Inclusive methods in rehearsing music
Are there concrete methods that allow us to help all or many of our musicians to work at the same time, to take care of them, and to develop their skills?
This text describes some inclusive methods for the process of rehearsal during practice.
The participants of an ensemble are different when it comes to their wishes, needs, and learning conditions. As a conductor, you are often alone in leading the band rehearsal where the group has a broad range of ages, different skill levels, and many different instruments at once. When working with ensemble groups, there is a need for methods that include many different people, instruments, and levels at once for the education to be interesting to all participants. It is also relevant to draw out the importance of the core activity: if someone is participating in group rehearsal with a band, then it is important that a large amount of the time spent in the group is about playing, and that they are part of the group rehearsal. Furthermore, social aspects play a significant role in the overall experience of participation and their desire to stick with it.
The Norwegian Band Federation/Norges Musikkorps Forbund (NMF)
defines inclusion in bands as the individual’s sense of:
community, participation, and achievement.
Inclusivity efforts are about embracing everyone who wants to participate. Spending time, being thorough, and ensuring that what is being learned is correct, will all help ensure that the right knowledge sticks with the musicians from the start, in addition to strengthening all the musicians independently of their learning conditions and development pace.
This text first presents a few thoughts about how you can already include musicians through your choice of repertoire and the approaches and methods you use. We then move on to present different methods we define as inclusive in rehearsing music. Finally, we present a few organisational solutions, social rules, and tips for communication that will affect the individual’s sense of participation and sense of inclusion during practice.
Choice of repertoire
The repertoire is of key importance to the educational content and sets the foundation for further choices of methods. The repertoire itself may be inclusive in that you choose pieces everyone knows in advance, or that you present and rehearse the music using methods that leave everyone equipped to master it.
Choosing known music can be inclusive if everyone in the group knows it. Everyone then has a complete understanding of your musical goals before rehearsal, thus including everyone in the musical idea before you begin. If you are using music that the musicians know, then it is important that you familiarise yourself with the music they know and find relatable.
Work with voices in different registers
Choosing a repertoire that includes parts in different registers will allow more band members to be given suitable challenges, participate in performance with security, and experience achievement. There may nonetheless be a need to adapt parts for specific musicians.
If you find music or approaches to music that the musicians enjoy, then this may also be a way to work with inclusivity in the music. How can you make the music interesting and exciting in a way that makes it motivating to practice?
Establish a pulse and tempo in your bodies
By establishing a common pulse in the body, the group performance of the musicians can be reinforced and strengthened, and they can more easily grasp the rhythms in the music. Create this by having all the musicians move their bodies at the right tempo. This can be done in many different ways, also while seated.
It is easier to learn something, and to retain it, if you learn it through multiple senses.
- Singing what they are learning
- Drilling by saying the rhythm out loud or singing the tone names at the right pitch
- Putting words to rhythms to remember them
- Use word rhythms and motion training together or individually
- Melodic percussion: “T, right, left, right” (T = together)
- Wind instruments Singing, or vocalising the rhythm while doing a fingering
Multiple methods at once
Giving different musicians different tasks at the same time allows everyone to be active for larger parts of practice, which in turns lets everyone practice more and be included in the activity. There are many possible combinations here.
Example of performance and word rhythms
Example from Alle Dirigerer (“Everyone Conducts”)
Repetition makes the music, and the skills, stick in your memory. Taking another repetition gives more musicians the opportunity to hop in even if they have not been following along at the same pace, and they also help further secure everyone’s skills.
- It may be helpful to practice at different tempos: slower, faster, and the correct tempo.
- Special attention directed at a new quality in different areas of the performance in each repetition can help make the repetitions a rewarding and developing activity for everyone.
Examples: Tone, phrasing, starting points, precision, articulation, and not least, listening.
Everyone learns all parts
Whether they follow sheet music or if they go by ear, a number of repertoires allow for all parts to be available to all instruments. It will then be possible for everyone to learn all parts, allowing them all to remain active the entire time, mastering certain parts well and being given the opportunity to develop. Gradually, the musicians will select, or the conductor/teacher will assign a part that the musicians can learn to master well.
Here are some examples of band sheet music in which multiple parts are collectively presented to the musicians:
Source: Blåstoget 1, Bok for trompet, Jan Utbult. Notposten.
