As questions remain about how and when we can make music together we know some groups are looking at running all their activities online for the rest of the year. This is of course an entirely legitimate approach, but you will need a well-structured programme of activities to keep the enthusiasm and momentum going.
Whilst online activities can never replace the musical experience of an in-person rehearsal, there are opportunities to use this as a learning time to help people develop their skills and technique, whilst using repertoire that everyone enjoys.
This resource presents a list of ideas you could have a go at, all of which have been tried and suggested to us by our member groups. You can use the ideas to create longer term, more structured rehearsal schedules and of course you don’t have to try everything, it’s about finding what works for you group.
You could also consider surveying your members to see which of these options they’d be up for trying – or ask them if they have some ideas of their own!
Create a shared goal
In ‘normal’ times you would probably have the shared goal of working towards a live performance on a specific date to help bring focus and purpose to your rehearsals. With performance dates up in the air at present, consider other projects or milestones you can work towards to help maintain enthusiasm amongst your members.
- Creating a digital performance can be a great way to recreate this online. It does require a fair amount of time and some technical ability but is definitely doable, and we have resources to help. The final product can be a great promotional tool, and can also be submitted to our virtual concert series. It is worth remembering though that it doesn’t have to be any of these things, and can just be a fun project for the group.
- Work towards a live performance: without knowing when you might be able to perform live again you could use some of your online rehearsals to practice some tried and tested pieces so you are ready to go at short notice should the opportunity arise. Perhaps you could start honing those Christmas classics, you never know a December carol concert might not be out of the question.
- Having some structure doesn’t just have to be about a shared goal. It could also be about having a varied programme. So some weeks could be online rehearsals that offer a chance to sing or play, others could be purely social, or could feature a talk by a professional musician.
Implementing some of these ideas will involve time and effort and it is likely your music director will need to play a role. If your music director is reluctant to engage with online activities, see our resource.
Even with an engaged MD it’s worth remembering that some things can be implemented by different people or by the MD with support of others, so try and share the workload round as much as possible. If your MD is putting in work, don’t forget to pay them appropriately.
If capacity will be an issue for your current committee, consider asking for help from the wider membership - there may be people with time on their hands and who have useful digital skills.
Remember that anyone in your group, including your MD, can register on our website and access all our resources. You just need to invite them via the ‘Manage my Group’ icon in your Dashboard.
Some groups have asked whether they should charge their members for online activities. There is no reason you shouldn’t. They might be online, and they might be different, but time and effort goes into organising them, and they may well have a cost associated, whether that be the cost of an online platform subscription or paying your MD to run them. Indeed, there is an argument to say you should charge, as giving them away for free undervalues them. You might decide that a reduced fee or different fee structures (e.g. pay as you play) are appropriate, and of course concession prices should be considered (see below) – but there is no reason why online should equal free. You can read more in the Membership Subscriptions section of our Keeping your group running resource.
The ideas below are generated by members for members. To contribute a new idea, add more detail or feedback on those listed please get in touch.
- Consider keeping your rehearsals at the same time as usual, but making them shorter – rehearsing in an online environment can be more tiring than in the physical environment
- You could also consider making them more frequent to compensate for them being shorter – weekly instead of fortnightly, for example
- Help people to get online – provide a guide to your chosen platform, offer telephone support to help people master the technology. Do members of your group have old tablets hanging around that they can pass on to those who don’t have devices?
- Think about how to provide music for your members to access. Using a free online database such as IMSLP or CDPL is a good way to get some free, non-copyright music. See our staying connected resource for more suggestions of where to source free or discounted music during the lockdown period
- If you are providing your own copies or scans of music, think about different options to make sure everyone can access these. E.g. Dropbox, Google Drive, Onedrive, Microsoft Sharepoint. See our digital storage resource for more info.
- Record the rehearsal sessions and make them available online or in a private Facebook group for members who could not attend to view later
- Make recordings of rehearsals available to those who are unable to attend so they don’t feel they have missed out
Working towards your shared goal
- If you have an appropriate instrument, one person could play through a particular section or part, perhaps at a slower tempo, for others to listen to in more detail
- If no instruments are available, plenty of backing tracks are available on YouTube, or you could play or sing along with a recorded performance – play with the Berlin Philharmonic!
- Divide the group into sections – use the breakout rooms feature to create smaller groups where people can discuss the technical intricacies of their particular part, or have different sections join the rehearsal at different times or on different days, before bringing everyone together in one big meeting
- Set a weekly challenge for the members to help them prepare for the next rehearsal. For example learn a section, learn the words by heart, get up to X speed (ABRSM’s Speedshifter app is useful for adjusting the speed of a piece without altering the pitch.)
