19: Running Efficient and Effective Rehearsals by Using your Words and Voice Well

Show Notes:

Today we are going to talk about something that I personally love speaking about — running effective and efficient rehearsals!

There are many aspects about planning for rehearsals — from strategizing the overarching rehearsal goals throughout the concert cycle, to pacing each individual rehearsal session; from choosing the right program to being mindful and reading the room well. However, in today’s episode, we are going to focus on verbal communication, and discuss how you can be very specific with your words and use your voice effectively.

Ready for some tips?

  • Don’t talk when they are still playing
  • Speak loudly and project to the back of the section
  • Speak slowly and pay attention to your pauses
  • Focus on (no more than) two things at a time
  • Use the “Who, Where, What” format
  • Use positive comments

And don’t forget…. pace your rehearsal with the sandwich technique!

Links Mentioned in Today's Episode

Chaowen: 0:02
Hi everyone, this is Chaowen, recording in May 2023. After finishing the first season of the conductor’s podcast, I have decided to give this podcast project, a dedicated website with more user friendly functions. So now we have a brand new website called theconductorspodcast.com. Straightforward, right? And now we also have its own Instagram handle. It’s also the same @theconductorspodcast. So all the show notes have been moved to the new site, and I invite you to come check out all the resources and happy listening.

Chaowen: 0:50
We want to achieve two things at the end of rehearsal. Number one, some things are better at the end of the rehearsal than the beginning. And number two, the musicians want to come back for more. I’m a strong believer that you must first try to show what you want through your conducting. If this isn’t working by the second time, then you can maybe talk about the problem verbally. Don’t talk when they are still playing. Speak loudly and projects to the back of the section.

Chaowen: 1:31
Hey there, welcome to The Conductor’s Podcast. I’m your host Chaowen Ting, a conductor with over 20 years of experience working with professional symphony orchestras, opera houses, new music groups, and vocalist. I’m also founder of grace will conduct and have mentored hundreds of conductors from across the globe. I created The Conductors Podcast to share all the behind the scenes secrets with you while I interview conductors, musicians and business gurus from around the world. This is a space created for conductors, conducting student musicians and non musicians who are curious and interested in learning more about the profession, craft, industry and business.

Chaowen: 2:18
Shy away from the real talk? No way. Money, hardship, growth and the roller coaster of conducting career are all topics we discuss here. I will give you a simple, actionable step by step strategies to help you take action on your big dream. Move through the fear that’s holding you back and have a real impact. Now, fold up a seat make sure you’re closing and get ready to be challenged and encouraged while you learn.

Chaowen: 2:53
Hi there, welcome to another episode of The Conductor’s Podcast. I’m your host challenging and I’m thrilled that you’re tuning in with me today. New mouth new week new topic. Today we are going to talk about something that I personally love speaking about running effective and efficient rehearsals. There are many aspects about planning for rehearsals from strategizing the overarching rehearsal goals throughout the concert cycle, to pacing each individual rehearsal session from choosing the right program to be mindful and reading the room. However, in today’s episode, we are going to focus on verbal communication and discuss how you can be very specific with your words and use your voice effectively.

Chaowen: 3:49
Before we dive in, I wanted to make sure that we are on the same page on this one principle. If you can show it, don’t say it. I’m a strong believer that you must first try to show what you want through your conducting. If this isn’t working by the second time, then you can maybe talk about the problem verbally. Don’t start talking to your musicians right away when you don’t achieve the musical goal the first time. I know this is hard because I also make this very mistake. When I don’t get something out of my musicians the first time, I often just assume that I didn’t show what I wanted clearly. And then consequently, change my conducting.

Chaowen: 4:38
So one example, if I do an accelerando, which was not effective in the first reading or two, I would immediately think that whoops, I did something wrong. Either it was too fast too soon, or I was not clear. Exactly. So I try to fix myself and change the way I conduct or change the pacing, which was actually more confusing for the ensemble. Because they might be like, Okay, now we know what you’re going after. So we’ll work on it. But if I suddenly changed what I was doing, then they had to change again.

Chaowen: 3:17
So this is something that I learned over time. If you don’t get it, you should insist on showing it the way you wanted. So coming back to what we’re saying before. The fact is, if you don’t get what you were showing the first way the second time, the fact is your musicians might still be getting used to your conducting if it’s a new ensemble that you were just starting to work with. Or they might have missed a cue because they were focusing on solving other problems. A lot of times Many things will be fixed with a second ROM, or on the second day, even once the musicians have a better understanding of the music and your ideas, so always first show it before you say it.

