A Simple Formula to Maximise Rehearsal Time

Feel like you spend too much time working on the easy stuff, at the expense of mastering the more challenging parts of your repertoire? This simple formula helps you allocate rehearsal time easily and effectively so you don't get caught out.

We've all done it. Spent way too much time on the music that sounds good, keeps everyone feeling comfortable and excited. We avoid those tricky sections that just aren't sitting right. We think "I'll get to that when the ensemble knows more" or "We're not ready for that yet" or "I don't have time to dig into that right now".

Or we 'eyeball it' and make a vague estimation about how much time to allocate to a piece, only to have our estimation be totally off. The result? Rushing towards the concert, hoping like hell it will hold together onstage. Every conductor's nightmare.

Another challenge is that our preparation time is finite, limited by many variables. Many can be anticipated - the Graduation or Formal that means we'll lose students to a sleep in, or the public holidays that always wipe out Monday rehearsals. However some can't be anticipated - a sudden new event, additional gig or incursion on our precious rehearsal time.

What if you had a simple formula that could help you allocate out your rehearsal time? A formula that you could apply to one rehearsal, or your entire rehearsal season? That you could implement at any point in the rehearsal process to meet the needs of the group?

This magic formula exists, and I first came across it in Frank Battisti's incredible On Becoming A Conductor. (Whenever people ask me to recommend books on conducting this is always my #1 pick).

It's simple.

Step 0: Get Your Data

Before you start you need two basic pieces of information:

The duration in minutes of each piece you're working on Self-explanatory.

How difficult you rate each piece out of 10 for your group This is more fine-grained than just putting the Grade level of the piece, and allows you to account for what you know about your particular ensemble. When estimating this number take into account for each piece:

  • What do you think will be challenging for them and will need lots of repetitions/breaking down?
  • Are they familiar with the piece or is it brand new?
  • Are there technical and musical concepts that are new to them?
  • Are there concepts that are very familiar and in their grasp?

Step 1: Calculate the "Piece Number"

Take each piece you're working on and calculate:

Duration (in minutes) x Difficulty (out of 10) = Piece Number

For example:

Pirates of the Caribbean arr. Michael Sweeney - 2:15 minutes x 5/10 difficulty = 2.25 x 5 = 11.25

Simple Song by Ralph Hultgren - 3:30 minutes x 7/10 difficulty = 3.5 x 7 = 24.5

Arabian Dances by Roland Barrett - 3:15 minutes x 5/10 difficulty = 3.25 x 5 = 16.25

Step 2: Add Pieces Together

Add all the Piece Numbers together:

11.25 + 24.5 + 16.25 = 52

Step 3: Convert to Percentages

Convert your total number into a percentage by dividing each Piece Number by the Total. 

Piece Number 1 / 52 = 11.25/52 = 0.216 = 21%

Piece Number 2 / 52 = 24.5/52 = 0.471 = 47%

Piece Number 3 / 52 = 16.25/52 = 0.312 =

Then multiply your answer by 100 to get a percentage.

Pirates = 0.216 x 100 = 21%

Simple Song = 0.471 x 100 = 47%

Arabian Dances = 0.312 x 100 = 31 %

Step 4: Plan Rehearsal Time With Confidence!

Now you have a good estimate of how much rehearsal time you can allocate to each piece that is far more nuanced than just going on duration alone. Notice in the example how Simple Song, the ballad, ends up with WAY more rehearsal time than the other pieces, even though they are all of a similar duration? Even though the faster pieces have more notes, I knew they were actually less challenging based on the skills and knowledge of my group. Yet without this formula I probably would have allocated them way more time, at the expense of Simple Song.

You can use these percentages to:

Calculate the amount of time you spend in one (or each) rehearsal. Eg.

60 minutes - 15 minutes warm up/activities = 45 minutes rehearsal time

Pirates = 21% of 45mins = 9.45mins

Simple Song = 47% of 45mins = 21.15 minutes

Arabian Dances = 31% of 45mins = 13.95 minutes

Round them up and you've got your rehearsal time allocated!

Pirates - 10 mins

Simple Song - 21 mins

Arabian Dances - 14 mins

Calculate the amount of time you spend over the entire rehearsal season or what rehearsals you have remaining Eg.

45 mins rehearsal time per week x 10 weeks = 450 minutes

Pirates = total of 100 mins

Simple Song = total of 210 mins

Arabian = total of 140 mins

You can then spread the time out accordingly, allocating bigger or smaller chunks each week depending on what your teaching requires.

This strategy has saved me from major blunders and helped me allocate rehearsal time more easily to what actually matters. It's not foolproof, however it will give you a lot more tailored results than basing it just on the length of pieces, or guessing!

Want to learn more useful tools like this?

Check out the Rehearsal Planning Masterclass on Sunday 16 May on Zoom.

And if you haven't already, be sure to sign up to the Mailing List below.

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