A must-read for new teachers and anyone looking to improve the quality of their rehearsals
You have Rehearsal Rules, but your choir doesn’t follow them. You are trying to teach time signature, but when a hand is raised and you call on them, they are only asking to go to the bathroom, ruining the flow of your class.
Most rehearsal disruptions are AVOIDABLE! It is up to you if you want to fix it!
There are only 2 types of Disruptions that occur:
- Actions that are intended to disrupt – most of these disruptions will be eliminated with a firmly prepared and taught DISCIPLINE PLAN that consists of GUIDELINES and CONSEQUENCES. Click here for an in-depth explanation from a previous blog.
- Actions that inadvertently disrupt – most of these disruptions will be eliminated with a well-prepared and well-rehearsed set of routines for each and every action that needs to take place throughout the rehearsal.
A distraction-free Choir Culture begins once we have provided a safe, productive, and positive learning environment for all students.
Well-Developed Routines + Well-Rehearsed Routines = NO DISTRACTIONS
The definition of a routine, according to Wikipedia, is “a course of action to be followed regularly; a standard procedure.”
Within the traditional structure of a choir rehearsal, there are frequently occurring events that we may not think about; these events create unintentional disruptions, take us away from teaching, take students away from learning, and impact our intended choir culture. Developing and rehearsing effective routines will minimize virtually every possible rehearsal distraction. This must begin with an understanding of all actions that take place throughout a rehearsals.
Tackling the very first Action/Disruption of any rehearsal
STUDENTS ENTER OUR REHEARSAL every day regardless of whether or not we have creating a set routine for them; if there is no routine, they will enter any way they wish. They may be talking, chewing gum, running, visiting their friend’s seat, or congregating in the doorway, etc.
The way our students enter our rehearsal immediately impacts our class culture, it is to everyone’s benefit that we create a routine. How do we want the students to enter the room? Are they allowed to talk when they enter? Where should they go? What do they do if they are late? If class has already begun, how should they enter the room? Should they be quiet, or should they be singing? Where do they put their late pass, if they have one?
This one simple, recurring event demonstrates the variations in how two teacher’s first minute of class can differ so dramatically, based on their planned and executed routine choice, or their lack of choices. If we don’t have a plan, every student will create their own plan.
There are 3 Steps to Eliminating any and all Disruptions from our Rehearsal:
STEP 1: Listing all Potential Rehearsal Distruptions – (and Actions)
The first step in this process is figuring out all of the frequent and/or common events that can occur within a given rehearsal.
Here are some examples of “events” that occur during rehearsals
1. How Students enter the room
2. Where and how students place their non class-related material
3. How students arrive at their assigned seats
4. How the class begins
5. How students enter when they are late
6. Where late passes are placed
7. How students sit when singing
8. How students stand when singing
9. How students sit when not-singing
10. How students receive their music (if they keep it in the classroom)
11. How students hold their music
12. How students put away their music
13. How students leave the room to go to the bathroom/nurse/guidance
14. What students do when they need a pencil
15. What students do when they need to sharpen their pencil
16. How students handout/collect papers
17. How students leave the room to end the rehearsal
STEP 2: Planning a Routine for every ACTION
Once we pinpoint each action/potential distraction that occurs on a daily or frequent basis, we need to create a specific routine for each action. These routines need to be clearly thought out; usually it is best to write them out regardless of how simple they appear to be; many of these routines should appear in the student handbook.
When creating each routine, our ultimate goal is to prevent us from being involved in the action; every time we become part of an action, we cannot attend to our primary role as teacher/director. If a routine requires a point-person, consider having student leaders who are the leaders of specific routines.
STEP 3: Teaching and Reinforcing every ROUTINE
Routines, “courses of action to be followed regularly; standard procedures,” must be rehearsed consistently until they have been internalized to the point that it has become the norm. They cannot be introduced and then left for the students to remember.
We create rehearsal routines to make events more efficient. Efficiency leads to more effective rehearsals because we have less distractions and as a result, have created a better learning environment for our students.
From there, it is our job to explain to our students WHY we have routines the same way we explained why we have guidelines. If we want our students to appreciate and follow our set routines, they need to understand how it benefits them; routines create a learning environment with fewer interruptions and provide the ability for both the teacher and all students to remain focused more consistently.
What routines should be taught at the very first rehearsal?
While guidelines and consequences must be taught and reinforced at the very first rehearsal, routines can be introduced as they are needed.
Entering the room would be a routine to teach on the first day, since all students have entered the room once without a routine. After explaining WHY we have routines, we should explain that it is our expectation that all students follow the “entering the room” routine to begin the second rehearsal. On the second day, we should stand at the door and remind each student of this action as they enter and then compliment the group for properly following it. This repetition may need to occur for several days until it has been engrained.
If we are planning on singing on the first day, it is important to teach proper body alignment whether standing or sitting. If we let lazy habits occur the first time our singers open their mouths, it will be more difficult to instill disciplined habits over the course of time.
Rehearsing the Routine: here is a real-life demonstration
Rehearsing “routines”, just as rehearsing music, is an art and a skill. Dale Duncan, an outstanding middle-school chorus teacher, demonstrates the first 10 minutes of his first rehearsal on this video. The camera is only on him and yet you can tell his students are engaged, having fun, and most importantly, learning his class culture. Dale has set the tone for the entire year within the first 10 minutes of the first day of class. For those teachers who believe the first day, especially an abbreviated first day, should be filled primarily with fun, games, and singing, I would argue that the “winning them over” approach is a war that we will not win. Besides, Dale has given them a fun, interactive activity while he is “rehearsing” the routine. Click here to view Dale’s real-life demonstration. I’m sure that this is not the only time Dale rehearses body alignment. This is his introduction and periodically this is rehearsed in order to maintain the routine.
Many routines can wait to be introduced until that corresponding event becomes prevalent within the daily rehearsal. For example, “students who lose their music” might not need to be a prioritized routine until after the first student loses their music.
New routines might need to be created throughout the year when there becomes a need. Routines are all about efficiency, consistency, developing healthy habits, and instilling class culture. When we notice a consistent class disruption, we need to isolate the action, figure out a routine that minimizes the distraction, and then reinforce the routine through practice.
Even a well-oiled Broadway Show rehearses their routines from time to time
My wife, Blair, is a Broadway actress and has been playing the same role in the show, Kinky Boots, since January 2016, prior to being the identical role on the national tour for 9 months. There are members of the show who have been there since opening night, April 4th, 2013. After more than 1800 shows, 8 identical shows each week, there are still periodic “clean-up” rehearsals. One can never assume that just because something was once learned, it will always remain clear, fresh, and accurate. Rehearsals make us aware, actively engaged, and help to re-establish a routine’s importance.
Rehearsing the Routine & the Music
Always remember that making music is what the students are expecting to do every day, but rehearsing the routines will enable students to rehearse the music better. Try to spend a minute or two each day rehearsing, reinforcing, or just complimenting students for following a set routine; a master teacher, such as Dale, can make routine-learning feel more like a game than a chore.
Regardless of our individual approach to teaching routines and which routines we deem important to our rehearsal flow, we need to remember that instilling routines will provide our students with a better educational experience; this occurs because we have minimizes distractions and disruptions.