Chaowen: 4:06
Now, everyone phases two big issues when they stop an ensemble and open their mouth to talk, what to say, and how to say it. What to say in rehearsal is a rather complex issue. Very often when people don’t know what to say, they either are not hearing the problems, or they heard the problems, but don’t know how to address those issues to fix the problems. Many factors are involved here, including your own understanding of the music, your rehearsal planning, and pacing. And sometimes, even things outside of the ensemble or the rehearsal. Like it’s been raining for two weeks, and traffic is terrible coming to rehearsal in downtown, or the ensemble had just performed a big program the day before, and they are now very exhausted, and so on. And this is what I referred to earlier, you need to read the room. Well.

Chaowen: 7:11
Before we talk further, I want to pose this question first, for us all to reflect what is the purpose of rehearsals? What are we trying to achieve through rehearsals, people would have different answers. Some obvious ones are that we are preparing for a concert. So we’re getting together to correct mistakes, to fix ensemble issues, and to even unify our interpretations and artistic goals of the group. These are all great things to focus on.

Chaowen: 7:48
But I like to share an idea that I learned from Maestro Miguel Hart’s Bertoia that we want to achieve two things at the end of rehearsal. Number one, some things are better at the end of the rehearsal than the beginning. And number two, the musicians want to come back for more. I love his way of describing rehearsal goals. Somehow in our training as conductors, communication skills are not addressed as much. And we often forget that musicians are an important factor in how we succeed in our job. Just like no leadership training program would be complete without considering the people that you lead.

Chaowen: 8:38
A lot of the teaching or workshops on rehearsal techniques that I had attended, focused on the music, you need to know the music, have a list of things that are challenging and might need attention, have good years to hear the wrong notes and wrong rhythm and know how to transition from one section to the next etc. But very often, we neglect the fact that it’s equally, if not more important that we engage and inspire the musicians in the process of working on the musical and artistic goals. After all, we all have heard the phrase, it’s not what you say. It’s how you say it.

Chaowen: 9:26
So now we are diving into this part of how to say it. Let’s focus on the delivery of verbal comment. When you have good things to tell your musicians, it’s critical that you use your voice and deliver the comment in a way that captivates your musician’s attention. We all have been there when the musicians just completely zone you out and stop paying attention to you right. I have actually experienced it. Once with Sir Simon Rattle rehearsing the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. He stopped the ensemble and starts telling a story of how Percy Grainger was composing this works and how he chose them. Man, that orchestra was obviously non engaged after rattle continue to talk for more than 510 15 minutes. They really just wanted to play instead of listening to a lecture.

Chaowen: 10:26
Now let’s start with tips that will make your rehearsals more effective and efficient. Tip number one, don’t talk when they are still playing. So this one sounds very basic. You’ll be surprised how many people miss the very, very basic rules and it only shows careless personality and sloppy work. In any case, whether grammatical mistakes in a cover letter, typo of the composer’s name in your conductive video, or here, in this case, when you’re working with an ensemble for the first time, and you stop and are going to give your first comment, and they can hear you, it’s not a good first impression, and it’s not professional.

Chaowen: 11:19
Another reason why I wanted to bring this up as the very first tip is because this is a very easy fix. There Welby musicians who continue to play a bit longer when you stop, and there will be people who start talking right away. Once the conductor stops the ensemble. All you have to do is to wait until it’s completely silent before you speak. Trust me, as long as you are consistent. After two or even three times of repetition, the ensemble will learn that this is the way you run rehearsals, and they will actually respect this as your comment will be clearly delivered and heard.

Chaowen: 12:08
Tip number two, speak loudly and project to the back of the section. This is also basic, but something many conductors fail to do. Recall your rehearsal, how many times your brass raised their hands and asked where we were starting. Especially if you’re rehearsing behind a mask, you may feel like you’re almost yelling at people. But in fact, you’re just loud enough to be heard. If you video record your own rehearsals, see if you can actually understand what you’re saying. You will realize that most of the time, we can be louder and projecting better. Which also means that you should look at the musicians in the back section instead of looking down so that your voice is traveling to the back of the room.

Chaowen: 13:04
Tip number three, speak slowly and pay attention to your pauses. The next one is also quite basic, but it’s related to our first tip as it has to do with the timing of our speech. Not only do you want to speak loud enough to project to the back of the ensemble, you want to make sure that you’re not speaking too fast, so your comment can be easily understood. And then the trick is to pay attention to your pauses between instructions. You should time it so that the musicians can process what information was received and how they are feeling about it. Then give the next command.

Chaowen: 13:52
Listen to this examples. Winds, measure 384 Let’s play softer and listen to each other. We were not together and it was way too loud.

Chaowen: 14:02
Or this one. Woodwinds, eight before rehearsal letter C Chopin let’s do it again and play softer, so we can listen to each other. This art of using pauses to get listeners attention is actually an old technique.

Chaowen: 14:24
This is one way you could crescendo quotation marked on a harpsichord, we know that you can really change the volume of the harpsichord sound. So one technique of showing a certain musical element that was louder was to wait longer before playing it. This translates to the pacing of speech, when we actually hold a longer pause. The next thing we say sounds louder and gets more attention.

