Let Them Talk in Your Rehearsal!

Let Them Talk in Your Rehearsal!

By NAfME Member Richard Cangro, Ph.D.

Western Illinois University


Yes, this idea sounds crazy to ensemble directors who strive for “pin drop” rehearsals. There is no question, students need to be engaged and attentive in rehearsals; listening, learning, and observing, as well as rehearsing. However, if students are listening and observing for a majority of the rehearsal when not playing, that means someone else is doing a majority of the talking, typically the director. If the director is doing all of the talking, it is reasonable to infer he/she is doing all of the decision making, all of the interpretation, and basically all of the thinking. Consider that.


“The object of teaching a child is to enable them to get along without their teacher.”

Elbert Hubbard (American editor, publisher and writer, 1856-1915)


In ‘pin drop’ rehearsals, the only voice that matters is the director’s voice. How can students develop the ability to make musical decisions, artistically interpret music, think and describe how they should perform repertoire? Providing opportunities for students to think, share, and discuss music develops thoughtful, independent musicians. Direct instruction questioning is not enough to stimulate divergent responses and simultaneous interaction. One way to engage all students in a rehearsal is through discussion strategies – in pairs, groups, or whole ensemble. (Strategies described below)

iStockphoto.com | kamisoka


Shuler (2011) stated a major reason that so many students set aside their instruments or vocal skills after graduation is because their music instruction has been primarily teacher-centered —in other words, teachers have done most of the steps in the processes for the students.


One main goal of education is to develop independent learners.

The awkward question –

Do we provide opportunities for students to be independent learners/musicians in our ensembles?


When student graduate from school, they will not have the director to think for them, just as graduates will not have an English teacher to write emails, a math teacher to help balance a checkbook, or a Spanish teacher to help them read a menu at the local Mexican restaurant. Sadly, graduates will not have a music teacher to help them make music after they graduate. No one will cue them to come in on 4, no one to tell them to play louder, no one to conduct a phrase and cue a breath. Graduates will have to be able to do all of the above independently.


“Musical independence cannot be achieved unless it is experienced in the rehearsal/classroom.”

Richard Cangro—the guy who wrote this blog


Investigating the link between school music experiences and lifelong music learning, Mantie and Tucker (2008) identified two major problems: (a) “students do not view their learning as co-participating in a real, ‘in-the-world’ social practice” (p. 220), and (b) “teachers do not view their teaching as leading toward the goal of life-long participation” (p. 223). Larson (2010) reported that a common thread in the continuation of music making into adult life is the experience of participating in a musical ensemble in which the student had a voice or a significant say in decision-making. Research by Mantie and Tucker (2008) and Larson (2010) may reveal a gap between developing well-rounded musicians and addressing the need for students to view their learning as co-participating in a real world, social practice. Encouraging students to discuss music during a rehearsal deepens music comprehension and provides student ownership for a performance.

Collaboration necessitates communication among students. Deeper learning is more likely to occur when students are required to explain, elaborate, or defend their position to others. The task of explanation serves to make them evaluate, integrate, and elaborate knowledge in new ways (Brown & Campione, 1986). Working collaboratively requires students to reflect, process, and verbalize thoughts, making generalizations and elaborations that they communicate with their peers, which in turn strengthens learning of skills and concepts.


Rawpixel Ltd/iStock/Thinkstock
Rawpixel Ltd/iStock/Thinkstock


Cooperative and collaborative learning provides opportunities for:

  • Multiple students to respond simultaneously to a question.
  • Diagnosing and prescribing solutions to peers.
  • Learning and applying concepts through multiple intelligences.
  • Students to receive immediate attention to their learning needs from their peers.
  • Creating a class with a high proportion of student engagement and on-task behavior.
  • Developing a caring community of active learners


Cooperative Structures
(Adapted from Kagan, 1997)


  • Think-Pair-Share

Students individually think about a solution for posed question or problem.  Then in pairs, students compare answers and elaborate on their ideas.  Pairs then share their ideas with the class.

  • Rally Robin (pairs)/ Rally Robin (group)

Students alternate generating oral responses to a posed question.

  • Rally table (pairs)/Round Table (group)

In teams, students take turns writing responses to a posed question.

  • Pairs Compare

Pairs generate multiple responses to a question, and then compare their answers with another pair. Finally, they team up to create additional solutions.


Community building/Team building

  • Line-up

Students order themselves in a line according to a specific teacher-directed order (birthday, height, alphabetical order, etc.)

  • Pass It Down (Cangro)

Student performs a section of music and is followed by another student immediately performing the next section maintaining the same tempo and style.



Don’t just be the sage on the sage when directing ensembles, try being the guide on the side. Let your students talk and think, express an opinion and make some musical decisions at times during a rehearsal. You may find out that they have some good ideas! At the very least you are fostering your students’ abilities to make music beyond graduation.



Brown, A., & Campione, J. (1986). Psychological theory and the study of learning disabilities. American Psychologist, 14(10), 1059-1068.

Kagan, S. (1997). Cooperative learning (2nd ed.). San Clemente, CA: Resources for Teachers.

Larson, D. (2010). The effects of chamber music experience on music performance achievement, motivation, and attitudes among high school band students (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. (506316118).

Mantie, R., & Tucker, L. (2008). Closing the gap: Does music-making have to stop upon graduation? International Journal of Community Music, 7, 217-227. DOI: 10.1386/ijcm.1.2.217_1

Shuler, S. C. (2011). Music education for life: The three artistic processes-paths to lifelong 21st-century skills through music. Music Educators Journal, 97, 9-13. doi:10.1177/0027432111409828


About the author:

Aug 16 - Cangro conductor pic

Richard M. Cangro, Ph. D., is an Associate Professor of Music Education and Director of the Community Music School at Western Illinois University. Formerly a band and orchestra director for 15 years in Connecticut, he is a frequent presenter, curriculum consultant, adjudicator, and guest conductor. He has presented at numerous music educator events throughout the US, and has presented professional development sessions in Canada, Myanmar, Taiwan, and the UK. He has published articles in several music educator journals and is a board member of the International Association for the Study of Cooperation in Education. Musically, he is the conductor for the Monmouth Civic Orchestra and the Quincy Area Youth Orchestra, and a member of the trumpet section for the Knox-Galesburg Symphony.

Richard Cangro presented on this topic, “Let Them Talk in Your Rehearsal! Encouraging Students to Be Stronger Together Through Collaborative Learning Strategies,” at the 2016 NAfME National Conference in Grapevine, TX.


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Brendan McAloon, Marketing and Events Coordinator, August 16, 2016. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org).