Planning and Running a Rehearsal

August 8, 2010

This may seem silly, but please make sure you are properly booked into your rehearsal space. I have been kicked out of a lot of rehearsal rooms in my time because there were crossed wires somewhere.

When I plan my rehearsals, I take a quick look at the rehearsal schedule and make sure I’m a good week ahead of the dance and blocking rehearsals in terms of learning the material. I try to give a lot of time to the most complicated numbers immediately, and then in subsequent rehearsals, I go back and forth between new or difficult numbers, and numbers we already know well. Doing only crazy difficult music discourages everyone, including the director! Break it up a little. You can also save rehearsal time by working men’s material while the women break and then switching and letting the men break while the women work a number that only they are in.

Here are a few tips I’ve picked up over the years:

1) Start your rehearsals on time whether everyone is there or not. If you wait until 5 minutes after your call time to begin your first rehearsal, most people won’t show up until 5 minutes late.

2) Don’t wing it. Know what you plan to rehearse and how much you hope to get through.

3) Run the rehearsal as quickly as you can and still teach the material.

4) This is a personal preference, I suppose, but whenever I’m teaching parts, I begin from the lowest and end with the highest part. I do this because melody parts are the easiest to remember, interior parts most difficult. Beginning with the bass establishes a harmonic sense and grounding. Adding parts one at a time allows the tenor and alto the luxury of thinking of their own part as the melody momentarily, and hearing the part’s harmonic context before the introduction of the Melody, which unfortunately can ‘wipe the slate’ of part memory. So my 4 part harmony teaching sessions often go:

A) 4 to 8 measures with the basses, playing the part first, then singing with the piano

B) The same 4 to 8 measures with only the tenors. When that part seems stable, I combine the 2 parts, checking for accuracy and fixing things that didn’t work.

C) The same section with Altos. Then all 3 lower parts combined.

D) Finally I add the Sopranos by themselves (by this time, the Sopranos often are chomping at the bit, and already know what they’re going to do) Then all parts together.

If your chorus has many people who are competent music readers, you can move much more quickly, teaching the music in pairs of parts, or even all at once. But if your experience is like mine, the main problem is carrying the interior parts against the siren call of the melody line, so allowing the lower parts some time in the sun before the melody is played gives them a fighting chance.

5) Go through the show and mark who is in what number. Rehearse the numbers from the one that involves the most people to the one that involves the least, releasing people as they are no longer needed. When you’ve released the chorus, go the opposite direction: Begin rehearsing people who have fewest numbers and build to the people who have the most songs. This approach avoids the problem of a chorus of 35 people sitting and waiting for one number for an hour, or the lead who has to sit through all of the main character’s numbers to get to his single 2 page song. If you respect people’s time, they’re more likely to respect yours.

6) This is common sense for a good conductor, but is often not in the skill set of the general music teacher or amateur musical director: When there is a problematic section:

A) Isolate the problem section.

B) Break it into its constituent parts

C) Run the hardest part in its smallest possible unit. (ie. the interval nobody’s getting right)

D) Add other voices, more notes, or accompaniment one component at a time.

E) Do it multiple times until it begins to work

F) Put it back in its original context starting at the beginning of the larger section in question.

Many people explain vaguely that something went wrong, and then go right back to the very beginning and hope for a better outcome. That doesn’t work. You have to work through it simply and systematically for change to occur. And then you must mark it so that you can go back and review it next time.

Running a quick and thorough rehearsal is not only good sense for your long-term schedule, it also keeps everyone in your chorus thinking and engaged the whole time. If you are inefficient with your time, your group will mentally check out, and your rehearsal frustration will increase exponentially.



  1. Hi Peter,

    I’m a student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute up in Troy NY. Our theater club is putting on Dirty Rotten Scoundrels this spring and it looks like I’ll be the assistant music director and 1st trumpet for this production.

    I will be assisting with pit auditions and rehearsals. I’ve read the posts on your site and Its helped a ton. In this and your audition section though you primarily refer to cast members. What procedures would you recommend to effectively audition and rehearse the pit? Also, any tips on playing brass in a pit in general?



    • Devin-

      Sorry for the delay in answering. First, have you checked out my post on the subject? https://peterhilliard.wordpress.com/2010/07/30/contracting-your-pit-orchestra/

      Auditioning the pit is like auditioning players for anything, really. They can bring in a short selection and then you can throw a difficult part of the show at them to read. (and they really should be able to read) You want someone flexible who plays in tune and laughs at some point during the audition. A crankus does not belong in a pit.

      As far as brass goes:
      1) Don’t hire too many players, especially if the rest of the pit is under-manned. Brass can really throw things out of balance.
      2) A bad brass player is worse than no player at all, which isn’t necessarily true of other players. String players lay out when they don’t know what’s up. An incorrect trombone player coming in at the wrong moment can really blow a whole number.
      3) Be careful to arrange the brass in the pit so that the business end of the instruments is pointed left or right, not at the stage or at the audience. You’ll solve a lot of problems by the direction you point the player.
      4) If you’re a trumpet player, you probably already know this, but you need figure out which players feel comfortable up high and assign them the first book. If both players are strong up high, they can part the book out deciding who takes what. Same thing with soloing or open changes. If the book requires improv, make sure your strongest improviser is on the book that lets him do that.

      Good luck, and have a great production!


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