- Set a weekly challenge for members to complete in the privacy of their own home, e.g. learn a section, get the music up to x speed. Members don’t have to submit anything or be assessed in any way – it’s just a target for them to aim for and to help guide their practice
- Suggest videos for members to listen to which will inform their practice. Choose a performance that most closely represents what you want the group to achieve in terms of tempo and style
- Record or find on YouTube short videos with technical guidance or going into detail about a specific section of the music, highlighting the points to focus on in practice
- Invite the group to send questions about the music to the MD in advance – the MD can answer a selection of these as part of the rehearsal process
- Prepare some background information on the music being rehearsed – the MD or a member can give a short 5 minute presentation with some background info and interesting facts about the music or its creator
- Go through your back catalogue and run a “tidy up clinic”. You could split the group into parts, and use the opportunity to identify sections of music that tend to be a bit more problematic and spend some time working through these. Not all parts might be working on the same song necessarily – for example, tenors might have a particularly tricky section in one song that other voice parts don’t have a problem with. You could let parts identify sections they want to work on for themselves, or a section lead or MD might lead on this.
- Mix the familiar with the new – people will appreciate being familiar with the music if they are unfamiliar with the online environment, but don’t be afraid to introduce your members to something new.
Providing variety, having fun musically
- Use warm ups each week. Invite a guest or group member to lead the warm up, perhaps twin with another group and share personnel/expertise? Or use videos from other groups on YouTube. Leave microphones on during the warm ups as these can be very funny!
- Add actions to your performance – for singers, adding actions makes it more fun and gets everyone involved on screen
- Encourage people to dress up in concert clothes for the final rehearsal in the schedule and ‘perform’ – you can snapshot the video for social media and it adds a sense of occasion and completeness to the rehearsal process.
- Experiment with improvising. Teach a simple song and then suggest ways people might want to improvise - eg putting in a drone, copying the overall pattern but a 3rd above, echoing in between phrases etc. It’s a really nice opportunity to explore being a bit more creative, because no one can hear you; if you’re not sure something will work, you might be reluctant to sing it out loud in a real rehearsal, but in the comfort of your mute button you can have a go. Singers who really don’t want to improvise could sing along with the MD instead. Afterwards you can ask if anyone found any interesting harmonies or different parts, and whether they want to share them with the group.
- Provide a session on developing technical skills such as bowing technique or breathing. You could invite a specialist to lead this session, or find an appropriate video on YouTube if there is no-one in your group with the relevant knowledge
- Teach new skills – percussion for non-percussionists is one suggestion, which could also be used to improve people’s rhythm. This could be fun to do with microphones on for a change!
- Feature a talk by a professional musician – perhaps you could invite a former soloist, or your MD might have some professional contacts you can take advantage of
- Celebrity SingAlong - use a celebrity video to sing along to (eg. Neil Diamond singing Sweet Caroline (hand washing version), Muppets singing Bohemian Rhapsody, This is Me from the Greatest Showman, Gary Barlow Crooner Sessions, Victoria Wood)
- ‘Desert Island Discs’ - the MD or another member chooses a piece of music (their favourite or something that the group won’t necessarily know), talks about it then plays it (either live or a recording)
- Star of the Week - one member is invited to perform a song for the other members. Good idea to set up a rehearsal with them beforehand to check the audio and everything is ok. The rehearsal doesn’t have to be with the MD – it can be with someone who knows about the technical side of things who can give advice on audio and visual settings
- If members are reluctant to perform live for each other, encourage them to make and share videos of themselves instead – either a solo performance, or they could multitrack themselves using a tool such as Acappella
- Encourage people to dress up to make these recordings – either in concert clothes or in themed fancy dress
- Encourage members to contribute to a blog about how they are finding rehearsing during lockdown
Social ideas, having fun non-musically
- Host an online quiz night. A member of your group might be willing to host the quiz and set all the questions, or you could invite your members to set one round each, so that the workload is split between more people (don’t forget to set limits on number of rounds and number of questions per round).
- Host an online murder mystery night. There are plenty of DIY murder mystery toolkits available online, some of which are free, for a variety of different sized groups.
- Design a scavenger hunt for your group, in which you challenge participants to find specific items in their house within a certain amount of time. You can keep things general (e.g. a photo of a family friend) or be more creative (e.g. something that reminds you of our MD!). Bear in mind when putting your list together that some people may not be at home, and that people living in shared houses might not have access to as many different objects as people in a family home.
- A more generic games night can also be fun. Lots of traditional board games can lend themselves to an online set up, if one person has control of a physical board and reads out all the questions and/or instructions. Other board games are available in a virtual format if you look around.
- YouTube watch along. Invite your group members to watch a livestream with you (like the Making Music Virtual Concert series!). One member can access the livestream on YouTube, Facebook or any other platform, then share their screen with the rest of the group in an online meetup so that everyone can see.
Things you could do during/after a rehearsal to facilitate socialising OR do as standalone events:
- Put people in breakout rooms so that they can chat to each other. This is a great way for your members to get to know people in other sections that they might not normally speak to. You can suggest conversation questions or leave it up to them.
- If yours is a group that usually goes to the pub after rehearsal, encourage people to stay online after the rehearsal is over for a virtual pub experience.
We hope you find this Making Music resource useful. If you have any comments or suggestions about the guidance please contact us. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the content of this guidance is accurate and up to date, Making Music do not warrant, nor accept any liability or responsibility for the completeness or accuracy of the content, or for any loss which may arise from reliance on the information contained in it.