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Confident and Productive Rehearsals – Part 2 – Have a Plan

Have a Plan

A large portion of confidence when leading a rehearsal is knowing what you need to accomplish, and having techniques prepared to help you get there (covered throughout the blog series).

Orchestra seating/set-up
A vital principle should be utilized in orchestra set-up. Louder/lower instruments should be in back, and softer/higher instruments in front. Instrumental groups have used varieties of this for centuries. A good set up does not rely on a sound system to make all parts heard. Micing cannot always rescue a bad set up and make the group sound good.

The rhythm section, if included, needs to be as close together as possible for precision and unity.

Set the instruments in their family group together. Consider doublings, such as bassoon near cello, and alto saxophones near French horns.


The spaces where instrumentalists play in ministry are often limited where the instruments can be placed. Often we have little choice where different players can sit due to the constraints of space. Even so, consider that placing louder instruments in front of softer instruments creates automatic balance problems, again that may not be overcome with micing.

Seating Ideas
Violins, flutes, and clarinets work well in front of a group. French horns, saxes, oboe, violas, celli, lower woodwinds are well suited for the middle. Trumpets, trombones, tuba, rhythm section, and percussion work well in the back if at all possible. The better a group set up works acoustically, the less they need rely on the sound system. Then good micing and mixing can help make a good set up sound even better. Where possible, have softer instruments closer than louder instruments to the listeners. If a trumpet is the same distance as a violin, the trumpet will win the acoustic space.

Preparation for Rehearsal
Generally, the players must enjoy their conductor, enjoy the rehearsal, and know that they are accomplishing something in rehearsal most of the time. This is vital for long term player participation.

The players are giving their time to God, not to us, and we must be prepared to make the maximum use of it. We cannot waste everyone’s time by not being prepared to address what is needed. Sight reading scores in rehearsal is abandoning the director’s responsibility to plan and execute an effective and efficient rehearsal.

Have a way for every player to mark their music – pencils for paper or styli for tablets. If you miss it, mark it. With limited rehearsal time (to say the least), everything accomplished needs to be remembered the next time. Professional orchestras always have a pencil on the stand. Never make the same mistake twice. Remembering musical details between rehearsal and service can easily be crowded out by the rest of life.

Plan what pieces will be rehearsed in what order:
-Early in rehearsal – warm-ups, more familiar pieces, easier sight reading.
-Mid Rehearsal – hard work, the most demanding pieces, rehearsing details, music for Sunday.
-Late Rehearsal –sight reading, challenging project for the future.
End with something they like, that sounds good.

Everyone needs all of the music ahead of time. Time is wasted when parts are missing. That process is greatly enhanced by software such as Planning Center.

Have a librarian – other than yourself – that can retrieve occasional lost or missing parts so you not have to stop rehearsal to dig through a folder.

Prepare rehearsal notes in advance and use them in each rehearsal. The rehearsal is easier to keep moving along when the plan is clear to everyone. If the infrastructure exists, these can be on screens.

The notes may include:
-rehearsal order
-prayer requests
-sign out slip for upcoming absences

Be Prepared Yourself
The director needs to be right with God. Confess and deal with any sin issues in your heart and life. Pray for God to work in and through the players and the group, for His purposes to be accomplished and for Him alone to be glorified – even in rehearsal. Be in consistent prayer, seeking God to grow and improve the orchestra and each player. As Christians, we rely on Christ living through us (Galatians 2:20). We conduct, or play, and somehow He is working through us. His power facilitates and lubricates the musical progress.

Study the scores in advance. Never just read through for the first time as you conduct in rehearsal. Our players can tell if the director is not prepared to lead a productive rehearsal.

Look for:
-style of the piece.
-tempo markings and tempo changes.
-keys and key changes.
-which instruments have melody or solo.
-which instruments have accompaniment/harmony.
-spots that need rehearsing – difficult or unusual passages or lines that will probably need specific attention. If a passage is unclear or difficult to you, then it will be to the players as well.
-unusual chords/harmonies, often including accidentals.

This leads to Part 3 – Working the Plan – next time.

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