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“BE RESPECTFUL” is a BAD REHEARSAL RULE!

“Be Respectful” is a BAD RULE!

The 5 Guidelines to Choosing the right Rehearsal Rules

All rehearsing ensembles must have rules or “guidelines”. While these words are interchangeable, for me, “guidelines” has a less rigid connotation, which is why I will be using that word instead. Choosing the correct guidelines for our ensemble is extremely important as it sets the foundation for creating a positive choir culture.

Although each choral program requires a unique approach, there are common concepts that determine WHY guidelines exist, WHAT makes us choose our specific guidelines and HOW we should go about instilling the right guidelines.

If we can first agree that guidelines are an important part to creating our choir culture, it might appear logical to think that “Be Respectful” would be a great guideline to have; after all, it embodies the very behavior of what we want from our students. The issue with this frequently used, but useless guideline is that it doesn’t meet the 5 Guidelines for properly choosing our Rehearsal Guidelines.


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Here are the 5 Guidelines for properly choosing our Rehearsal Guidelines:

1. Both the teacher and all students must truly understand WHY classroom/rehearsal guidelines exist

We have guidelines to create a safe learning environment for all students.  The students must know this and we must choose our guidelines specifically related to safety and the classroom culture that is most conducive to effective rehearsing for all of our students. Before we explain each specific guideline to our students, we need to communicate the reason why we have guidelines in the first place.

We need to explain that guidelines exist in order to provide a safe (emotionally and physically), comfortable, and positive learning environment. Guidelines should have nothing to do with OUR teaching; they have everything to do with their learning.  


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2. Limit the amount of rehearsal guidelines

Every specific guideline needs to be ingrained in the minds of the students and locked into our brains as well. We need to post, teach, and constantly reinforce the guidelines as we begin each school year. With that said, too many guidelines makes it difficult for everyone to remember. The ideal number of guidelines is four to six in total. 


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3. Use the rehearsal guidelines only to address our most important behavioral concerns

There are many issues that we may wish to address but we need to focus on what is MOST important for creating an ideal learning environment. We need to pose the following question to ourselves: What are the biggest issues that disrupt the safety and the learning environment of our students? If we think about what distractions frequently interrupt student learning, we will be able to pinpoint the most effective behaviors we wish to target.


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4. Avoid negativity

Guidelines are a major part of our rehearsal culture. If we are trying to create a positive learning environment, the guidelines need to phrased in a way that is non-threatening.

Please see my article, The Power of Positive Planning For Choir for some suggestions for turning negative rules into positive rules.


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5. Make every rehearsal guideline specific and enforceable

Guidelines that are not specific are subjective and are not properly enforceable. A lack of clarity leads to a lack of action on our part as we cannot make instant decisions on if there is indeed an infraction occurring. In addition, lack of clarity can quickly lead to discussions, backtalk, and eye rolling. Many teachers think being too specific limits the scope of the guidelines. I believe we need to pinpoint the most specific issues.


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So, why is “Be Respectful” a BAD RULE?

While “respect” IS something that we should strive for within our ensemble, it is a general behavior; a specific behavior presents itself with clarity among the teacher and all adults. As explained in Guideline #5, if we, the teacher, have to use our mental energy to evaluate whether a student is being respectful before administering a penalty, we are taking away from our ability to focus on teaching. Differing views on what constitutes “respect” can also lead to verbal disagreements between teacher and student, as its definition can be murky; we would be forced to explain what behavior struck us as disrespectful, which would probably lead the students to explain why what they did was not intended to be disrespectful. Instead, if our guidelines pinpoint the specific behaviors that we, the teacher, view as disrespectful, we will instill “respect” in our ensemble.

If it is NOT clear to EVERY STUDENT whether a guideline is actually broken or not, it is not a good guideline.

How do we use the rehearsal guidelines to ensure students will “Be Respectful”?

Pinpoint the clearest issues that present themselves as disrespectful.  Here are some specific behaviors that strike me as being most disrespectful.

talking while entering the room late

-calling out with rude or inappropriate comments

-calling out answers before other students have the chance to process

-verbally mocking other students

-talking back to the teacher

-tripping students as they walk by

-touching, hitting students around them

-having work out for other classes

-texting on their cell phones

-making noises while others are singing

-refusing to stay on task (not standing up, not singing, etc)

sitting in the wrong seat

-leaving the room without permission

Constructing the perfect guidelines can be difficult and time consuming. I have created a free download that lists 5 properly constructed guidelines that, if enforced, will limit the behaviors on the list above. The 5 guidelines that I chose to solve the behaviors above might not be the exact 5 guidelines that your program needs. Perhaps your group has evolved and no longer has an issue with one of the behaviors. Maybe one behavior needs to be addressed even more specifically than how I phrased it. The document also includes an additional 17 guidelines that cover many varying elements that will help to embody a respectful ensemble for all sorts of ensembles.


Click here to be able to download the “Be Respectful” Rehearsal Rules FOR FREE!


The Consequence Assignment  – all you need to give when they choose to break our rules (guidelines)


Final Thought: Rehearsal Guidelines are not personal

Guidelines are not mean. If all students are taught to understand how our guidelines positively affect their learning environment and allow for a safe, comfortable, and productive environment, they will be more likely to buy into them. The choir culture begins with our Guidelines and how we enforce them. In a positive learning environment, students do not fear the guidelines; they will generally do their best to follow them because they believe in our classroom culture and believe they have the opportunity to be successful within our choir culture; they will also understand when they do not follow a guideline, there is a consequence and we, the teacher, will understand when they do not follow a guideline, we must give a consequence; it is not personal.


By | 2018-08-25T22:49:10+00:00 August 14th, 2016|Cultivating Choir Culture, First Rehearsals|

About the Author:

Adam Paltrowitz is a master educator, composer, conductor, and clinician. During his 20-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.

One Comment

  1. Jane August 21, 2017 at 7:02 am - Reply

    Your 5 rehearsal guidelines please!

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