In today’s music ensembles, particularly at the high school level, students are often expected to be present for a significant amount of ensemble rehearsal time each week, leaving less time than would be ideal for individual practice. This reduction in individual practice and preparation, and in some cases, insufficient time to allow students to pursue private lessons, is not necessarily impacting the quality of ensemble performances on the field or in the concert hall. However, it is limiting potential for individual musical growth and creating a paradigm where students may not be taught the proper sequence of ensemble participation: practice, rehearse, review.
Ensemble rehearsals should not start from square one. Quality ensembles, especially at the college and professional level, expect that all players are at least proficient and at best performance ready on their part when they walk in for the first rehearsal. The reason for this is that individual parts are most efficiently prepared by individuals.
Except potentially for very beginners, it is rarely best for individual players to learn their notes and rhythms for a particular piece within the ensemble rehearsal. The group environment does not allow for sufficient repetitions of a problematic spot for each player, and any attention given to an individual player wastes time, at least to some extent, for every other player in the room. An ensemble rehearsal is more effective when the players come prepared to rehearse, having individually practiced their part.
Musical elements such as balance, blend, ensemble shaping, etc. are most effectively addressed within the full ensemble rehearsal. While reference recordings can be helpful to an individual’s personal preparation, only when rehearsing with others with whom you intend to perform, can you fully recognize and corporately adjust to each other’s sound and role within the ensemble such as will result in an exceptional performance.
The rehearsal inevitably will point out shortcomings in one’s individual practice and preparation. It should also ideally codify how each individual should approach his or her parts in future rehearsals. These issues need to be addressed, and approaches need to be solidified through follow-up individual practice. After any rehearsal, the ensemble is best served if its individual members take time to note areas for potential personal improvement, make adjustments necessary in their own playing that improve the ensemble sound, and repeat things as were or will be done in rehearsal in their own individual practice time. That time to review, correct, and reinforce is critically valuable to ensuring the next rehearsal will be even more effective.
The best ensembles are a byproduct of excellent rehearsals, but also excellent individual preparation. The cycle of practice, rehearse, review instituted by ensemble directors and members will facilitate effective and efficient rehearsals and provide time and opportunity for individual musical growth.