This week’s 5-minute read is for the younger, especially first-year, band directors out there. In many visits to work with directors early in their careers, there is one recurring theme which consistently presents itself: younger band directors have trouble dissecting their ensemble’s sound to detect pitch, rhythm, and intonation errors.
It’s amazing when one considers the human brain’s ability to sift through dozens of sounds simultaneously. A concert band not only has more than 14 different wind sounds alone, but multiply those voices by all of the individual performers and your ears are absorbing dozens of concurrent timbres and lines at once. But like any mental feat, focused listening requires training and experience. And in addition to developing hearing acumen, young directors must cultivate the self assurance to stop and correct incorrect sounds the moment they’re heard.
Dissect the Ensemble
When trying to find and correct errors in your ensemble, try some pre-planned ensemble dissection. In the area of the score you plan to rehearse, find all of the individual lines. For example, find the melody instruments, the countermelody voices, the block harmonic voices, and the bass voices. Then, listen to those instrumental groups as their own individual ensembles. Now, instead of trying to pick apart an entire band’s worth of musical lines, you’ll be listening to simplified, often-unison motives which will be much easier to examine for errors. This will also assist your student performers in hearing and self-correcting their own errors.
This technique is also helpful for unifying style in repeated motives across the ensemble. If clarinets have Theme A at measure 12, and the trumpets have Theme A at measure 37 (even at a different key level), then have those two sections play that theme simultaneously. This will help them unify style while correcting pitch, rhythm, and intonation errors.