The length of the average concert band rehearsal can vary greatly from school to school. While some schools may be blessed with ninety minutes of rehearsal each day, many others must make due with as little as an hour a week (or less). When your ensemble is on the short end of that range it is very important that you make good use of each and every minute of your rehearsal. We spoke with Randall Coleman, Associate Director of Bands at the University of Alabama to get his advice on how to structure and manage rehearsal time to make it more productive for the entire ensemble.
Mr. Coleman insists that productive, effective rehearsals begin with productive planning, including not only managing the flow of events during the rehearsal but also making sure that you as the director are mentally prepared for each part of it. One of the most important elements of preparing for any rehearsal is studying the scores, and although time constraints make this ever more difficult score study is still a vital part of the puzzle. Studying the music allows you to predict where problems will arise and allow you to prepare solutions for those problems before the occur.
The next piece of the puzzle is to plan out the rehearsal using a template that makes sense to your unique situation. Coleman emphasizes the fact that just as each student is different, so to are the teachers. "It really comes down to the fact that you have to find a method that works for you and then stick with it," says Coleman, "you should work to develop policies and procedures that will help you maximize the use of your rehearsal time." Just as repetition helps musicians fix problematic pieces of music , repetition of the basic order of rehearsal events helps the ensemble work better together as a team.
Coleman also encourages teachers to spend time giving extra attention to planning each day's warm-up routine. The use of an effective, well designed warm-up will not only get the group in the right mode for the rest of the rehearsal, it can also be used to work on musical challenges that are coming up later in the rehearsal order. In the younger grades this warm up time is an excellent place to work on teaching and reinforcing long term goals and concepts. Doing so however requires the teacher to think in terms of planning the rehearsal not just for a single day, but toward building an effective rehearsal cycle each one building on the previous day's activities.
Other important things to consider in the pacing and structure of a rehearsal include setting specific time frames for working on each piece of music. Let the students know about this schedule, put it up on the board or overhead, and then stick to it. This is especially important to allow the percussion section to prepare their equipment for the day and also allows the entire ensemble to see what your goals are for the rehearsal as a whole. Stick to that schedule once it is set and do not allow your rehearsal to become derailed by problems that may pop up in individual sections. When problems arise make a note of them and then find ways to fix that issue in the next day's plan.
NOTE: This article originally appeared in NAfME's Teaching Music Magazine in January of 2012. It is reposted here with permission by the original author and NAfME. A copy for personal or research use may be made but no further use is allowed without permission from the National Association for Music Education.