Well isn’t that just common sense?
written by Gary Rupert, Leadership Coach & CulturE Strategist for ||:Leaders Creating:||
We have all heard the phrase, “By failing to plan, we are planning to fail.” Nowhere is this statement more true than in band rooms across the country. It is an unquestionable truth that directors of successful programs spend hours preparing for rehearsal. It is equally true that struggling programs have directors who have a weak approach to rehearsal preparation. Oh, I know. Most of you are good enough musicians that you can just step in front of the band and when you hear them play something wrong, you can stop and work on fixing it. But is that the most effective way to approach a rehearsal? The Proactive Rehearsal is a concept grounded in the idea that when a director has put in quality preparation time on the front end, students will be more engaged, and the rehearsal will be more effective.
When I recently described The Proactive Rehearsal to my friend Tim Hinton of Marching Arts Education, he said, “Well isn’t that just common sense?” I acknowledge that it is, but I question whether everyone is, in fact, doing it. Band directors are notoriously bad at writing lesson plans. Planning on working on a piece is not the same as identifying areas of concern, planning strategies for improvement, working those strategies in isolation, and then putting them back in context. In fairness, I do not think most band directors make a conscious decision to plan poorly. I suspect that all the other stuff that comes with being a band director takes a great deal of our time and suddenly, we no longer plan as well as we should because we CAN just walk in front of the group and rehearse them.
For me to truly understand the value of The Proactive Rehearsal required a paradigm shift in my way of thinking. Rehearsals were no longer solely about learning repertoire, but about finding a balance between skill study and development, and the music. When I considered the growth journey of a young musician, it struck me that it occurs in three general steps:
Beginning level — rehearse the music by starting at the beginning and playing to the end. If they are not able to play it all correctly, they go back to the beginning and play to the end. Learning is a result of repeating ad nauseum.
Intermediate level — rehearse the music by playing from beginning to end. Identify areas they could not play. Repeat ad nauseum. Play from beginning to end.
Advanced level — identify areas of significant challenge. Practice skill sets that will allow those sections to be attainable. Practice section ad nauseum. Place section in context. Play from beginning to end.
Not surprisingly, the growth journey of the young band director is strikingly similar.
Beginning level — rehearse the music by starting at the beginning and playing to the end. If the students are unable to play it to the director’s satisfaction, he/she tells them what was wrong, and they go back to the beginning and play it to the end. Learning is a result of repeating ad nauseum, hoping that everyone will finally get it.
Intermediate level — rehearse the music by playing from beginning to end. Identify areas in which students were unsuccessful. Expose those sections. Repeat ad nauseum. Play from beginning to end.
Advanced level — identify areas of significant challenge. Determine skills necessary for students to be able to accomplish those sections. Infuse identified skill sets into warm-up routines. Demonstrate how the skill sets relate to sections identified. Repeat sections (yes….ad nauseum). Play from beginning to end.
As I considered the paradigm shift in my thinking, I realized I needed to change the way I prepared for and executed rehearsal. I settled on what I dubbed, The Proactive Rehearsal. So, what does such a rehearsal look like? It begins with score study from two vantage points. The first is to develop an understanding of what the composer is attempting to communicate to the performer and by extension, the listener. The second is to determine the technical areas that might represent a significant challenge for your students.
Interpretive analysis — developing an understanding of the composer’s musical intentions and how they are communicated to the performer and by extension, the listener.
Technical analysis — determining the areas that might represent a significant challenge for your students. Key centers, articulations, rhythms, meters, and tempi should all be considered.
What strategies will you use to communicate to your students the interpretive landscape of the piece?
What exercises will you use to help students develop and execute concepts required for maintaining the work’s stylistic and historical integrity?
What strategies will you use to introduce performance areas of concern?
What exercises will you use to ensure improved student understanding and execution of these areas?
How will you involve every student in the learning process? This is important because not all students may have the part, but they still need to learn the skills involved.
How will these exercises be infused into the rehearsal routine?
What method(s) of assessment will be used to gauge student success?
How will the re-teaching process differ from the teaching process?
All of this should be done prior to rehearsal. In approaching rehearsal in this manner, one can substantially reduce the learning time and improve group understanding and growth. Of course, as is often the case, no matter how well you plan ahead, something will come up for which you have not prepared. At this point it becomes too easy to abandon your plan to address the new problem. I would encourage you not to do so. Simply acknowledge that you recognize there is a problem and that you will address it in a later rehearsal once you have had the opportunity to plan the most effective way to correct it.
The Proactive Rehearsal represented a shift in the way I was doing business. It made me a better teacher which, in turn, made my students better learners. This, of course, resulted in them becoming better performers. Admittedly, at first, it seems like a great deal of work on the front end. But once you get comfortable with the process, it actually reduces teaching and learning time substantially. For me, this approach to the teaching/learning process lessened those frustrating rehearsals in which the band never seemed to improve. I didn’t want to admit that they were failing to perform, because I was failing to prepare. Reactive teaching was not an effective or satisfying approach for me or my students. The Proactive Rehearsal concept improved my teaching and my band’s success. Perhaps it will do the same for you.
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Gary L. Rupert was a music educator for 40 years and was most recently the Band Director at Smithsburg High School in Smithsburg, Maryland where his bands consistently achieved Superior ratings at local, state and national levels. He is a sought-after conductor and adjudicator in the areas of symphonic bands and jazz ensembles. An avid blogger whose daily entries are followed by people in over 57 countries, Mr. Rupert is the author of a daily inspirational book for students and teachers, “Today, No Every Day.” He is also a sought after speaker on leadership, motivation and creating a positive learning environment.
Gary Rupert has been named an Outstanding Maryland Music Educator, a Teacher of Excellence in both the Frederick and Washington County public schools, and has been twice nominated as a Disney Teacher of Excellence.
Gary can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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