Search This Blog

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Pick up the PACE! 8 Strategies for effective rehearsal pacing:

We live in an age of speed.  High speed internet, faster speed limits, and shorter attention spans.  Orchestra teachers need variety and quick paced lessons to help students stay interested, involved and focused on progressing.    Every minute is important to me in my classes and I don’t like to waste a moment.  By establishing effectives routines class time is used effectively and time flies.  I love it when students are amazed when the class is over and when they wish they didn’t have to leave.   Here  are 8 ways you can maximize rehearsal time in your orchestra classroom:

1.  Learn to tune quickly.  

In my beginning classes with 30-45 students per class I tune every student one by one.  Students hurry and line up next to me for tuning and then frequently have a bell-work assignment to occupy their attention while I tune other students.  I make sure this takes 5 minutes or less and very little class time is used since I start tuning as soon as students enter the classroom before the bell rings.

I use a couple different tuning procedures for my Intermediate and Advanced classes.  Often we use the tuning sequence from this website:   I like this routine, but usually only let each pitch play for about 40 seconds instead of a minute.  Other days we tune to my violin.  I play 4 open A’s while students listen and they echo back with 4 A’s and tune/adjust as needed.  We repeat this procedure several times for each string and it goes very fast.

2.  Put music in order.  

This simple procedure helps create smooth transitions in the rehearsal.  I write an agenda on the board listing the things we are working on that day.  Students are required to open their method books to the appropriate page and have their music in order.  I don’t like to wait for students to open books, find pages, etc.

3.  Talk less.  

I remember my orchestra teacher in 7th grade used to talk a lot.  I wanted to be playing and would become frustrated when rehearsals came to a halt because of unnecessary chatter.  Sometimes students need a story or an analogy to help them play the music better, but they also need practice and they need to work hard in class to get better.   When drilling passages, keep a quick pace and talk very little.  My favorite words to start the class are ‘ready, play.’  They can get the tempo and start from just those 2 words.  When I want to repeat a section, I can quickly say, “Measure 35!  Ready, play!”   I like students to keep their instruments up so we can get a lot of playing done in a short amount of time.

4.  Know the music. 

It’s very helpful to have music memorized so that you don’t have to be staring at a score.  If you know the music well, you are free to walk around the room and help students throughout the rehearsal.  You can be more attentive to the needs of your students.  I often walk through the room during a rehearsal and if I need to check a part or play along on my violin I just look at their music.  When you know the music you can always be thinking ahead of what to work on next.  Right now I can tell you all of the measure numbers that need work in our concert music.  It’s all memorized in my head because those places need drilling every day and we do it a lot. Tricky passages need to be reviewed and carefully practiced every day.   Always have a specific objective for each rehearsal to be sure students are constantly progressing.

5.  Follow a rehearsal schedule.  

Set an appropriate amount of time for each part of your rehearsal.  If I was a student, I would get very frustrated if 20 minutes of class was spent on scales and only 10 minutes on concert music.  Use time to your advantage and cover all the material with careful planning.  In general, I spend 2-4 minutes on a warm-up.  We do scales, but also cover new technique.  For example, last week I taught my beginners about 4th finger (4th position for cello and 3rd position for bass).  We did left hand pizzicato and finger taps to strength that finger, then played D, E, F#, G, A A A--.  Students worked to match intonation (A on the D string to open A).  It didn’t take very long and next week students will be reading 4th fingers in their method books.  With pre-exposure  in the warm-up students are set up for success.

Here's a video of a warm-up I did with my beginning students.  They had been playing about 2 months and my objective for the warm-up was to help them be comfortable with string crossings, match pitch and correct intonation on D scale note, and play the D scale.

We spend 5-8 minutes in our method book to reinforce note-reading and technique.    Sometimes I use GarageBand to play a drum beat during method book work.  This helps things move along and we don’t waste time.  The last 25 minutes are spent on concert music. 

This is a sample from my beginning class.  This was the first time looking at that line in our method books and the video shows how we rehearsed it that day.

6.   Don’t offer free time.  

The weather is changing and those cheap violins just won’t stay in tune.  Instead of halting an entire rehearsal to re-tune that eBay special, give students a specific assignment.  You can have them play a certain measure 10 times, or play a line of music for their stand partner while the stand partner checks for proper position or perfect finger placement.   They can hunt for ½ steps or mark dynamics.  They don’t need free time – put them to work!

7.  Use a looper. 

I enjoy using SmartMusic as a rehearsal tool.  It has that great looping feature that plays specific measures over and over again.  This is a great tool to help drill tricky passages while keeping you free to walk around the room to help students.  Just set the measures and let it play.   You don’t have to talk…you don’t have to start and stop the group.  This helps get a lot done is a short time.

8.  Read facial cues.  

Always be aware of the attitude and feeling in your classroom.  Are students working, are they frustrated, are they bored?  Adjust pacing based on what the students need.  If you spend 5 minutes on one measure students might begin to ‘check-out.’  Switch things up and let students try something else.  Allow them to feel success in every rehearsal.  It’s okay to leave a piece of music and come back to it another day.  Baby steps.  J

1 comment:

  1. Great ideas...I am always working toward more efficient use of the limited time I have with students, really like the "ready, play" for has already been beneficial!