Directing Collegiate Acappella – Rehearsals

This is the second in a collection of articles, putting together the knowledge I gained while directing the UC San Diego Tritones acappella group. This article describes what I believe is a director’s role when it comes to rehearsals.

tl;dr

  • Build a system that people can trust
  • Maximize rehearsal time with preparation and assertiveness
  • Make rehearsing music the most fun part of being in the group

Preparation

Individual Preparation

The group needs to have all of their notes learned before rehearsal even begins. It’s so much easier to find individual time than it is to find group time, so it makes more sense to do it this way. In addition, much of what makes your group good is what is practiced during group rehearsals. If that time is instead used to practice notes, it takes away from things like blend, dynamics, and performance.

Keep in mind that, at least for most collegiate groups, you’ll need to help facilitate learning the music before rehearsal. This can come in many forms; the easiest is sending out midi or rehearsal tracks. If you really want to go all out, what I do is record all the parts, pan the group to one ear, and the singer’s part to the other ear.

Sectional Preparation

Another thing to encourage is to have sectionals outside of rehearsal. Again, this is finding time for a smaller subset of the group, and it just makes things easier to schedule. Additionally, sectionals give the benefit of being able to pinpoint certain parts and mistakes that are harder to address in the larger group. Usually, when running sectionals, I would want to split up the group into similar parts, but really you can split up the group however is convenient.

Director Preparation

You need to make sure that you know what’s going to happen the entire rehearsal. This will dramatically help you speed up rehearsal. The more preparation you put in, the less down time there is for people to get distracted. Make practicing the path of least resistance.

THIS INCLUDES WARM-UPS. Know exactly which warm-ups you will be completing, and give each one a distinct purpose. Warm-ups are a great opportunity to work on specific techniques. If you know the song you’re practicing that day has a lot of tough intervals, warm up with something that can help people find their tone quicker. If you’re doing something very rhythmic, do something that challenges the group mentally in this regard.

Rehearsals

Preparation will help with this immensely, but you need to be assertive and to keep the rehearsal fast paced. When you’re being the most productive, you will be stopping a lot, and fixing mistakes. During that time, it is IMPERATIVE that at all times, either the group is singing, or you are talking. Sure, field questions if they come up, but you should never give people the opportunity to become distracted. You shouldn’t worry about not having anything to say, since you came prepared. You should be able to figure all the problems the group has to fix, and how you should approach those fixes.

Make sure people have pencils and music for every rehearsal. MUSIC NEEDS TO BE ABLE TO BE WRITTEN ON. Don’t let people get away with digital music. Put all the music in one box. attach pencils to all of it. I don’t care. Just make sure that everyone always has music that they’ve written in. And that it doesn’t crumble up and shit.

The Warmup

Do warmups that make sense for what you’re working on. This is as important of time as anything; use it wisely.

The Grind

The grind is the majority of our rehearsal, and is the middle section. Keep it fast-paced, and dynamic. The rehearsal shouldn’t always be the same format; I frequently like to do rehearsals where we’ll switch songs a lot, working on specific techniques rather than grinding one song at a time. For instance, we’ll work on dynamics in one piece, and then work on dynamics in another piece. This helps people stay in the same mindset, while keeping the rehearsal moving.

Another thing that can help keep the rehearsal fast-paced and focused is to cut the group off. The group will get used to quickly stopping and starting. Also, since they’re listening for your queues to sing and shut up, people tend to listen to you more in general, so it helps keep everyone on track.

A third thing is to have relatively frequent guest directors from within and outside the group. Getting different perspectives is important, and it helps mix it up.

The Reward

You definitely want to take some time to run through songs completely, but this should NEVER happen during the grind. This should be at the end of rehearsal, so people can hear what they accomplished during the day. Keep in mind that full run-throughs are mainly a reward, and you generally DON’T get as much out of these. These can also be useful for running through sets when you’re getting closer to a performance, but groups will far more often do TOO many of these than not enough. Keep that in mind when doing full run-throughs.