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11 Things to Avoid Doing at the First Rehearsal

Prior to my first day of teaching high school, I was given advice from the person who had just hired me. He told me exactly what I should do on the first day.  He said, “Do what you did during your demo lesson, and the students will love you!”  This advice practically destroyed my entire first year and my chances for keeping my job beyond that year.

As the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. After 23 years of teaching, I still mentally plan the first rehearsal more than any other rehearsal. While every teacher has a different situation, there are certain universal mistakes that negatively impact the start of the year; these tangible missteps can be avoided, should we be aware of them in advance.

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Here are 11 things to avoid doing at the first rehearsal:

11. AVOID making the assumption that every student knows they are in the right place

Even if 90% of our students have taken our class before, it will put many students at ease seeing our name on the board, along with the class title and the class period. We never knew who is brand new, signed up late, or just over-anxious, and needs assurance.

10. AVOID letting students enter our classroom for the first time without being individually and personally acknowledged

If visitors came to our house for the first time, would we greet them at the door? This is our opportunity to make eye contact with every student and let them know that they are important. Failure to make that connection on the first day can lead to a instant disconnect for many students. This can also be an important role for our officers, not just the director.

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9. AVOID having an open seating plan

Even if we have no idea where a student fits into the choir vocally, it is important that each member has a home. While it might appear that many students just want to sit near their friends, it is far more important that students see they have a designated space to call their own and are not subject to peer pressure of figuring out where they are socially accepted. If students are new to our school, or don’t have many friends, finding their own spot can be very stressful, especially on the first day. On top of that, allowing students to sit where they want will form immediate cliques which can quickly lead to behavioral issues.

And if we’ve already made that mistake……..

8. AVOID moving seats around after they’ve already sat down

When students claim “ownership” of their seat and then we make them stand up and move to a new seat, they feel evicted, and will probably find creative ways to rebel together in some way, shape, or form. If we’ve already screwed up by letting students sit where they wish, let the students know that when they enter the class for the next rehearsal, they will begin by sitting in a new assigned seat.

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7. AVOID taking attendance in a tedious way

Taking forever to take attendance will incite wise-guy remarks from students and potentially cause behavioral issues, as the students are not being actively engaged.  It can also be stressful for insecure members to respond in front of their peers. There are many ways to take attendance without calling everyone’s name. 

6. AVOID giving our students “nothing to do” from the very moment they enter the room

There are several reasons why it is a big mistake to not have an assignment waiting for them on their seat or on the board. If students sit down and don’t know anyone else, they will probably be feeling quite uncomfortable. If a student has friends around them, they may begin by talking, which could set the classroom tone. In an environment when students reach their seats for the first time with nothing to do, when we finally want to begin the class, we end up interrupting their social time. By giving students a survey or some sort of “fun” assignment, they will be actively engaged from the onset, which will set the tone for a task-oriented, structured program.

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5. AVOID allowing students to call out

Teaching students to raise their hand whenever they wish to speak is a must. This needs to be taught right off the bat and reinforced throughout the first rehearsal. The first student that we allow to call out sets the tone for all other students. If this guideline hasn’t been taught prior to the first student who calls out, we can simply tell that student nicely that they must raise their hand and wait to be acknowledged if they wish to speak; we must not respond to any comment that a student makes when they call out, especially the very first time. Reinforcement is as simple as asking questions to the class and thanking students for raising their hand before they are called upon.

4. AVOID allowing students to pack up their belongings prior to the end of class

When students wind down, they have mentally checked out. It is our job to pace the rehearsal from beginning to end. We, the teacher, determine when class begins and ends, and we determine when they can pack up their belongings. This is something that should be mentioned along with the dismissal procedure prior to the end of class.

If we’ve made that mistake, it will lead to this one…

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3. AVOID allowing students to exit their seat until we have officially dismissed them

It is our job to dismiss the students, not the students’ job to determine that our class is over. This needs to be explained prior to dismissal time. Even when the bell rings, it is still a signal for the teacher, not the student, to end the class.

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2. AVOID making the assumption that our students know our Guidelines, Procedures, and Routines

Teaching classroom guidelines is crucial on the first day. Students have an average of 6-7 other classes every day with completely different rules or guidelines. Our guidelines not only need to be posted, but explained, and reinforced. The first day is when all Guidelines and the most necessary routines and procedures should be taught. There should be no more than 5 or 6 Guidelines.

1. AVOID making singing the main focus of the first rehearsal

Use the teaching of music (warm-ups, rounds, etc.) mainly to reinforce the guidelines, routines, and procedures. For example, if we explain that all students stand for warm-ups when a chord is played on the piano, play a chord on the piano and see if they stand up. If they don’t, have them sit back down and try it again. If they follow the directions, compliment them. Use the music-making to ensure Guidelines, Routines, and Procedures are properly learned and observed.

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About the Author:

Adam Paltrowitz is a master educator, composer, conductor, and clinician. During his 23-year tenure as the Director of Choral Activities at Plainview-Old Bethpage John F. Kennedy High School in New York, his groups have toured throughout Europe, Canada, and the United States. He also has pioneered a philosophy that every student is a soloist. Adam's choral program has also gained great acclaim for the cultivation of eight student-run a-cappella ensembles; some of these ensembles have performed on national and local television programs. His compositions and arrangements have been performed by choirs around the world. Adam earned his B.S. in music education from New York University, M.A. in vocal pedagogy from Columbia University - Teacher's College, and Ed.M. choral conducting from Columbia University - Teacher's College. ​Adam resides in Manhattan with his wife, Blair Goldberg, a professional Broadway actress, and their daughter, Lyla, and son, Nolan.


  1. Bridgit August 15, 2017 at 9:57 pm - Reply

    Quite a great list, and I agree with all of it, except #1. I teach middle schoolers and often have them in class for <20 min on the first day. They came to sing, and so we sing, but I employ Alan Gumm's speechless rehearsal techniques so they also get to feel the procedures that I will explain the next day. I also borrow from Dale Duncan and will have cards on seats with names on it, so I will take attendance by picking up the unclaimed cards. Thanks for these lovely reminders!

  2. Kayla Werlin August 7, 2018 at 6:42 pm - Reply

    I’m gonna have to agree with Bridgit on this one! Your recommendations are terrific, except that I wish we’d all start off the year SINGING! Students are welcomed and seats are labeled. As soon as that bell rings, I like to start teaching a simple song, usually a round, by rote. Singing is the FIRST thing we do! There’s plenty of time for administrivium in the days ahead.

    • Adam Paltrowitz August 7, 2018 at 10:37 pm - Reply

      Thanks for reading and sharing your view. Making music is super important. If you believe it should start the first rehearsal and it works for you, that is awesome! For me, I like to have my 5 classroom guidelines shared first before any order of business. This lets everyone know what is expected behaviorally (calling out, following directions, etc). I might hold off on explaining consequences, or routines, but at least 5 minutes of setting the classroom environment. Either way, I’m glad you found this post useful!

  3. cara Latham August 12, 2019 at 12:07 pm - Reply

    This is a great post. Thank you so much.

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