Modern Jazz Quartet performing

The Modern Jazz Quartet

“We’re smart enough and clever enough to give each other room to live in, to have respect for each other’s personalities.”
John Lewis, pianist, Modern Jazz Quartet
The Musician’s Way, p.120

Unlike when we play or sing in conductor-led ensembles, working in small groups requires us to make shared decisions about what and how we perform.

Decision-making comes to a head during rehearsals, so, in this post, I offer tips to deal with 4 common rehearsal challenges that we collaborating musicians face.

4 Rehearsal Challenges & Ways to Overcome Them

1. Conflicting Interpretations

It’s normal for musicians to have differing views about tempo, phrasing and so on. Here are avenues to tap our differences and fuel creativity in the process:

  • Experiment before criticizing. When a group member proposes an interpretive idea that you deem unsuitable, try it before commenting.
  • Use conditional language. Say things like, “What if we tried it this way?” or “How would it sound if…?” Avoid absolutist statements such as, “It should be slower.”
  • Compromise. Balance your opinions to achieve consensus, contributing and compromising along the way. But when a solo part has the lead, defer to the soloist’s choice.

2. Consistent Professionalism

Professionalism forms the foundation of an ensemble’s culture, and the following habits helps us maintain healthy cultures:

  • Agree to be punctual, prepared, courteous and honest. Abide by high standards, and apologize if you miss the mark.
  • Use “I” statements to communication disappointment. If a colleague lets you down, in place of accusing, say something like, “I feel frustrated when we can’t begin on time.”
  • Set up meetings to resolve problems. Focus rehearsals on soulful music making.

3. Repertoire Agreement

What music will you program for a concert? Which titles will you rehearse first? Those and other questions resolve more easily when we live by guidelines such as these:The Musician's Way book cover

  • Choose multipurpose, accessible repertoire. Select pieces that excite you, support your group’s goals, and you can learn in a reasonable amount of time.
  • Take time to decide. When agreement on a title isn’t immediate, postpone deciding, revisit the music again later, and come to a consensus about whether to perform it.
  • Breathe life into everything you play or sing. Give yourself over to a piece that your colleagues prefer, regardless of whether it matches your aesthetic.

4. Handling Criticism

Critical give and take is essential to collaborative work, and learning to handle criticism is central to our profession.

  • Adopt a cooperative approach to listening and communicating. When you receive critiques, absorb them objectively without taking things personally.
  • Use non-accusing words. When sharing your thoughts, rely on conditional language instead of pointing fingers: “Is it possible that the flute came in early in measure 40?”
  • Admit when you mess up. Take responsibility so that you promote honesty and creativity.

The Musician’s Way delves into these concepts and more, mapping out an inclusive approach to musical achievement. Read reviews.

Related posts
The 4 Pillars of Professionalism
6 Ways to Ignite Synergy in a Group
12 Questions for Prospective Bandmates

Collaborative Criticism

Ten Tips for Collaborating Musicians

© 2014 Gerald Klickstein