Now is the time to rewrite the rule book of how we utilise that most precious resource: rehearsal time!
We teach ensembles because we want students to:
...and a LOT more!
"But I can't do that online...'
With the what and the how of 'normal' rehearsals gone, we must affirm our why.
Next, we need to accept the new how of the moment - whether we're working distanced-in-person, hybrid or fully online
When we connect to our 'WHY', harness the power of our new 'HOW', and can reimagine the new 'WHAT' of rehearsals.
Doing 'what we used to do, but slightly worse online' is not serving our students.
We are in a moment ALIVE with opportunity to give our students an incredible experience with music.
Yes, it's different to how we used to do it.
Coming back to 'WHY' will also helps us see what does and doesn't align with our ultimate purpose.
What doesn't affirm why we do ensembles?
So, let's dive right into some activities that reaffirm the 'why' of rehearsing and also develop the key skills we want to instil in our musicians!
Using someone else's part (sheet music or digital) and recording students represent all or part of the piece as a series of emojis. You can download a list of all emojis here. This can be done individually or in small groups of 3-5 that share and compare different parts. Students then team up with the people who did their part to compare observations. Do they agree/disagree? Why?
What it's teaching:
Share/Assess: Images/PDFs of the emoji maps. Video/audio/written discussions of what they discovered/observed. Working on the music of a living composer? Share with the composer!
Introduce students to the evaluation framework of “I like, I wish, I wonder”. This personal feedback framework helps students associate playing or singing with positive feedback, while also allowing for growth, improvement and re-imagining.
'I like' allows students to first acknowledge what they did well, rather than building a habit of constantly focussing on the negative aspects of their playing or singing. 'I liked the tone on the downbeat of bar 9'
'I wish' allows them to voice what they would like to do differently. 'I wish I had played the semiquavers in bar 23 evenly.'
'I wonder' invites them to imagine a new version for the next time they play. 'I wonder what would happen if I played the forte louder in bar 5.'
Being specific helps clarify students' thoughts and makes it easier for them to draw out positives if they are habited to only error detection.
Give every student a sheet to put in their folder (or save on their computer) with 'I Like, I Wish, I Wonder' on it. Set a challenge length - a week, a month, a semester. At the end of each playing/rehearsal or private practice session students use the framework to reflect on their practice - either to themselves or a peer. (This can be set up as an online form to fill out that they bookmark on their device, or multiple copies of a paper form used every rehearsal). Each time students do it they put their paper form in a jar (exit ticket) /or fill out a cumulative chart (eg. a quick google form). Here's an example.
Share/Assess: Audio/video/written recordings of their “I like, I wish, I wonder” observations. A live (constantly updated) individual, class- or school-wide Infographic (or physical chart) of cumulative times the strategy has been used.
Either ensemble students or students from the English/Drama department audio record a recitation of a poem. Individually or in small groups students use the poem as the basis for a composition/improvisation. This can be performed live while the poem is being read, or recorded to utilise other effects/editing/electronic music elements. The composition can be structured so that students respond in real time to certain words/lines of the poem with their musical lines, phrases, elements or effects. This way it can still be performed live, allowing for lag on video conferencing platforms.
Share/Assess: Live performance or audio recording of the poem plus soundtrack. Video/audio/written discussions of what they discovered/observed.
(Especially good for wind players, singers & conductors)
This activity helps students exercise and develop their facial expressiveness to communicate a particular emotion to their audience and fellow ensemble members. It is particularly good for wind players and singers who have to show expression in the upper part of their face, independent of what their mouth/embouchure is doing.
Working in pairs, small groups or sections (break out rooms/separate calls for online) students secretly choose an emoji from a limited set and practice in the mirror/selfie-camera showing that emotion with a face mask on. The partners/group have to guess which emoji they are expressing and give feedback as to why. This can be done live, or students can prerecord videos or images for others to guess as a quiz/online form.
Share/Assess: Videos/images of activity. “Academy Award Nominees” leaderboard / scoreboard. Video/audio/written discussions of what they discovered/observed.
Right now, residents in aged care facilities are the most isolated they've ever been. We have the chance to bring light, love and music into their lives.
Students program, plan, rehearse and perform a concert for an aged-care facility via video-conferencing (as individuals, small groups, large groups as your circumstances allow). Each student gets a pen pal resident and writes (or records video/audio) to their pen pal about why they play music, what they enjoy, what they want them to hear in the music. The letters are pre-written, and handed out at or before the concert. Then music is played. After the concert then residents write back to students or record a thank you video. (Can also be turned into a podcast/audio only)
Share/Assess: Video/audio recordings of the concert, Photos/slideshow of the student & resident letters, cVideo/audio/written discussions of what students discovered/observed.
This is an edited extract from my new eBook 110 Innovative Online/Hybrid Rehearsal Activities that is now available for $29 AUD. Even if we're online in 2022 you'll still have plenty of rehearsal activities to keep you thriving online!
Being told to play louder or softer is okay. Being told why is better.
The path to musical nirvana starts with a single question. And the path to musical hell starts with telling the ensemble what to do.
We all know that expressive performances are way more engaging, satisfying and interesting for all involved. So why do we often get stuck grinding through notes, leading performances that barely get the dots across? What can we do about it?