Three Stages of Each Rehearsal
This part of the rehearsal entices the student to want to learn, work hard, and create beauty. You must plan to prepare the first several minutes of each rehearsal. It is important that each session should begin with making music. The goal of this portion of the rehearsal is to create a positive and trusting learning environment and set a tone that gets everyone in the room into the same mindset ready to work. Thus, it is about enticing the musicians to value the learning process and the plan for the rehearsal while re-establishing the tenets of trust and continue building the sense of “team.” This is not the time to make announcements about fund-raisers, behaviors, or field trip forms. However, there is never a bad time to celebrate individual students or the success of the ensemble.
This phase will take approximately 1/6 of the total rehearsal time (or not more than 10 -15 minutes) and is a combination of daily regimented discipline and creative instruction. Learners must know what is expected of them and be held accountable for what was previously learned. The goals for the segment must be crystal clear in your mind and communicated to the musicians. The teaching approach should be interactive with an emphasis on not only reviewing the key messages, concepts. and skills from previous sessions, but creating advanced organizers for what will be taught in the coming rehearsal portion or future rehearsals. It is a perfect opportunity to include formative assessments to determine the level of mastery of the skills and concepts you have deemed to be important and appropriate for the level of the students. Even when doing drills and routine warm-ups to allow musicians to automatize important fundamentals, the teaching approach and expectation from the exercise should vary from session to session. Performing a chorale or a scale warm-up without reminding them why, or giving them something to focus on serves no purpose. Giving them purpose will avoid allowing the students’ minds to fall into a routine where they go into auto pilot.
What does not vary is the emotional level of the teacher going into the rehearsal. Consistency builds trust. If the ensemble never knows “which teacher” will be in front of them (the happy, the angry, the scrape me off the ceiling person), they will not trust the environment or the teacher. It is extremely important that you enter each rehearsal with the same level of excitement about being there every time. It is recommended that you take your emotional temperature for a moment just prior to each rehearsal. If you are down or low, do something to get some energy. If you are angry at something that just happened, or are over-excited, then take a moment to calm yourself down.
Ensemble members must stay engaged mentally, emotionally, and physically for maximum success. Constantly challenging the musicians to think of ways they will transfer these musical “calisthenics” to their rehearsal and the performance of music is critical to the success of this phase of the rehearsal.
MIDDLE: Drill the skill & Transfer Stage
The philosophy for this phase is based on using the musical repertoire as the means to future musical performance and learning. Once again, you must be highly prepared for which concepts and skills are to be emphasized during this session, as well as being critically aware of the mastery level for each of the skills and concepts of every learner in the room.
This phase of the rehearsal is notable for its attention to the work ethic required and will take most of the rehearsal time (1/2-2/3). It should be made clear to the musicians that once they have addressed and fixed musical concerns they will be held accountable for doing them as close to perfect every time in the future. You are encouraged to conduct formative assessments as an on-going component of this phase to assist in the preparation of the next and future rehearsals. You should be constantly evaluating whether you have correctly assessed the mastery levels of the learners, as well as meta-cognitively planning for the next steps in the learning process.
A common mistake during this phase of the rehearsal occurs when the conductor uses the rehearsal time to practice parts that the musicians are not performing well. This trains ensemble members that they are not responsible for learning their own parts and they need not practice outside of the rehearsal setting. It is a delicate balance between identifying a problem and drilling it until the ensemble gets it, and identifying a problem and giving learners the skills and concepts to not only fix the problem, but to transfer the learning to the next time they find the same issues. The cognitive and creative conflict established in the minds of learners is critical to remembering and transferring the concepts and skills while establishing the habits required for a consistent expectation and work ethic. Avoid simply telling musicians what is wrong and what to fix. For greatest success, they all must be personally engaged in the process. You are encouraged to teach the notion of triage, found in the Lonis and Haley Musical Triage Techniques. Instead of telling learners what is wrong, stop them and ask why you stopped. Ask what they need to do to as individuals, as sections, and as an entire ensemble to improve the issue. This reinforces cognitive and affective engagement and will lead to quicker and sustainable results.
A second common problem is the practice of working hard on an issue and then moving on too quickly as soon as it is resolved. You must remember that the ensemble has performed that concern incorrectly numerous times in their efforts to get it right. What happens so often in rehearsals is that as soon as the concern is performed correctly once, everyone moves on. Instead, you are encouraged to use the rule of three when rehearsing.
If musicians get it right once, that is luck.
If they get it right the second time, it is a coincidence.
If they get it right three times in a row – that is the money!!!
What this is about is automatizing success instead of automatizing relief and dismissal. By moving on without reinforcing the shared understanding of what you were working on and what it took to get it right, learners will not remember what they accomplished. They will be unable to repeat the success.
A third common problem during this phase occurs when the teacher talks too much. Video-record your rehearsal and time the amount of time the musicians are making music vs how many minutes you spend talking. Stop, ask the question or remind learners of the issue they have already addressed, then immediately go back to making music. Hold them accountable and stop again as required. If they are still struggling, determine if it is a conceptual problem or a skill problem. If the issue is conceptual, teach them. If it is a skill problem, give them the tactics to resolve the skill issue and how to practice it on their own. You can also transfer the skill development to the inspiration phase of the rehearsal by being creative and developing warm-ups that address the issues. This is based on Bloom’s mastery learning technique of isolating the problem (Bloom 1971).
Finally, at the end of this phase it is critical to ask ensemble members what was accomplished in the rehearsal (what did they learn) as well as having them articulate what they still need to practice and prepare as individuals, sections and as an entire ensemble. Always save a few minutes at the end of the phase for this closing activity.
The final stage of the rehearsal develops an atmosphere where musicians are “performing” what they have learned as well as enjoying the creation of beauty. This phase should take as much as 1/4-1/2 of the rehearsal session depending on how far along in the process prior to a performance the ensemble has reached. The closer you get to the performance the more time you would take automatizing the success. The goal of this phase is to share the joy of making music so learners will leave each rehearsal with a great sense of joy and accomplishment. It is, in effect, an advanced organizer for the next rehearsal session. During this phase, you should be in a highly charged state of listening and evaluating what the musicians are demonstrating. Just prior to dismissal, you should, once again, ask learners what was accomplished that day and give them specific instructions to think about and practice outside of the classroom. They should also be given advanced organizers for what will be expected of them at the next rehearsal. It is strongly recommended that you go to the door and speak to each one of the ensemble members as they leave the rehearsal. This is one more step in developing trust – no matter what just occurred in the rehearsal – you have every student’s back and they feel it.