Chaowen: 15:00
Now I want to pause for a little bit and share something with you. I recently listened to a podcast episode with Roger love, interviewed by Amy Porterfield on the topic of using your voice to improve your sales pitch. Okay, that podcast focuses on online marketing. But I felt that the tricks that Roger mentioned in that show were very practical, easy to follow, and really applicable to general public speaking, which includes talking to the audience and ensemble members.

Chaowen: 15:38
Roger Love is a voice and speech coach for many big name celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence, Tony Robbins, Bradley Cooper, and so on. I’m going to link that show in our show note chaowenting.com/19. So you can check it out. But he talks about how we should pay attention to the pitch contour of our sentences, whether they are ascending or descending, knowing that pauses are powerful, and exercise to get rid of fillers like, and you know, and also, he talks about breath exercise that you should do when you’re nervous speaking to others.

Chaowen: 16:26
Alright, tip number four, only focused on two things at a time. The sandwich technique is something that I started doing in each individual rehearsal, that I always start with something that is a bit easier, then move to something hard, then back to easy, so easy, hard, easy. When you start the rehearsal, you can engage the musicians and warm up the ensemble by letting them play for a while. Or sometimes I start at the loudest and most exciting section instead of starting from the beginning, then you work on hardest stuff, to fix things in more detail, and close with something that is satisfying in a way that makes the musicians want to come back for more.

Chaowen: 17:19
But I’ve modified this with an idea from Dr. Cynthia Johnson Turner, now Dean of the Faculty of music at Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada. And she is also the longtime Director of Bands at the Hugh Hodgson School of Music at the University of Georgia. When she gave rehearsal tips for the Girls Who Conduct discovery Friday series, she said that you want to go large, small and large in a rehearsal cycle. And in each individual rehearsal, that you provide a bigger picture of the music, move to smaller chunks. And don’t forget to come back and provide this larger picture at some point towards the second half of the rehearsal cycle. So I combined this big, small, big method with the easy, hard, easy sandwich to mentally divide my rehearsals.

Chaowen: 18:28
Of course, sometimes the harder parts are more complicated than we expected. And we end a rehearsal without a chance to play through a section or play something that’s easier. But I always will like to have this structure as the bone of my rehearsal planning. Thinking that if I have a little time, even just two minutes to play through something that is fun at the end, I would do that. The next thing that I mentioned earlier, was fixing two things at a time. If you try to fix 10 things at a time, your musicians can keep track and you will fix nothing. And stopping an ensemble to fix just one thing, unless it’s a total ran track will cause you to stop and talk all the time. So I usually start the music, then stop when I hear about 10 things that I want to change. Then I’ll make a mental list of how bad this things are. While other than continuing to play for a moment until May, I made up my mind, the top three things that I can’t let go it off. Then, right before I stopped the ensemble, I make a mental note of the first thing I’m going to rehearse in the order of who where and what. And then I stop.

Chaowen: 19:59
So this is our next tip. Use the format of who where what, whenever you speak. Make sure that you wait until the ensemble is quiet and then say what brings rehearsal letter C Chopin, more accent on the first note and sustain the half note strings, four bars before we see that have more crescendo going to the fortissimo section. And let’s try it again from letter C something like that. So here you see what I meant by who were what and demonstrating the previous work on two things at a time concept. You also just heard a tip that whenever I say a rehearsal Mark I always say, rehearsal letter C, or rehearsal number four, to avoid the confusion of are using letter A or number eight in a large room.

Chaowen: 21:01
I also follow my teacher Mark Gibson’s recommendation to always add the name of a composer to the letter, such as C Chopin, B, Beethoven, D. Dvorak, Debussy. This things might seem very trivial, but the clearer you can be, and the less confusion you create, the better. It not only saves time and money when you’re working with professional musicians, especially union members, but those details make you more professional and truth worthy.

Chaowen: 21:41
Now, tip number six, use positive comments. The next suggestion actually comes from Professor Johannes Schlafly, Professor for orchestral conducting at the Turkish University of the Arts, and also the head of teaching at the start maneuvering festival conducting Academy. He teaches students to say softer instead of not too loud, play on time, instead of Don’t be late. And offense, use positive comment instead of verbalizing what is undesired. I have also heard a similar suggestion as a parenting tip that instead of done wrong, you say walk please,

Chaowen: 22:30
I have to confess that, personally, this is a hard one for me. I’m okay with saying place sooner instead of saying you’re behind. But substituting don’t rush with, please keep a steady tempo just doesn’t sit well with me. I often felt that the later comment doesn’t really convey the problem. So what I’ve learned is to really identify the triggering point contributing to that problem. For example, instead of just telling musicians don’t rush, or please play together, ask them very specifically, what to change, like, your eighth rest was a bit too short, so you came in slightly sooner than others, or that you held the tie for too long. Or that you rush through the last rest, causing you to land on the downbeat early. Be very specific about what you’re commenting on and wanting people to change.

