Rehearsal Techniques


  1. 1. Try just standing still, waiting for silence - clapping, shushing, shouting or banging the rostrum are unmusical exhibitions and set a bad example. Senior players will quickly start to exert a team discipline.

  2. 2. Play through, so that corporate spirit is developed - don't stop too often

  3. 3. Do not over-conduct - don't try too hard, make them respond to you
  4. 4. Encourage the group to play without you
  5. 5. Get group used to starting with preparatory beat, not by counting them in
  6. 6. Make sure that strings and percussion, piano and harp, breathe as the wind and brass on the preparatory beat
  7. 7. Maintain a good discipline during rehearsal by example; shouting and clapping are not musical, encourage the leaders to take the lead in discipline.
  8. 8. Insist that every player has a soft pencil and eraser, and that important points of rubato, breathing, balance, articulation etc are put into the parts.
  9. 9. Show how much you are enjoying their playing by being very positive - "that's great but let's try it a little lighter" rather than "It's all too heavy and loud"
  10. 10. Relax, a smile of encouragement is worth 5 minutes talking - keep the rehearsal serious but fun


Never count the group in - this is the one moment when you can focus them all on your beat, which ideally will give them not just the start and the speed (you can do that by counting them in) but also the attack, the dynamic, the intensity, the tone quality, the beginning of the line and phrase, all of the musical matters which you have thought about beforehand which are not helped by counting in. This is where your technique comes into play.


I discourage the use of loud metronomes and foot-tapping in rehearsal. These are devices to maintain a beat and have nothing to do with the musical phrasing and ensemble of a band or wind orchestra, which must be supple and flexible. Get the band to develop a corporate pulse by leaving them to play by themselves. Invite them to be sensitive to the slightest nuance of pulse in your beat, keep a balance between their corporate view of the pulse and your view of the phrasing. In your warm-ups, vary the pulse, the intensity, the attack.

  • Insist that they look after the smallest note values in a bar
  • Warn them against small note values rushing, long notes being late
  • Invite them to listen to each other, so that a section might subtly change the pulse.
  • Don't worry about lyrical music being a little slower, energetic music a little faster.
  • Listen to the great pianists and string players and analyse the flexibility of their rubato and phrasing.


In the wind orchestra we do not have to work hard at making a lot of noise.

We must work hard at:

  1. 1. Controlling lower levels
  2. 2. Anticipating dynamic events

In general:

  • crescendo must start quietly, diminuendo must start loudly
  • Subito piano is more effective if preceded by a crescendo, subito forte is more effective if preceded by diminuendo
  • the first fortissimo is the smallest, the last is the biggest
  • Build an architecture of dynamic levels in your phrasing and in your whole concept of the piece.


With a less experienced group or a large band I usually tune to a low f

  1. 1. it is easier to tune to a low note
  2. 2. f is a good note for majority of instruments

I never use an electric tuning machine. I think they are useful for an individual player to check his/her internal intonation, but in the ensemble, I think tuning devices are unhelpful. They encourage players to use eyes rather than ears, and we must get all of our players to listen and hear the bass line. Also the tuning machine takes up time, is very boring for everyone else, does not account for the variables in instrumental colour and tone quality, nor variables in humidity and temperature. It is quite a good idea to have a tuning machine available in your rehearsal room for students to check against privately, but get players to tune to each other and keep flexible. Even within the less experienced orchestra, use Bb/F or Bb/Eb for brass.

Vary your tuning procedure - the essential job here is to get them to listen; concentrate on different groups each rehearsal, but start in general with tubas, baritones, trombones, horns, bass wind, saxophones, clarinets, trumpets, oboes, flutes and piccolo

However, in one session you might work with the tubas and clarinets on chording, in another with the double reeds, or trombones and trumpets,

Encourage decision-making

Tune and listen from below Tune octaves, then fifths, then thirds - often a change of balance can sort out intonation

Encourage section leaders to assume responsibility for balance and tuning within their section

Even when under pressure, take time over tuning procedures. Until the group is making a good sound, there is little point in playing any music

Spending a lot of time on tuning at the start may be counterproductive if they are not all warmed up - perhaps you need to tune, then play for 5 minutes and then re-tune more carefully.

We must stress

  1. a. the importance of the whole band using their ear
  2. b. the flexibility of even a school instrument on most notes and the need for the player to be able to vary pitch with careful use of embouchure, breath pressure, placing of reed, hand, alternative fingerings etc.


long notes, scales, exercises, chorales

Use this time to refine your technique and get the band to concentrate their attention on your use of the baton


Experiments show that bands that sing, play with better tone and intonation


Start with warm-ups long notes in unison, scales, chords, and chorales

Progress to something easy that all can play well, rehearsed in your last rehearsal

In middle tackle more taxing material, so that your more gifted players are challenged and they then pull the less talented players along with them

End with easier material giving everyone a feeling of success and ensuring an enthusiastic finish to rehearsal.