Sometimes when a student brings me orchestra music for trouble-shooting, it's not the notes that are the problem. It's the rests!
(Of course, sometimes the problem is with the notes, and that's another blog for another day.)
Trouble with rests points to trouble with counting, and that makes for trouble with sight reading and fitting together in orchestra. It's all too easy to nod off into dreamland during the rests and hope that you'll emerge from the clouds when the music sounds right for your next entrance.
However, the dream-and-hope method is extremely unreliable and leads to stress, especially when everyone in the section has chosen this non-method. It's unkind to your section leader, as well. When one starts missing entrances, this preys on one's confidence and leads to hesitant playing and orchestra jitters. It can infect the whole section; it can infect the whole orchestra. Not good!
One effective way for a student, or anyone, to gain control over his or her orchestra playing and overall ability to count is to start taking responsibility not just for the notes, but for the rests. As with everything related to the violin, counting rests requires practice, and the more you practice, the more this becomes a natural and easy part of your everyday playing. The easiest way to acquire this discipline? Count every single rest in every single measure, even when there are 65 measures of rest. Even when it's a half-measure of rest. Keep track!
And you don't have to wait until orchestra practice to do this; you can count rests in the practice room as well. It might seem like the goal is to fill the practice room with sound, not silence. Counting measures would be a literal waste of time, wouldn't it? It's not. It can form a helpful basis so that your counting does not waver when you are under the pressure of a performance or a rehearsal. This goes not only for orchestra music, but for any kind of collaborative music. There's nothing like putting together a sonata, only to realize that the first time you've ever counted the rests is your rehearsal with the pianist, three days before the performance! (And I do consider this to be something I need to teach my students, who may be playing in a school or youth orchestra for the first time. I am not above standing there and teaching them to say, "ONE-two-three-four, TWO-two-three-four, THREE-two-three-four," etc. "You should know this" is not a teaching method.)
Does this sound "un-musical" to you? Well, that is the difference between listening to music and making music happen. As the discipline of counting becomes more ingrained, you'll learn to "feel" it (while still counting), but when you break it down, creating music is something that happens in time, and you have to learn to parcel it out, just like you need to learn to put your fingers on the right spots, wiggle your hand just-so to create vibrato and draw a straight bow to make a good tone. Making music is not a spontaneous dance, it's a production, one where you have to be right on cue.
So even when your next entrance seems easy and obvious -- especially when your next entrance seems easy and obvious! Get your brain in the habit of keeping track of every beat. You'll soon find yourself to be one of the most valuable members of your orchestra section -- the one who enters with confidence and reliability.Tweet
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