Sunday, April 11, 2010

Over-rehearsed or under-prepared: which is better?

I don’t like rehearsing. I’d much rather turn up on the day, trust the singers I’m working with and just busk it.

bad singing Tenors

                photo by Prestwick                             photo by ~BC~

But some people love to rehearse. They worry away at a song for months until they feel that they’ve perfected it.

Neither of these extremes seem to be ideal, but which is better?


I really, really don’t like rehearsing. Neither as a singer nor a choir leader. I get bored easily. Once a song is pretty much up and running, I’m done and want to move onto the next thing.

Personally, if I go over something too many times it becomes stale. Sometimes it even gets worse!

I used to play squash from time to time. When I first went out on the court after not playing for a while, I was really quite good. But if I ended up playing several days in a row, I got gradually worse. I work very much from instinct and if I repeat something too many times, I become analytical which gets in the way.

Similarly the choir might have been having trouble getting a song right. We rehearse it week after week and it just doesn’t gel. Then we have the summer break. First week back we give the song one more try and it’s perfect!

The same thing’s at work here: if you worry away at something too much, your intellect gets in the way and stops you from doing it well. Rather like the amateur golfer who is asked to analyse their swing. As soon as they focus on what they’re doing, it all goes wrong.

I’d much rather rehearse just enough then leave the rest up to a mutual trust of the other singers and their musicianship, and being focused and in the moment.

The positive aspects of this approach are that the performance can be:

  • fresh and new – as if for the first time
  • exciting and alive
  • with a sense of total focus (and slight danger!)

The negative aspects are that it can end up being:

  • unpolished and rough round the edges
  • amateurish
  • full of mistakes
  • a display of fearful and under-confident singers


Some people like to rehearse a lot and go over a song many times. They feel that this in-depth treatment improves their understanding and performance of the song and also enables the singers in the group to get to know each other better and hence work better together.

The positive aspects of this approach are that:

  • everyone always knows exactly what they’re doing
  • subtle nuances and depths of songs can be brought out
  • the singers can be playful with the song and each other because they feel totally secure with the material

The negative aspects can be that:

  • the performance can feel tired and uninspired as if the singers are just going through the motions
  • the song is too polished and soulless
  • the singers appear to be over-confident and arrogant

which do you prefer?

I’ve nailed my colours to the mast, but what about you? I’m of the opinion that, like seasoned session musicians, you can work with complete strangers after just a few rehearsals as long as you trust their musical abilities.

Do let me know which of these two camps you belong to. Or maybe there’s a middle way that I’ve not thought of.

specialists vs. generalists

Following on from this topic, in next week’s  post I’m going to look at the notion that people are either specialists (focusing in depth on just one thing) or generalists (having a wide range of interests and influences) and what effect this has on the choirs they lead or the singing they do.


Chris Rowbury's website:

Chris Rowbury


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