How to rehearse an ensemble

Earlier this week I gave a talk on “how to rehearse” for a regional consortium of music educators. The following list formed the basis of our discussions. It’s by no means a complete or exclusive list, but we publish it here without further comment in hopes that some of you find it helpful.

Please share your thoughts about what makes a good rehearsal- whether working with beginners or the Berlin Philharmonic.

General Rehearsal Advice

  • Know the music!
  • Play first, show what you want, then talk
  • Be yourself and rehearse the same way wherever you go. All ensembles need both your highest standards, and your utmost patience
  • Give musicians information in the order they need it, ie “Before letter A, ten bars” rather than “10 bars before A”
  • If you wait to work on musical details and style until you’ve solved technical problems, you’ll never work on musical details and style
  • If you help the players understand the “why’s” of the score, they’re more likely to remember the “what’s”
  • Teach your ensemble the difference between “rehearsing” and “practicing.” When you do have to turn a rehearsal into a practice session, make sure the musicians understand that this is not rehearsing
  • Working on rhythm often fixes many intonation problems, and slow intonation work solves many rhythmic issues
  • If you can write it in their music before the first rehearsal, do
  • Rhythmic subdivision is not only a matter of accuracy, but of character
  • Your ensemble might be the one setting in which a bright student really has to concentrate as hard as they can to do well. It’s up to you to teach them how much of themselves they need to give to the music
  • Rehearsal planning and anticipating what you’ll need to work on is useful, but you can only teach your students/colleagues to be “in the moment” if you are.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Spread the word. Share this post!

About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at

All material in these pages is protected by copyright.

3 comments on “How to rehearse an ensemble”

  1. J. M. Gerraughty

    These are great bits of advice! Do you have your talk on video, or is there a way for you to flesh out these bullets into something more substantial? I’d be really interested to know more.

  2. Gianmaria Griglio

    I would add a couple:
    – do not give 3-hours lectures to the orchestra. Clear instructions (piano, forte, balzato, staccato etc) are far easier to understand (and consequently time-saving) then something going back to the beginning of time and landing in “play like a shiny rainbow after a storm, but still a bit misty”
    – if you make a mistake (we all do!), admit it, apologize to the orchestra and move on. Do not blame the orchestra for something they are not responsible for

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *