Any director or instructor will tell you how stressful the first day of rehearsal can be. There's so much to take care of, from getting acquainted with new students, to handing out drills and memorizing scores of music. It's an all-around important day of the year, for it also gives band members a good idea of what to expect throughout the season. When planning the first day of rehearsal, some things to consider are:

  • How far into the season should we begin?
  • How many members are returning, and how many are just starting?
  • Have the students been given enough time to work on the music? (music should always be given to students before their summer vacation)
  • How long do students have to prepare before their first performance of the year?
  • What performance level are your students at?

When planning your first rehearsal, these are the five main things to think about. A good rule to go by is that earlier in the season, spend more time on theory and technique basics. Then later, concentrate on drills and show aspects while occasionally reviewing the fundamentals of technique. For a further examination of each one, let's analyze them.

How far into summer is it?

The more late you are, the more pressure there will be to keep the show moving; in which case, start teaching drill as soon as you can, and make sure the students know everything they can.

How many members are returning/starting?

This needs to be considered greatly, for it will help decide how much time is needed to teach the basics like mark time, attention position, backward marching, forward marching, etc. If there are fewer new members and more members returning, the less time you have to worry about teaching the basics all over again. Typically, newer students catch on quick by simply watching the older members.

Have the students been given enough time to work on the music?

When students have a significant amount of time to look over their music, you can spend more time on basic technique, like tuning and breathing correctly. If students don't read the music until August, you might have to go right into the music and start the basics of technique at another time.

When is the first performance of the season?

Is the first football game of the season approaching quickly? If you're running out of time, you might want to consider going over more show-oriented tasks like learning drill and memorizing the music.

What performance level are your students at?

Hopefully, your student's abilities are improving each year. If you're a new band director making a program, or the program is still fairly new, extra time should be spent on building a solid program. This includes rehearsal etiquette, visual and music technique, and so forth. For students at a higher level, they'll already be executing great technique and rehearsing on their own, which will free up more time on more show-oriented exercises.

Here are some possible first rehearsal scenarios:

It's one week into July, your students had the music for over a month, the first football game is in two months. No drill has been received yet. Scheduled is a three-hour rehearsal. In this case, your best course of action would be to start with the typical stretch and brief run, then go into the basics block for about an hour. Discuss attention positions and parade rest, make time, and talk briefly about forward marching. It also wouldn't hurt to discuss brass and woodwind sectionals and do various warm ups and exercises. Then closer to the end, go over the show music.

It's now three weeks into July, your students just got the music, and the first football game is in a month and a half. It's a three-hour rehearsal, with drill for the opener. For this, you're best bet is to start with the typical stretch and brief run, then a quick basics block to discuss forward and backward marching, as well as standing positions. After this, go into music block and include a semi-brief warm up, then jump into show music. Begin learning drill after basics block during the next rehearsal.

You're halfway into August, students had the music for a few weeks, and the first football game starts in a few weeks. You have drill for the whole show, it's a nine-hour day, and it's also the first day of band camp. In this case, start with the typical stretch and brief run, then spend two hours on marching in all directions, as well as standing positions. Even though you'll be running through this faster than you should, you still have to perform at the football game. After this, teach your students how to read a drill chart, then start drill rehearsal. Continue with drill after lunchtime, follow it up with two hours of music rehearsal, and use this schedule for the remainder of the week. Upon finishing a part of the show drill wise, add music to it, then continue with more drill.

Evidently, the further into the season you start the first rehearsal, the less amount of time you have to go through the necessary basics of visual and musical technique. It would be great if summer rehearsals started the week after school was finished, so you can have time to go over the basics and work on technique with your students. However, things can't always work out perfectly. The school might not be up for paying custodial staff to open the school for summer rehearsals; families go on vacations and the students miss the basics; the music arranger you had in mind is no longer available; and so on. There are plenty of scenarios that can lead to a late season start, and if not handled appropriately, they can even ruin the entire program. But regardless of the situation, it's important to remember that you need to spend time on foundational techniques, and you should never make the students feel too rushed.

Instilling exceptional foundations is still possible with a late season start. It may take longer, but it's more than achievable if you plan everything carefully, and teach the correct techniques.