Part Two: No Time For Practicing?
BY MEGHAN VANCE • November 13, 2023
While it’s important for musicians to consider whether they have enough time for practicing before accepting a gig, there will be moments when there isn’t enough time to adequately prepare for a first rehearsal. Perhaps you’re suddenly called to fill in for someone who is sick. Perhaps you had a family emergency that demanded your time. Perhaps you’re presented with an opportunity that you know you shouldn’t turn down, despite the limited time. How can you ensure that you don’t waste your fellow musicians’ time in rehearsal?
PREPARE BY LISTENING
In part one, listening was the first step, and this doesn’t change. You still need to understand the piece as a whole and understand how your part fits into that whole. However, with limited practice time, you want to continue to listen as much as possible. Ad nauseam. Listen to the music while driving, exercising, doing chores or bookwork. Lydia Leong, on Violinist.com, writes “To avoid getting just a single interpretation stuck in my head, I make a playlist with as many different versions as I can.”
PREPARE BY DETERMINING WHAT’S POSSIBLE
Play through your song as best you can. Are there sections that you can already play at speed? Which sections can you nearly play? Which sections will be impossible to work up in time for the rehearsal? Focus on the sections you can actually prepare, rather than trying to tackle an entire song. Then, if you have time, work on harder sections so that you can prepare them for subsequent rehearsals.
PREPARE BY PRACTICING TRANSITIONS
What transitions might be difficult for the group? Are there tempo or dynamic changes that will have to be carefully coordinated? Changes in instrumentation? Identify structural transitions too (verse to chorus, i.e.), including both the beginning and ending of the song. If you’re solid at these transitions, you can help ensure the group always stays together, even if you can’t play all your notes. Plus, most transitions are short (2-4 bars), and can therefore be practiced in short amounts of time.
PREPARE BY PRACTICING THE WHOLE SONG
You won’t be able to adequately prepare your part for the entire song – that’s the whole point of this article – but you need to be able to (at the very least) keep your place in the music while the group rehearses. Use a metronome or the rehearsal track to practice the entire song. Make sure you can stay at tempo without getting lost.
Next, determine what you should play. Maybe you can’t play the whole chord, but you can play the bass notes or the melody. Maybe you can’t play the fast notes, but you can play the first note of each measure. Think about what would help the group most, and then practice it. Try to play something consistently throughout the song, and add in those transition and easy sections as you can.
PREPARE BY THINKING THROUGH NON-NOTE PROBLEMS
There are some problems that can be solved without playing a note of music. Jeannie Deva, for Music Connection recommends that ensembles “don’t neglect practicing performance skills such as movement on stage, microphone handling, etc.” These kinds of problems must be agreed upon as a group, so asking about them can be a helpful way to use rehearsal time when the music isn’t really ready.
PREPARE TO BE PROFESSIONAL
Damian Keyes writes “Make sure to have everything ready and waiting to go before you start rehearsals.” If need you extra material to help you make it through the rehearsal (such as a simplified part), bring it. Above all, don’t make excuses. Nobody ever has as much time to practice as they would like. Briefly explain your circumstances to the rehearsal leader before the rehearsal if necessary, and then get on with the work instead of wasting more time with talk. Remember, it’s not about you: rehearsals are for the group.