Flute Choir, an adult, professional group, rehearses weekly for two and one half hours. Initially, their rehearsals were only one and one-half hours, but as performance demand increased, so did the rehearsals. In longer rehearsals, it is important to take a break or two. It is a proven psychological fact that this increases both efficiency and concentration. As the ALRY Flute Choir rehearses immediately after "working hours", most of our members do not have a chance to go home first. We have found that serving "treats" during our break increases our energy level. One warning, however, is to keep it under control. At one point, our "treats" were becoming full dinners!

It is advisable to have a committee in charge of set-up and clean-up. While neither is a difficult task, it can take time, but if organized in advance, will help your rehearsals to begin and end on schedule. Your rehearsal will run more smoothly if you decide in advance what needs to be covered. This aspect will be discussed further in future paragraphs.

Rehearsals should have some basic regulations that all members follow. The RMFC has a policy book with regard to tardies, absences, as well as a number of other items. We tend to be very strict about this, as it is basically unfair for some members to be on time at every rehearsal while others are not. Additionally, there are fewer disturbances during the rehearsal and many suggestions are repeated less often.

Despite the best planning, there will always be some conflicts, usually with school schedules, athletics or work. I call these the "plague". These are best dealt with by knowing the Music Administrator in the schools. If he/she is supportive of your group, many problems can be solved. In Denver, we try to notify one another of our schedules well in advance to avoid conflicts. Our administrator also helps in arranging the athletic schedules. This, unfortunately, doesn't work as well with businesses. Advance notification is your best defense here.

Finally, keep your members advised as to what is happening. While I run the musical part of our rehearsals, our manager has weekly announcements and provides calendars and pencils to our members. If anyone is absent from a rehearsal, it is their responsibility to call her and find out any changes, additions or announcements prior to the next rehearsal.

There are a few basic techniques that I use regularly in our rehearsals. The "warm-up" is very important, as it plays a large part in helping the ensemble play together and prepares the group for the rehearsal.

Try starting out with some stretching exercises. This can be an excellent way to start a rehearsal, as it helps calm down hyper-active kids and perks up adults who have just come from work. It also helps with breathing, posture and relaxation.

Next, play a series of scales and chords to get the instruments warmed up and fingers moving. Take your time when tuning. A little extra effort spent properly tuning in the beginning will save a lot of time later. For student choirs, I usually use the scales, chords and tuning as a mini theory lesson. They enjoy knowing a little bit more about the music. 

Once tuned, I frequently have the choirs read through an etude or two. This can be quite helpful if you are working on a particular style, or problems such as articulation or technique. Sometimes we play very simple hymns to help with intonation. Etudes are most effective when they are either unison or duets, as the members can really listen to each other and try to blend. This kind of a warm-up can isolate many problems that are easily hidden in more complex pieces, thereby allowing the group to work on them. Additionally, it is excellent sight-reading practice!

After the "warm-up", it is vital to keep up your organization! I usually try to make a schedule of pieces to be rehearsed, keeping the following factors in mind:

  • 1) When are we playing the pieces?
  • 2) How difficult are the pieces?
  • 3) How long are the pieces?
  • 4) What is scheduled for future concerts?

The schedule allows the performers to have their music ready, and also to make sure they have the appropriate instruments, i.e., alto and bass flutes. I try to stay somewhat flexible in this schedule, as there are a number of human factors also involved. It is a good idea to always have some fun sight-reading available. The RMFC offers a yearly subscription concert series, and we will frequently read through the music that we are playing in May during a rehearsal in October. This not only lets our members know what is planned, but also lets them know what they are going to need to practice!

Many of the points I have mentioned here are old and familiar tips, yet I find that it is very helpful to review them from time to time. I'm sure that most of us will admit that even conductors have their hectic days when everything is disorganized! Take a few moments before your rehearsal to simply think about what you are trying to accomplish. Always try to give your musical organization the best of your time, and your efforts are sure to be rewarded.