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Palen Music Center Quick Note

Monday, November 3, 2008


The PMC Quick Note is a weekly service provided to all area directors.  It is part of our mission to support the lives of band directors across the Midwest.  The weekly Quick Note contains helpful tips and suggestions from area directors, spotlights on area college and university band programs, calendars of upcoming events, advocacy articles promoting music education, links to helpful web resources, and much more.  Comments, suggestions, ideas, and articles are always welcome.


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Proceed With Care by Nilo Hovey
Proper warm-up methods will result in better rehearsals

The early stages of a rehearsal should serve many purposes. Chief among them are:

(1) Bringing the instruments to the temperature (and hence the pitch level) of normal playing.
(2) Preparing the players' embouchures, and also correct reed placement and response.
(3) Providing ear training and encouraging careful listening.
(4) Developing good ensemble playing habits.
(5) Establishing a mindset conducive to a successful rehearsal.

Let's examine each of these points in turn.

Tuning cold instruments cannot be very efficient, particularly because the pitch of different wind instruments rises by different amounts and at different rates during the warm-up process, and larger instruments require a little more time than the smaller ones. A few minutes spent in group warm-up will bring the winds to playing temperature if the room temperature is normal.

By the time instrumentalists reach a medium level of advancement they have likely settled on the warm-up routines that work best for them as individuals, but this does not obviate the need for organized warm-up by the full ensemble. Even if the time required by the instrumentalist is available (which is not often the case in a school setting), there is still the need to hear oneself in relation to one's colleagues.

Used correctly, the warm-up period is the ideal time to refine pitch discrimination in student musicians. Although maximum capacity in this respect may differ among individuals, I am convinced that almost all can be trained to discern and correct reasonably minute deviations in pitch. This is especially true when two or more unison or octave tones are sounded simultaneously.

The attitude that "they're only kids so they can't hear" is disastrous as far as improved intonation in school bands is concerned. The effect of thorough warm-up and tune-up on the remainder of the rehearsal may not be immediate, but the cumulative result of efforts at refinement is certain to be positive. If conductors expect nothing, that's what they'll get in return; if the aim is professional intonation, it may not be achieved, but results will be repaid in proportion to expectations. Perseverance is essential.

Among the five purposes of the warm-up period listed above, the last two are closely related. Number four refers to the ability of players to concentrate on the function of their own parts as related to the total ensemble, while number five refers to their desire to do so. This concentration is vital to success in each of the eight fundamentals of effective ensemble performance, namely: intonation, tone quality, rhythm, articulation, tempo, phrasing, dynamics and balance. Without it, the combining of individual players into an effective performing unit is extremely difficult.

Regarding materials for the warm-up period, many books are available for this purpose, but conductors may write their own exercises based on the specific needs of the organization, or a routine may be dictated orally. Nothing is inherently wrong with using the scale of concert Bb in whole notes, but if there are no results beyond warming the instruments and limbering the lips, the time hasn't been used to maximum advantage. The conductor may change the note values by verbal directions or a pre-arranged signal, and may change the tempo, volume and degree of connection or detachment by use of conducting techniques. Accents, holds, and cutoffs may also be indicated. All of these devices will help avoid monotony as they develop flexibility and control — assuming the conductor habitually encourages uniformity and clarity throughout the ensemble.

The most effective warm-up materials are in reasonable ranges for all instruments — especially brasses — in consideration of possible fatigue, and do not require too much technical facility. An effort should be made to challenge the organization on elements other than speed and high notes.

For the sake of variety, the conductor should introduce additional key signatures from time to time, always working from those that are most common in the band repertory toward those that are not as likely to "lie under the fingers." It is simply not logical to challenge a band with a warm-up routine in E Major if Bb and Eb Major are not under control.

In focusing attention on the rhythmic aspect of such exercises, the conductor should not permit carelessness in other phases of playing. Intonation and tone quality should be equal to that of Example 1, avoiding the tendency toward a poor quality of tone on short notes. Attacks and releases should be uniform. Also, avoid the common fault of cheating the last note at the bar line.

In conclusion, I would like to call the reader's attention to these facts:

(1) It is not intended that all of the above suggestions be carried out in the period of a single rehearsal. The routines described between Example 1 and the chorale playing might occupy the time allotted for warm-up for a month, a semester or even a school year, depending on how much routine the organization has already experienced, how much they can absorb profitably and the conductor's philosophy on just what the warm-ups should accomplish.

(2) Only the conductor can determine the amount of rehearsal time that can be justified for this type of activity. There are highly successful conductors who believe that a half of each rehearsal period is not excessive, but it is likely that approximately ten minutes from a fifty- to sixty-minute period would be nearer the average.

(3) While I have no illusions that junior or senior high school students have a natural enthusiasm for the challenges discussed in the preceding paragraphs, I also have no doubt that a logical and patient approach will convince any organization that some type of systematic group warm-up is valuable. Bands can learn that slow is not a synonym for easy, and that there are challenges other than speed, range and volume. The organization that recognizes no challenge in a Bach chorale has not been taught well.

(4) When possible, some of the warm-up materials should be closely related to the repertory that will be practiced during the remainder of the rehearsal period. As examples, it might be advantageous to introduce a new meter signature; a new key signature; a new rhythmic figure; or signs, symbols and terms which will be employed in new compositions scheduled for immediate study.

(5) If the warm-up time is not used objectively, the result may be more harmful than good. The fact that many fine bands use planned warm-ups or that the procedure is recommended in a book are insufficient. This time should be used to construct and reinforce good playing habits; if used carelessly, it would be best to start the rehearsal in some other way.

This article an excerpt from Efficient Rehearsal Procedures for School Bands by the late Nilo Hovey. It is used with permission from Conn-Selmer.

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CO40 Jupiter Oboe
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Contact Your Local Palen Music Center

Can we assist you with anything?  Please contact your local Palen Music Center school road representative for all of your music education needs.


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  Springfield North (417) 862-2700 Burl Williams
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