By now, you and your bands have probably settled into a comfortable routine of warm-ups, sight-reading, and rehearsal of your pieces you’re preparing for upcoming festivals and concerts. Maybe even too comfortable of a routine. While process and habit are certainly key to successful teaching, there’s no doubt that things can become a bit stale and you can experience reduced response from your student performers. So shake things up with a silent rehearsal!
A silent rehearsal will not only be a nice change of pace, but it also has several other advantages, including heightened listening by both performer and conductor, increased response to conducting cues, and improved classroom management.
A silent rehearsal won’t be successful on the spur of the moment, so plan ahead. Carefully lay out a written plan of the warm-ups, rhythms, and musical excerpts you want to rehearse, in order, with approximate times. This plan should include the goals of each rehearsal region (i.e. “improve dynamic contrast in measures 24-26”). Then copy this plan onto your whiteboard/projected classroom lesson plan so that students will see it when they enter the room. This way silence can be established from the beginning, with simply pointing to the board serving the purpose of announcements.
Work on Your Non-Verbal Communication
Silent rehearsals aren’t silent just for your students, they’re (nearly) silent for you! Though it may seem like a challenge, requiring your students to intently watch you and pick up on your non-verbal communication will translate into a much greater connection and response to your conducting and gestures. Go ahead and have some non-verbal cues at the ready, such as:
- Reserving finger pointing and other aggressive gestures for disciplinary and classroom management situations
- Stopping the ensemble, waving to the section(s) you want to engage, then pointing to your baton. Rather than telling that section what you want changed in style and dynamics, show them with your conducting. Make sure that your conducting style and gestures truly reflect what you want to hear! Get them to exaggerate their response to your conducting style and cues, and when you get the appropriate response give them a smile and a thumbs up!
- Show fingerings and slide adjustments to your wind players who are playing wrong notes.
- Walk back to the percussion section to personally demonstrate technique, such as proper grip, more open rolls, or appropriate positioning for playing the cymbals or triangle. This is a great chance for non-percussionist band directors to do some YouTube research on proper technique!
- Shake your keys at the ensemble when they aren’t playing within the marked key signature.
- Clap your hands in the rhythms with which your ensemble is struggling, then point to them and have them clap it back. Once the rhythm is correct and fluent, then mime them into playing the rhythm on their instruments.
- Show them a pencil and mime marking things down in the score. There will probably be reminders for yourself to mark in your score, so make sure to point to yourself and make a show of writing things down!
- Have them sustain chords or individual unison parts and point to your ear to improve intonation. If they need to focus even more, have them sing through instrument on an “ah” while fingering the appropriate note. This can all be readily communicated with signs and gestures.
Leave Time for Reflection
Make sure you leave a brief interval at the end of class for a quick discussion with your ensemble. What did they hear in this silent rehearsal that they never heard before? What did you notice now that you were silent and intently listening? What lessons on focus and non-verbal communication can be carried from this silent rehearsal into future situations? This brief discussion can truly focus your student performers on their capabilities of focus, and limitations in multitasking.
While it’s not something you’d want to do everyday, silent rehearsals can provide a boost to you and your students’ listening and communication skills. The change of pace is fun for everyone, and the response to your conducting will be noticeable. Finally, you’ll notice issues with your band’s playing that you’ve become deaf and blind through the daily classroom grind. Give it a try this week!