Build up a piece
This method ensures that the musicians are active for most of the practice time, that they are familiarised with the other voices, that they listen to the pulse and bass line well, and that they are given an overview of all the voices in the piece.
In this method, you start by initiating those who set the pace of the music. These will often be the percussion or bass, but other instrument groups may be involved here as well. Afterwards, continue by adding what is closest to these instruments in terms of rhythm. Continue adding one change to the music at a time. Meanwhile, the groups that have already started can continue playing their own voice.
This method works both as the start of rehearsing a piece and as a means to boost group playing and timing when they have played a piece for a while.
A sequence may often look as follows:
- Start with the motor of the music, often the percussion
- Bass line
- Intermediate voices
Sometimes, it may be wise to add the melody before, or at the same time, as the intermediate or other voices.
Rotate voices and instruments
One way to be inclusive and create variety for more people in practice is to alternate who plays what voices. This is a solution that may be most appropriate for musicians with a lot of surplus musical capacity.
Swapping instruments is particularly important in the percussion section. This allows everyone to be included as they practice with multiple instruments, ensuring good variety during practice sessions. Another way to consider inclusion with regard to the percussion group is that everyone should have a task, and it is preferable to double a voice rather than make someone wait. If this involves voices for melodic percussion, you may also have multiple people playing the same instrument.
This makes the ensemble less vulnerable if someone is absent and you need someone to change voice or instrument during a concert.
Add a little bit at a time
By starting with giving everyone a small part, or in some cases, just a few notes, you can ensure that everyone is given more experiences of achievement. When the group is ready, you can add one more piece at a time. This method is just as useful for songs, playing instruments, and dance. You can start with the last rhythm, the start, or with a new part in the middle of the piece.
Learning by ear
When you are learning by ear, it is helpful to learn by singing and using one’s body first.
The musicians will then know what they are listening for and looking for when they reach for the right notes on their instruments.
- Feel the music! Learn with your heart. Participant quote: “Sing and move”
- Find the starting notes of the instruments so that everyone is comfortable with it. The number of notes you add going forward depends on the musicians’ experience playing by ear and the level of difficulty in the piece.
For most people, gradual steps will be easier to find than big leaps.
- Drill the music bit by bit. Work on one part in the same voice with everyone, or on one part with all voices and the same, and bring it all together.
Participant quote: “We listen by hearing and put it in the heart, and then it comes out”
Be aware that musicians really learn to listen, letting them develop that skill. If anyone is struggling to find the tones and you have a need to be efficient, or to provide extra support to ensure that they quickly master it alongside the other musicians, consider using assisting methods such as:
A key goal of the band is to create a safe learning environment in which the musicians dare to play with a natural attitude. Playing with confidence makes the musicians feel more secure, helps them learn faster, and makes errors audible.
- A mistake coming from a good effort is a good mistake, and we honour it by saying: “Good mistake!”
We want the band to have a learning environment where we are allowed to play something wrong without experiencing it as a failure, and where there is room to ask for help.
Learning in pairs, smaller groups, and individual follow-up
Sometimes, the musicians need additional follow-up to master the music. There are many ways to organise this during and outside of practice time, letting everyone be active and receiving the support they need.
- Groups – divide by instrument groups or voice groups that practice in different rooms, in different parts of the practice space, or outdoors.
- Learning in pairs – Those who are more experienced may happily learn all voices, or their own voice quickly, letting them help others.. You do not need to know much more than another musician to be able to help. A common way to organise this in the Field Band Foundation is for everyone to be divided into pairs that spread in the practice area (practice is often held outdoors) for parts of the group practice session. It is also possible to do this for indoor band practice. If have fixed, established pairs in the band, then it will be quick to organise this, and you can easily set aside a few minutes for learning in pairs, which can contribute to increased achievement for more members. Example of learning in pairs.
- Sometimes, it will be efficient and important to give a musician additional individual follow-up outside of practice hours. This requires some organising, but it can be essential in giving a musician a sense of achievement and a desire to stay with the band.
The musicians’ own versions
As a conductor, you can encourage the musicians to be creative with the music they have learned. By playing with the music, they can contribute ideas to the music, such as changing rhythms or ending with their own remixed versions, or they can contribute suggestions for the musical arrangement the band is performing.
One participant explained the importance of the musicians’ creative process and ability to participate in decisions as follows:
“Then they have agency in the piece”.