8 Tips That Will Make Your Rehearsals More Effective
and More Enjoyable
This list is not a list of ways to rehearse, but mostly a list of principles which, when adopted, can be applied to many rehearsal techniques or ensemble types. There are just as many ways to rehearse as there are people rehearsing. No matter how your group currently rehearses, please feel free to use any of the following principles that I have found particularly helpful in Clocks in Motion.
1. Don’t rehearse too much - I strongly believe that too much rehearsal is the destruction of many musicians. If I have the choice between scheduling one rehearsal too many and one rehearsal too few, I always aim for less. I think that deadlines and a lack of time is a supreme motivator in life. I never get as much work done as I do when I’m under pressure. If musicians know that it’s the last rehearsal, they will be more prepared than if there are 15 more rehearsals. In addition, because there are fewer rehearsals, the rehearsals must be more efficient. This leaves less time for bickering and more time for business.
2. Be organized – I have found that most negativity in rehearsals can be avoided by having clear organization and communication with all musicians in advance to the rehearsal. Music should be distributed 6 months to a year in advance when possible. If people know about a rehearsal 2 months in advance, then they have 2 months to prepare. If they know 2 days in advance, there will be problems with preparation and perhaps even personal problems will develop as a result. Ideally, one person should be responsible for scheduling of rehearsals, performances, and more. A well organized rehearsal schedule leads to a happy and productive rehearsal environment.
3. Have a leader – All rehearsals need a leader. Allow that person to lead. Just because there’s a leader it doesn’t mean that other people cannot talk and express ideas. The leader simply makes the executive decisions of where to start, what to rehearse, counts off the group, etc.
4. Have a primary goal – It is my firm belief that the primary goal of any rehearsal should be rhythmic. If the group cannot play together, then that must be addressed. Issues of sound, phrasing, sticks, acoustics, instruments, etc. cannot be addressed if the music is not rhythmically aligned. In Clocks in Motion, we rehearse and discuss MANY different musical goals, but rhythmic clarity remains the most important. I’ve found that many other problems fix themselves naturally once the rhythm is aligned.
5. Don’t talk very much – I have found that much of our chamber music rehearsals benefit by very few words. If, for instance, we are rehearsing a piece and a particular passage does not go well, we resist the temptation to speak and say why it went poorly or what needs to be fixed. Rather, I will simply have the group play the passage again. It usually goes significantly better the second time. After the third time or fourth time, usually there is no problem at all. If a problem still lingers, then it is mentioned and we move on. If a large portion of your chamber music rehearsals are spent talking, you should consider trying to reduce that and spend that time playing instead.
6. Trust in a SIMPLE rehearsal process – Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I don’t know of a single rehearsal “trick” that I have used that I swear by. I find metronome work and isolation of difficult spots to be the most helpful in my own rehearsal process. If something is difficult for the group, we take it apart, slow it down, and drill it. It’s similar to the way I like practicing. I find that a certain amount of predictability in rehearsals can have a positive influence on the rehearsal environment. The music is already complex, so why make rehearsal techniques complicated as well?
7. Be critical. Be direct – Rehearsal is the only time that your group has the luxury of being self-critical. It is essential that the individual members of chamber groups can criticize one another without fear of an emotional retaliation. If somebody is playing out of time, that must be addressed. If somebody is missing a ton of notes, that must be addressed. In my experience, this is particularly difficult for young musicians. So often, we want to explain why something is difficult or why we are missing notes when that’s the opposite of what we must discuss. Rehearsals should focus on the solutions to problems, not the problems themselves. Sometimes the solution to the problem requires that the group not rehearse the section that is difficult and simply allow the individual players to have another couple of days of individual practice. By the next time you rehearse, the problems should be fixed, and a couple of repetitions of the section should be all that is needed.
8. Play music with people you like – In Clocks in Motion, we are not only musicians that work well together, but we’re also great friends. For me, there is no other way that I would want my musical life to function. We don’t always agree on every musical idea, but we do have compatible temperaments and share a good laugh together in just about every rehearsal. Although the atmosphere is professional, we also know how to have a good time. Music should be serious AND fun. I can say that rehearsing, touring, and performing with Clocks in Motion is the most fun and rewarding work that I have ever done.
Please try out some of these suggestions with your own group and let us know how they affected your rehearsal process. Or, if you’ve had similar experiences with your own chamber ensemble, please share them.