Sunday, July 29, 2012

Why too much rehearsal can be a bad thing

I went to see a concert by Village Harmony this week. It was over an hour long and included an amazing variety of songs from around the world: Georgia, USA, Bulgaria, South Africa – including some pretty smart dance moves! No lyrics and no sheet music in hands.

Singing safari 2012

There were about 20 singers who’d come together only a week before to learn around 30 – 35 songs. They worked for up to seven hours each day to learn the songs. That’s about one song every 1½ hours. A pretty impressive feat.

In a similar vein I run two short projects each year called Singing Safaris.

Over six two-hour sessions (one per week) I teach eight songs in four-part harmony (some involving dance moves) to a random bunch of singers and then we perform them to the public in a half hour set. It’s always a big success and people are surprised how well we do in such a short time.

My theory is that the process is so fast and full-on that nobody has time to engage their brain properly!

not enough time to worry

I teach very fast (see How many songs can you teach in an hour?), don’t use sheet music (see Learning songs by ear) and try to avoid handing out lyrics (see How to deal with song lyrics).

We usually get through three or four songs in the first session, then I add a new song each week whilst revising the older ones. That’s a lot of songs in a short time! And I usually throw in a few dance moves for good measure.

I think it’s just enough time for people to get sufficiently familiar with the material that they can perform it to a fairly high standard and it still feels fresh (see also Over-rehearsed or under-prepared: which is better?).

If we had more time (don’t we always feel we could do with more rehearsal time?), then there would be space for people to think things like:
  • I hope I don’t make the same mistake in the first verse as I did last time
  • what if I can’t remember the structure of the song?
  • I’m really not confident about the lyrics to verse three
  • I’m really nervous about the dance moves and don’t think I’ve quite got it yet
The reality is, that most of the singers know what they’re doing most of the time. It’s surprising how quickly people pick things up, but we doubt our own abilities.

I often see frowns on faces, not because people are lost, but because people can’t believe that they’re getting it right (see Why the singers in your choir still love you even though they look bored).

By learning fast and introducing a lot of material at once, it’s possible to distract the critical mind and allow the singers to just get on with learning.

But give people too much time and their brains will get in the way (see also How to get the best from your singers: don’t tell them it’s hard).

what’s your story?

Can you relate to any of what I’ve written? Do you find your conscious mind kicks in sometimes and spoils things? Can you learn quickly or do you need plenty of rehearsal?

I’d love to hear about your own experiences. Do leave a comment and share with us.

Chris Rowbury's website:

Chris Rowbury


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