7 Variations on the Traditional Rehearsal Method

Have you ever worked your tail off during a rehearsal and still feel like so much more could have been accomplished? Perhaps it was right after ...

Tradition Rehearsal Method

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Have you ever worked your tail off during a rehearsal and still feel like so much more could have been accomplished? Perhaps it was right after lunch and student engagement was sub-par even with your most in-tune students. Today we are going to discuss “7 Variations on the Traditional Rehearsal Method.” The insights are provided by Ms. Shelly Jagow from her book “Teaching Instrumental Music: Developing the Complete Band Program.” Despite the title of this book, several of these recommended rehearsal methods can and should be used in all music ensembles.

Teaching Instrumental Music

Pod Rehearsal

We will start with the Pod Rehearsal. In this teaching environment we need to first set up the chairs so that they are in mini circles. These circles should be in groups of four to eight chairs. Ms. Jagow reminds us to be sure to set out enough pods so that every member of your ensemble has a chair.

It is up to the discretion of music director to assign sections to a pod or mixed parts. It is important to reserve these types of rehearsals when musicians understand a piece of music they are working on adequately. In other words, student musicians know tempos, rhythms, and cues without needing to rely on a conductor.

One key benefit for the music director is that he or she can roam around the room with ease. More micro-oriented practices can be observed. These practices include observing whether students are using proper posture, embouchure placement, and various other physical or audible strategies.

Sometimes it is difficult to properly analyze a student’s audible skills if they are always playing in large groups. In the Pod Rehearsal the educator could listen and comment on tone, pitch, and the style the student musician is playing in.

A Pod Rehearsal makes sense to use if you want students to work on more difficult or section specific passages of music. As a result, this makes specialized part rehearsal time more meaningful. One of the advantages Pod Rehearsals have, in contrast to traditional seating rehearsals, is that students have a heightened sense of what is happening in the music when seated next to unrelated instrumentalists or voices.

Scramble Rehearsal

The second rehearsal variation is the Scramble Rehearsal. In this type of rehearsal setting the room needs to stay in the traditional set-up. However, what makes this arrangement different is that the music director needs to allow his or her student musicians to move to wherever they would like within the set. Ms. Jagow points out that you may find band scenarios in which the flute players often rush to the back rows and low brass members rush to the front.


Like the traditional rehearsal, the music director will continue to conduct from the podium. Musicians will need to continue to listen to improve balance and style. It might come as a surprise to some players that they may hear new parts which were not heard before.

Ms. Jagow continues to urge directors to push their students to listen beyond their sections. By doing this student musicians will better be able to recognize parts within the literature rather than unresponsively playing at each other.

Silent Rehearsal

The third rehearsal style is the Silent Rehearsal. This rehearsal style requires considerably more preparation than the previous two. This is because in the Silent Rehearsal all previous verbal conducting cues now are done with various hand signs.

I have personally tried this rehearsal method and once you have defined what the hand signs mean, the session will run significantly smoother. Ideally this communication needs to happen prior to using the Silent Rehearsal because you want to move quickly between locations in the music without saying a word.

For example, Ms. Jagow recommends using an open hand with fingers together and the palm facing the musical ensemble to signify “stop.” Additional forms of visual communication may include using fingers to communicate measure numbers. You could also signify to players to listen across the section by pointing to them and then lightly tugging on your ear.

Ultimately, you want to develop a non-verbal communication system that works for you and your music ensemble. By practicing the Silent Rehearsal, you, as a conductor, will also improve how you communicate with your facial gestures and baton technique.

Think about where maybe five minutes of a Silent Rehearsal could fit into your traditional rehearsal. Often when we speak less, student’s aural and visual acumen intensifies. Remind students of this heighten perception and challenge them to use this in every type of rehearsal going forward.

Analogy Rehearsal

Next is the Analogy Rehearsal. This style of rehearsal requires you and your students to think a little outside of the box. This is because it requires all parties involved to use analogies and “color-words” to provide rehearsal instruction.

For example, instead of having violins and cellos play heavier and louder, you could ask them to play more “regal” or majestic.”

There are thousands of analogies you could use to get your point across to your players. Ultimately be creative and even try to create a database full of useful examples that tend to provide the best results for you and your group.


Cue-Less Conductor Rehearsal

Unlike what the rehearsal strategy sounds like (Clue-Less Conductor Rehearsal) the Cue-Less Conductor Rehearsal strategy is defined as when the director takes a physical break from providing directions from the podium. As a result, the educator can walk around the room and observe. The music ensemble continues to play and takes cues from other members within the group.

The benefit of this rehearsal methodology is that the director can monitor student’s physical and musical progress on a more individual level. However, this technique is most effective when the music being played is not too difficult.

Since the musicians are not relying on the conductor’s cues, they are often more perceptive from an aural standpoint. Ms. Jagow finds that using this technique is great for correcting tempos that tend to rush or drag. The reason for this is that since student musicians are not relying on a visual cue for tempo, the internal ensemble pulse tends to strengthen.

Blitzkrieg Rehearsal

According to Ms. Jagow, Blitzkrieg refers to a “lightning attack” or “bombardment.” What does that mean? This means that every fifteen to twenty minutes of a normal traditional rehearsal throw in two to four minutes of intense rehearsal. Think of this much like if you were jogging at a regular pace and then “BOOM” two minutes of fast sprints.


 When first practicing this strategy with students you will quickly notice who is on-board with this sudden shift in intensity. As the ensemble becomes more accustomed to this methodology, expect more in your overall return in the ensemble’s efforts much like a two-minute drill at the end of football game.

Singing and Clapping Rehearsal

The Singing and Clapping Rehearsal method is another approach to perfection within the traditional rehearsal framework. This is different from other strategies because student musicians are asked to sing or clap, in certain areas within the music, instead of playing on their instruments.

This method, at first, will be uncomfortable for some students however with regular practice will be at ease. As a result of this practiced rehearsal technique music directors will be able to improve rhythmic passages, stylistic interpretations, dynamics, tone, and pitch production. I personally feel that the singing component of this rehearsal strategy has far more reach into musician development than many directors realize. Why not try this out and give it a chance?



In conclusion, Ms. Jagow has outline 7 practical approaches to alternative rehearsal methodologies. Each possesses clear benefits and can certainly make your rehearsals more effective and save you time. These techniques can be used in virtually any large ensemble and should bring much needed variety to the rehearsal room.


Jagow, S. (2020). Teaching instrumental music: developing the complete band program. Meredith Music Publications.


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