Chaowen: 23:40
This leads us to the next tip to be very specific. But before we dive into the last, but not list tip, that may share a story with you. One of my teachers was very particular about being respectful and polite to players. So instead of telling people they were late, we were trained to say, Please play at the front of the beat. Once I was rehearsing with a more professional orchestra, and I told a brass player exactly the same thing, please play at the front of the beat. He didn’t get it. I said it a second time, he still looked confused. So the first the third time I just shouted, that node was late. And he smiled and gave me a thumbs up. That was one of the most valuable lessons learned and learned from players during rehearsal. They really just want simple and clear comment. If the comments are positive, even better. Now, being positive doesn’t mean that you should lie or overly praise the ensemble when it’s not the case. Some people have a habit of saying, Okay, that’s good when stopping the ensemble. If it’s not good, don’t say it’s good. The musicians know it. You can say, okay, that’s getting better. If you’re if you have given some comments for them to change, very often I would just say, Okay, let’s do some work. Please go to the beginning of the movement. I recently read about the same thing from the book, wooden leadership by the famous UCLA basketball coach John Wooden in the book wouldn’t gave examples to us instead of overly praising his players such as, that’s the idea. Now you’re getting it instead of that’s great.

Chaowen: 25:49
Additionally, a lot of the principles and examples that he discussed in the book about achieving group excellence and leadership skills can easily apply in our profession, I highly recommend the book. And of course, we’ll include the link in the show note, and chaowenting.com/19

Chaowen: 26:14
Coming back to our rehearsals, very often, I like to work backwards, starting from somewhere closer to where we’ve stopped to avoid everyone flipping pages to find the place. Again, this are very little things. But once you’re working with Union musicians, in particular, every second counts, or you could have rehearsals that are not even enough time to get through the music itself. This happens more in opera though, when you have a three hour rehearsal, including a break, the actual rehearsal time is not even enough for you to do a full run through of the opera sometimes when it’s a long piece. In that case, knowing how to save every second and be very specific and efficient, will serve you well.

Chaowen: 27:10
Now, that’s walk through the process in rehearsal. With professional groups, I try to keep the announcement and or greetings very brief. And just say something like morning that start with Mozart from the beginning. Instead of introducing myself for a minute or two, as I think the best way for us to get to know each other, between me and the musicians is through music making than me, telling them my achievement or my philosophy, right. So remember the sandwich technique, let them play through to three minutes before you stop for the first time. No one wants to be stopped after three measures for 10 times, right? Even with student groups, after I heard about 10 things that I want to correct, I still let them play a minute or two, just to have a better musical flow. While the ensemble continues to play, I’m very quickly identifying about three things that I want to change. Three things that I can’t let go off before the end of today’s rehearsal. And I’m going to pick the first thing I want to rehearse, right when I stop. Before I stop the ensemble, I’m going to memorize that spot in the order of who were what, such as woodwinds rehearsal letter II, play a pickup notes sooner. Then I’m going to stop the ensemble and wait until they come to a complete silence. Before I open my mouth to speak, I remind myself to speak loudly and slowly project to the back of the ensemble and pass well. I am also going to quickly review the who were what in my mind.

Chaowen: 29:07
I know all this activities sound like they might take a million years. But trust me, it’s only a few seconds when they are getting quiet. When I speak, I’m going to follow what I prepared. What being rehearsal letter E like Elgar, play the pickup notes sooner so we can be more together. Let’s try it again. It can sound awfully formal, and perhaps even a bit pretentious. But trust me, the more you practice it, the more natural you will get and the more efficient you become. It might be hard when you’re just starting to explore this type of comments delivery. So just commit yourself to following this method for the very first comment that you make verbally to your ensemble. Over time, you will become much more aware of how you speak to musicians and start picking up your own mistakes or making tweaks to suit yourself better. Okay, I know this is a lot of information to take in and if you only remember one thing from today’s episode, please please try to only speak when the ensemble is completely quiet. Don’t talk while they are still playing or if they are talking. This is a really easy fix and only takes 10 seconds of awarenesses but makes a huge impact. Do you have other rehearsal tips that you want to share with me?

Chaowen: 30:49
I would like to encourage you to check out the discovery Friday series by Girls Who Conduct if you haven’t already. And as always, I love to hear from you. You can tag me on social media and at tingchaowen on Instagram or challenging conductor on Facebook. If you post something don’t forget to use the hashtag, the conductor’s podcast. And you can also email me at theconductorspodcast@gmail.com. As always, if you’re loving this show, please don’t forget to subscribe and leave a review. This will be the greatest encouragement for me. Okay, I’ll see you next week. At the same time, same place. Bye for now.