A few weeks ago I published a post entitled Five Habits of Successful Musicians. A few days after that post was published, I was discussing it with my orchestra at Interlochen. The kids listened with great interest and really took the notes to heart. Following my remarks, the kids begin adding their own suggestions of habits that are important for successful orchestral musicians. I promised them that I would publish them as soon as I had some time to sit down and write the article. So, here it is. More Habits of Successful Orchestral Musicians as discussed by the Interlochen Intermediate Concert Orchestra in the summer of 2016. The habit and the person that suggested it are in bold, followed by my commentary.
1. Stop playing immediately when the conductor stops conducting. ~Abigail.
Nothing derails a rehearsal faster than students playing past the conductor's direction and wastes valuable time. It is such a good habit to stop immediately. Also, by playing beyond the conductor's direction, there really is a question as to whether the musician is truly mentally with the ensemble. Great advice!
2. Listen to each other at all times. ~Yael
It seems so simple. But, listening is key. So often, students get tied up in reading the notes and the part that they forget to listen. This habit must be developed very early in a young musician’s life.
3. Mark Your Parts independently without being prompted. ~Alma.
Student who mark their parts independently are clearly demonstrating that they're thinking independently. Ultimately, that is the goal in any orchestra rehearsal. We want students to be independent musicians that are tied into the greater good of the group. And, we want them to mark their part so much that it will be impossible for them to make the same mistake the next time.
4. Ask questions when you are confused. ~Julietta.
This is such great advice. So often, if the student has a question, they worry about being the only one with that question. The fact is, if one student has a question, probably many are thinking the same thing. As hard as conductors try to be clear, sometimes it just doesn't happen. Ask questions when you're confused. More than likely, others need that answer as well. We can handle it!
5. Practice the most difficult parts first outside of class. ~Charlie.
Human nature is funny. We want to practice the things that sound the best. The fact of the matter is that we don't need to practice the stuff we already can play. Go directly to the most difficult passages and practice them first when your attention is at its highest. Practice them slowly and accurately. Then go back and play the stuff that you can play well and like to play. Those passages are much better held until later in the practice session.
6. Make a plan for turning Pages. ~Katelyn.
So often, student musicians turn pages way too late. The inside player should always stop well in advance of the page turn and be prepared to get that page turned before the downbeat of the first measure of the new page. It is always the inside player's responsibility. Anytime the outside player feels compelled to turn the page, the inside player has dropped the ball. This is standard etiquette of orchestral playing and should be adhered to in every situation.
7. Be prepared for every entrance two bars early. ~Gloria.
I always instruct my ensembles to have instruments up and ready to play two bars before any entrance. This consistency helps everyone in the section know exactly when to enter. If someone has lost track of a long series of rests to be counted, they can jump back in if the entire section is bringing their instruments up exactly to bars early. Consistency is the key here.
8. Bring water to rehearsal. ~Eva.
I am not sure that I would have included this in my list. But, at Interlochen where we were making the list, it is close to 100 degrees in many of the rehearsal spaces during the summer months. Hydration is absolutely key for these kids. And, as I think about it, having a bottle of water on the floor is actually a pretty good idea in any rehearsal setting. As long as it doesn't distract from the rehearsal, a sip of water can be quite refreshing in the middle of rehearsal and can actually provide a little bit of extra energy toward the end of a long rehearsal.
9. Mark your mistakes so you can go back and practice them later. ~Eva.
It is always good to put a little note in the music on passages that need to be reviewed. This, again, demonstrates independent thinking and musicianship. Anything that makes practice more efficient is always welcomed by a conductor!
10. Look through the section not just at the conductor. ~Julietta.
Musicians that get in the habit of looking not only at the conductor, but also at the front stand and those around them tend to be the most accomplished ensemble musicians. They should be paying attention to the bow placement of those around them, bow direction, style, articulation, and many other facets of the ensemble's work. This would include those in their own section and those in other sections around them.
11. Breathe into phrases. ~Yael
I always ask section players to breathe into every entrance, just as if they were playing in a string quartet. Every player is the conductor. That breath and preparation into a phrase is vital to strong ensemble performances. And, it is a great habit to take to the chamber ensemble as well. (By the way, soloists need to develop this as well!)
12. Look the part. Play the role. ~Yael.
I always tell students that if they don't look like they know what they're doing, they probably don't. The first step is always to look good in an ensemble. That means sitting on the front edge of the chair, having feet firmly planted on the ground, and holding the instrument in a beautiful, perfect playing position. Other aspects of looking the part include bow hold, position relative to the conductor, general posture, and many others.
I hope that you find these helpful and encourage you to share them with your students. What have we forgotten? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.
Best wishes for a successful 2016-2017 academic year!!