How to Fix Music Problems in Rehearsal

The best orchestra, band, or ensemble will encounter problems in rehearsal that need fixing, adjusting, or extra attention.  The question is not if you will have to fix something in rehearsal, but when.

In graduate school I studied conducting, and part of that study included many hours in front of choirs and orchestra leading readings and rehearsals.

I remember the first time I was in front of an orchestra.  I was terrified, over-dressed, hot and sweating in a crowded room full of high class musicians and a talented visiting orchestra conductor.

Not only was I expected to conduct a movement from a Beethoven symphony, I was expected to rehearse it.  When we made it through (if my conducting led us through it successfully) I was also expected to go back and work on problem spots.

I remember very little from that experience other than what I just described, making it through some difficult passages well, and then thankfully sitting down in my chair when I was done!

I am not conducting Beethoven symphonies these days, but whether I am in front of a choir or an orchestra or leading a worship band I am still expected to lead us through the music and then rehearse problem spots.  The better the musicians the more fun it is to play the music and the harder it is to pick out problem spots, but they are still expecting me to help them play and sing better.

Whether you are a beginner or professional, the techniques are the same as well as simple for fixing problem spots in music.

  1. Listen as you lead.  As you go through the music be listening for spots in the music that seem off or that have obvious mistakes.
  2. Stop on purpose.  Before you stop the music, know where you want to go in the music.  Stopping without a destination invites all kinds of chatter and lost time, as well as signaling that you do not know what to do.
  3. Go first.  Particularly in worship bands, after you stop the music lots of people are likely to have suggestions on what to do.  Do not ignore them, but always do your ideas first, even if you are not certain your ideas are the best.  This demonstrates that you are in charge and that you know the music.  After you have worked the section you wanted to touch on, then answer questions and visit requested spots in the music.  If you go with the other suggestions first your rehearsal will lose momentum and your leadership will be eroded.
  4. Break it down.  If you go through a problem spot and you cannot identify the problem, start removing instruments or voices to isolate the issue.  If you have a tempo issue in a worship band, have just the bass and drums play the section and make certain they are together.  Then add the acoustic guitar, the keys, and then the electric guitar.  Finally add the vocals back in.  Use a similar approach in rehearsing vocals.  In orchestra, try the section with just strings or just winds, etc.
  5. Play it in context.  Once you have isolated the problem and fixed it, go back and sing/play the entire section surrounding the problem spot to make certain the musicians can replicate the fix in context.

What about if you cannot identify a problem?

  1. Identify potential problem spots before rehearsal.  If in rehearsal things seemed pretty good, go directly to a potential problem spot you identified.  Break down the parts briefly and work that spot.  Do this for all of the potential problem spots.
  2. Play it again.  Once you have worked your pre-defined difficult spots, play the piece again.

Worship bands, orchestras, choirs, and wind ensembles all have their own cultures, but the laws of rehearsal are the same.

What other techniques have worked for you in your situation?