As we all know, sectional rehearsals break up a large ensemble up into smaller groups. Directors can structure sectionals in many different ways. Sectional rehearsals can be done outside of class or replace regular class rehearsals. They can feature larger instrument groups (winds vs. strings, brass vs. percussion), instrument types (low brass vs. high brass), or specific instruments.
No matter how you organize them, using SmartMusic during sectionals can help students accomplish their learning objectives. Moreover, in many cases, the assessment data SmartMusic provides can ensure that you and your students get more out of these small group rehearsals.
Some educators use sectionals as a way to give students time to focus on notes and rhythms. This frees rehearsals with the full ensemble to focus on musical phrasing. However, sectionals can also accomplish other important ensemble goals.
Sectionals are often student-led, allowing you to utilize student leadership within your program. When trusted students lead the rehearsal, the entire group is empowered. Students also take ownership of their own learning. Additionally, student-led sectionals build a layer of differentiated instruction into your lesson plan. This empowers strong students to lead and to learn material well enough to teach it to their peers. Students who are struggling get mentored by their peers in a small group setting, rather than being overlooked as a member of a larger ensemble.
Sectionals are particularly beneficial for programs that can hold them outside of class. These extra rehearsals can help get an ensemble over the hump before an important performance (for example at a festival or contest). Outside-of-class sectionals can also be a great time to work on skills beyond notes and rhythms, such as blend, balance, and sight reading.
Preparing For Sectionals
A crucial part of preparing your students (and yourself) for sectionals is to set a clear goal. You probably already set learning objectives for each class, but framing these goals appropriately becomes even more critical when students will be driving the rehearsal themselves. Here are some important things to include when explaining sectional goals to students:
- Ask a question that the section must answer before the end of the rehearsal
- Offer a reference recording as a model for students to use during the sectional
- Write down specifics about the repertoire students will be rehearsing
In addition to being clear about the rehearsal’s objectives, it’s important to be clear about the rehearsal procedures. You likely already have procedures that help with classroom management, but again, when students are running the rehearsal, they may need a reminder so that none of these procedures fall through the cracks.
A great way to combine objectives and procedures is to instruct students to have a specific warm up with their section. The warm up can be tailored to address the musical concept in the objective (for example, intonation or articulation), and gives clear instructions about the procedure for the start of the rehearsal. Assigning a warm-up exercise in SmartMusic helps make sure there’s no confusion about how they should warm up.
You’ll want to make sure that the goals aren’t beyond the students’ ability level. A “pre-test” approach can be helpful here. Assign an exercise or passage in SmartMusic the week before the sectional to get students working on the skills they’ll be rehearsing as a small group. This will give you more information about which sections may need your help during the sectional itself.
Rehearsing with a smaller group of similar instruments (or the same instrument) opens up a number of activities that wouldn’t necessarily be possible in a large ensemble setting.
One of these is the “fishbowl” approach. The section arranges themselves in a circle, and one or more students performs in the middle of the circle. After the performance, the students on the outside circle offer feedback to students on the inside. There are many variants on this approach. Here are a few examples:
- Students inside the fishbowl can perform a second time or they can offer feedback on their own performances.
- Students inside the bowl can also perform with SmartMusic to provide an objective assessment of notes and rhythms.
A simple call-and-response exercise can also be effective in a sectional setting. Rather than running through a passage of music as a complete section, divide the group in half and then have the groups alternate phrases. This can be a great way to work on bowings or breathing in a sectional setting.
Along the same lines, pairs or trios of students can work on intonation and blend, then get peer input, either by alternating phrases or in a fishbowl activity. Be sure that students have access to a tuner and metronome during the sectional so that these tools become part of their normal practice routine. If students are playing along with SmartMusic in their sectional, then they’ll already have these tools close at hand.
Most importantly, be sure that your activities have a clear relation to the learning objective you set at the beginning of the rehearsal.
After the Sectional
The activities outlined in the last section feature a healthy dose of self-assessment, but that doesn’t need to stop when the rehearsal is over. As an exit slip, or in a “section leader write up” afterward, have students evaluate the quality of their rehearsal. You’ll get valuable feedback on how the sectional went. In addition, students will know they’re accountable for what went on during the rehearsal.
Another great way to assess how well the sectional went is to assign the same music in SmartMusic. Students will be happy to be assigned music they’ve already practiced. Plus you get the opportunity to reinforce the material without spending class time. SmartMusic will also give you and your students feedback about the sectional itself – if a student struggles on their assignment, you’ll know which sections didn’t have a productive sectional.
Using SmartMusic to help students navigate their sectionals – and to assess how well students did – can help make small group rehearsals a key part of your concert preparation. Not using the new SmartMusic yet? Although you can so some of the activities in this article without it, getting started with SmartMusic is free. Try it at your next sectional.