A quick way to improve amateur orchestras

Do you want to know how to improve an amateur band or orchestra in just a few rehearsals? Then try this approach: by changing your top three priorities you can almost instantly improve the sound and cohesion of the band, and the best part is: you don't have to learn anything new! It all comes down to what you pay attention to while rehearsing. So let's see what your first three priorities should be:

First priority: – Rhythms & articulation
In essence – for this purpose at least – they are the same thing: they define the music, the melodies. They shape the 'words' and 'sentences' that make up the 'story' of the music. And that is what the rehearsal should be about: rehearsing how to "tell the story". To improve the sound of the orchestra, everybody should play the rhythms (and durations of the notes) the same, be it long or short, legato, portato or staccato, etcetera.

Second priority: – Dynamics
In an orchestra, dynamics is a group process that can give tremendous expression to the music. And in a lot of amateur bands and orchestras it does not get the attention it needs. Because it's very hard for musicians to practice this at home on their own. For example: an entrance after a rest should be in relation to the dynamics played by other musicians during that rest, either conforming or building it or be in contrast to it. Again: hard to do on your own at home. Make sure the difference between the levels is clearly notable and focus on the (ensemble-)sound.

Why focus mainly on these aspects? Consider this: if you read a story to a child for example, it's the rhythm, articulation and dynamics that give the words their meaning. It doesn't really matter that much when you change or misread a word or two: the message will remain intact. Try reading a story to a child without rhythm, dynamics and articulation... That's why rhythm and dynamics should come first when you rehearse.

So finally: – The notes themselves
Yes, deliberately put in third place. Many people place too much emphasis on getting the notes correct, especially amateur musicians. But look at it this way: most musicians have a reasonable level of "hitting the notes" in the first place (depending on the level of the musicians of course), and whatever difficulties they encounter: they can very well work these out at home (just make sure you tell them to!). When focusing on the first two priorities, you shouldn't even pay attention to faulty intonation or missed notes. Don't neglect it, just save it for another part of the rehearsal.

Using this approach you'll get an improvement in the band sound right from the start, but it really pays of after using it every time. And even if you don't adopt this approach, you might still want to use it once in a while. Used this way, you should pay no attention to botched notes and the like but concentrate on the first two priorities. If nothing else it presents the musicians with a different type of rehearsal that can be refreshing and motivating. Give it a try! And get outragious: make short extreme short; make accents into sforzandos; make loud deafening; make soft barely audible; you get the idea! Have fun!

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