tips and ideas

All players learn each number together.

Once the majority of players are comfortable with each number you can then begin to ‘orchestrate’. - ‘All violins play 1, flutes and recorders 2, clarinets 3, and cellos 4.’

It doesn’t matter if you end up with numbers in octaves or if they cross note ranges, but you may prefer the sound when the highest number is played on the lowest instrument.

In nearly all pieces the lines change at the same bar so you can call out ‘next line’ or ‘line 2’ to keep everyone together and help anyone who is lost. This also makes it easier for players to swap lines at strategic points for reasons of difficulty, to reinforce, or simply to challenge.

Keep rehearsals flowing and interesting by moving numbers around. - ‘Those who played 1 now play 2.’ - This lets everyone have a equal chance to play what they perceive to be the best (and worst) music and gives instruments that at this level often get stuck in certain roles the chance to play something different.

If your ensemble has an imbalance of instruments it’s easy to share around each number in a way that balances the sound.

As most pieces can be repeated you could use a different orchestration each time through to introduce variety and contrast, or to feature certain players or sections helping to combat 'number jealousy'! A good place to start is like a round - ‘When you get to the end of the number you’re on move straight to the next.’

Other repeating permutations include…

  • strings play the melody with wind accompaniment and swap for the repeat
  • play the piece four times through - tutti - wind only - strings only - tutti
  • cellos only for the second time through (if you have enough players for numbers)
  • build a piece from the ground up - bass only first time through, add harmony and counterpoint second time, add the melody third time
  • they choose their favourite number (a fun way to finish rehearsing a piece).

Depending on the orchestration you choose, when repeating a piece players might need to tacet or to swap numbers (to ensure all are covered). This develops memory, listening and counting skills.

Getting players to transpose a number by an octave is a good way challenge them whilst introducing an extra dimension into your orchestration. - ‘Flutes play the last time through of number 1 an octave higher.’

There is always the option to secretly let anyone play an easier number. This boosts confidence and reduces self-consciousness.

If you have brass players they could play a line or phrase then miss a line or phrase to help with stamina as well as introducing contrast.

Once the group is familiar with a piece you could even choose the next orchestration whilst they are playing and indicate this in a nonverbal way before they get to the end of the number they are on. This means they will have to watch the conductor!

Use your creativity to introduce dynamic contrast or involve the players in the choice of dynamics by asking for suggestions then testing the ideas. Once a decision is reached get them to write the dynamics into their own parts. A good place to start is to play the piece twice, first time as quietly as possible then repeat as loudly as possible. This will probably sound awful and vary in tempo, but it’s great fun and the ensemble will learn that extremes are not always the best idea.

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Good luck!