Talking in Rehearsal
Using Words to Facilitate Music
By Peter J. Perry, D.M.A.
When we typically address talking in rehearsal, we are most likely reprimanding students and addressing behavioral concerns. Regarding our rehearsal technique, however, what we say and how we say it has a direct affect on both the effectiveness and efficiency of our rehearsal. While we can all benefit by looking at this aspect of our rehearsal technique, I find student teachers, and teachers new to the profession can especially benefit from evaluating their in-rehearsal communication, as this can take time to develop.
DON’T TALK SO MUCH!
While the ensemble rehearsal can outwardly appear to be a prime example of direct instruction (a class where instruction is teacher-centered), it in fact is more of a mixture of both teacher and student-facilitated learning built around student collaboration, group engagement, all in the pursuit of collective musical discourse. More importantly, these aspects happen in many cases simultaneously and non-verbally, making the ensemble rehearsal a unique instructional model within the school.
A common mistake directors make is to interrupt and disjoint this musical discourse by frequently stopping, and stopping for too long a period. Most of this time is then filled with conductor-focused interaction. While this is an important component of the rehearsal, the director should look to other interactions (e.g. conducting gestures and facial expressions) to get the point across. Moreover, this approach is more relatable to the conductor-ensemble interactions that occur in a performance, and is worth reinforcing and practicing. Stopping frequently, especially in the same places in the music, also creates mental barriers between musical sections for the ensemble players that impede the performance of the whole work. Again, stopping and providing feedback is an essential component of a rehearsal. Its overuse is disjointing and counterproductive. I recommend (especially with student teachers) that before stopping the ensemble, ask yourself, “Why am I stopping?” “What am I going to address?” “How am I going to address it?” If you can’t answer these questions, then keep going.
USE USEFUL WORDS
“More rhythm!” “Faster dynamics!” “Make the tone louder!” These are phrases I have actually heard directors use in the course of a rehearsal. I don’t know what they mean either. More importantly, neither did the students. We are all guilty of blurting out insane “conductor-speak” in the heat of the moment (especially during an particularly tedious rehearsal). However, being cognizant of the words we use and the directions we give, can make our input to the ensemble that much more valuable to students. Using specific and descriptive feedback (based on having diagnosed specific performance issues) is critical to valuably using the time you do talk in a rehearsal. Isolating performance issues and clearly addressing them verbally is a skill that needs to be developed, and can continue to be honed.
WORDS ARE POWERFUL, CHOOSE THEM WISELY
When I was in elementary school, my teacher told I was bad at math. An assertion like that coming from an authority figure stuck with me. Throughout the rest of my school experience, and into adulthood, I allowed myself to doubt my ability and competence in mathematics. It wasn’t until I was hammering through doctoral statistics—using ANOVAs and paired-sampled T-tests to extract information about music teaching, that it came to me that this was something I could do, and do quite well when I put my mind to it. I have heard similar stories about music. “The teacher told me I was no good at flute, so I quit.” Be careful how you word your criticism and feedback. Critique in rehearsal is important. Its function should be to identify and address both effective and ineffective musical performance practices. It also helps establish a set of standards for students as they develop their musical skills. It should never be used to punish or humiliate students. A careless negative comment might lead to a student dropping out of music, and worse yet, stopping their music education totally.
Conversely, a rehearsal where EVERYTHING is “good,” “nice, ” “great,” is also not effective. These words should also be used strategically. “Good” should have some outwardly measurable meaning. If the occasion comes up to use the word, follow it with descriptive specifics (“that was very musical,” or “that is much improved.”) Additionally, students know when something sounds good (even if they lack the understanding why that is the case). Labeling a bad performance “good” breaks down your credibility as the musical authority in the room. We have all had great teachers that pushed us to do our best, and in most cases, when they told us that something we did was “good,” that was a real milestone and it meant something. Be that teacher.
USE DETAILED DESCRIPTIONS WITH DESCRIPTIVE LANGUAGE
Avoid the above issues with overly positive or overly negative comments by again, using conducting and gestures to communicate specific concepts, but also be very descriptive. Use descriptive language to get you point across. Instead of “play the eighth notes short,” use “play the eight notes separated and tonefully.” The latter provides students with a clearer definition of your expectation.
LISTEN TO YOUR REHEARSALS
These techniques take practice. Plan rehearsals with specific attention to how you communicate. Within the rehearsal, be aware of how much you talk and what you say. Use audio and video recording devices to document you rehearsals, and reflect back on them to see what actually is taking place. This also becomes a great way to track your progress and development as an effective conductor.
About the Author:
Peter Perry is a lifelong Maryland resident, and has traveled the world teaching and performing music. A NAfME member, he is currently in his nineteenth consecutive year as Instrumental Music Director at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, Maryland. Here he conducts the: Chamber Orchestra, Concert Orchestra, Pit Orchestra, Wind Ensemble, Jazz Ensemble, Concert Band, and Marching Band. These ensembles consistently receive critical acclaim on local, state, and national levels.
Dr. Perry is a strong advocate for music technology usage in the large ensemble. His doctoral dissertation, “The Effect of Flexible-Practice Computer-Assisted Instruction and Cognitive Style on the Development of Music Performance Skills in High School Instrumental Students,” focused on how the practice software, SmartMusic™, and the cognitive styles of field dependence and field independence affect musical performance skill development.
He holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Music Education from Shenandoah Conservatory, as well as a Master’s Degree in Music Education-Instrumental Conducting Concentration, and a Bachelor of Science Degree-Instrumental Music Education, both from the University of Maryland. While at the University of Maryland, Dr. Perry was awarded the prestigious Creative and Performing Arts Scholarship in Music.
In 2006, Dr. Perry received a Japan Fulbright fellowship and participated in the Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund Teacher Program. He is an active guest conductor, clinician, adjudicator, lecturer, author, composer, and performer.
Follow Dr. Perry on Twitter: @peterperry101.
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