Grace Notes: Crochet or quarter note?

Over the course of my life so far I have done a lot of orchestral playing with people from all over the world. And, seeing as my course is an international one, all of the rehearsals here are taken in English, so for me I haven’t noticed any real difference between orchestral projects here and back in the UK. There is one thing however, that sometimes makes rehearsals very difficult, and that is the naming of the note values.

In the UK, a four beat note is called a semibreve, a two beat note is called a minim, a one beat note is called a crotchet….. and this continues. Here’s a diagram to explain it better.

uk note values.png

I have grown up calling notes these and referring to these names without even thinking in rehearsals. Here however, I have to get used to the other naming method.

In the rest of the world they call a four beat note a whole note, a two beat note a half note, a one beat note a quarter note, and so on. Here’s another diagram.

us note values.png

It makes an awful lot of sense! But I’m really struggling to get my head round it in the spur of the moment.

For example in a rehearsal a couple of weeks ago I was banging on about ‘quavers’ and was getting a lot of blank stares. I realised this was because the others in the room hadn’t got any idea what I meant by talking about ‘quavers’ (I should have said an eighth note).

So now I’m really trying to make an effort to talk in half notes and quarter notes, rather than minims and crotchets…. But it does mean that every time I want to say a note name I have to mentally go ‘so a whole note is a semibreve, so a minim is a half note, so a crotchet is a quarter note….’ until I get to the note value I need…..

I definitely need some practice!

Grace Notes: How to prepare for a concert with only one day of rehearsal

Last Friday I took part in a concert with Trinity Laban Symphony Orchestra where we played ‘A London Symphony’ by Vaughan  Williams. This was a ‘Side by Side’  project, which meant that teachers and professionals were sitting in the orchestra playing alongside us (in the string sections we had the pros sitting in the number 2 spot). What was most difficult about this project was that we only had one rehearsal as a full orchestra and one 2 hour sectional earlier in the week. I want to share some tips that I found helped me to prepare for this so that I wasn’t still practically sightreading in the concert.

Before you start to practice your part:

  • Listen to the recording so you can familiarise yourself with the work (if you are doing this for an audition and not a concert also research the background just in case you are asked any questions about it)
  • Mark in cues (often having a score for this helps too) by what you hear so that when sitting in a full rehearsal totally lost, you can get yourself back in again.
  • Highlight (always with a pencil though…) the exposed and fast bits so when you have a chance to practice you can zone in on those sections and not waste time practicing slow notes.
  • Listen with a metronome and mark in the approximate tempos so there won’t be any nasty surprises when you get to the full rehearsal (this has happened to me a couple of times and doesn’t make the rehearsal easy going!)
  • Keep listening. It can be really boring sitting and following your part, but just have it on in the background and get in your head through the power of osmosis.

(I do not own this video)

While practicing:

  • Practice slowly with a metronome, and gradually speed up any passages that seem too fast to play at first. To ensure you can really play it, take the metronome faster than you’ll have to do it in the concert and then you’ll be sure you can get it right on the night. You need to be really picky though, as there is no point in practicing mistakes fast. Don’t go up a metronome ‘notch’ unless you are comfortable with the current speed.
  • Don’t be tempted to play all the way through your part. The tunes are fun to play, but they are probably (obviously there are some exceptions) some of the easier bits of the piece. Especially if you only have limited time to practice, make sure you have highlighted what needs work and focus on those sections.
  • Don’t be afraid to write in fingerings. These will help when you get to that tricky bit and can’t remember the amazing fingering you came up with.
  • Play along with the recording (at this instance you CAN play the whole work) and then you get a better idea of where your part fits in with the rest of the orchestra.
Wittner_metronome

(I do not own this image)

During the rehearsal:

  • Especially if, like in this project, you have a pro sitting in front of you, try and copy how they play phrases and within the section. For example, if (like me) you are a string player, watch for the part of the bow the front of the section are playing in or ask the pro for help with fingering for a difficult passage. (This applies even if you just have a normal section principal as well of course! )
  • Copy in the bowings (or if a non-string player any other markings) as fast as you can. Hopefully the desks in front of you will pass it back, but if they don’t then take it upon yourself to copy in the bowings quickly in your break as no one likes to see bows going in the wrong direction in the concert.
symphony_orchestra_12_jk_019__gallery_image

Trinity Laban Symphony Orchestra (I do not own this image)

Hopefully this has given you some ideas as how to deal with a concert if there aren’t many rehearsals. Apologies for this being so string heavy, I’m afraid I don’t have much authority on sitting in any other sections of the orchestra! I hope some of these tips are useful to you, whatever you play. Thanks for reading and I’m looking forward to seeing you all for my next post!