Rehearsing in Style: Tips for a Successful Orchestra Dress Rehearsal

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Times are changing and even experienced orchestral performers are having to go through new checklists for dress rehearsals and the actual main performance. Whether it's for a classical music presentation for a prestige event, a more modern concert program, or a looser academic performance, we have compiled a list of tips for before, during, and after dress rehearsals for orchestras or any life live music event.

Take your time to read about what to wear at dress rehearsal, personal performance practice tips for both beginner musicians and experienced ones, and even some reminders for conductors, directors, or band leaders.

We at Cousin's Concert Attire want to help any orchestra program finish the night with enthusiastic applause.

What Exactly is a Dress Rehearsal for Concerts or Orchestras?

A dress rehearsal for an orchestra or band refers to the final practice session before a performance, where musicians perform in full concert attire and run through all the pieces in the program without interruption. It serves as an opportunity to fine-tune ensemble playing, and work on transitions, dynamics, and timing while also allowing performers to become familiar with the concert location or venue and acoustics. The dress rehearsal aims to replicate the conditions of the actual performance as closely as possible, providing a comprehensive review and ensuring a polished and cohesive presentation on the day of the concert. In fact, some groups even charge for an opportunity to see the senior dress rehearsal, too.

The rehearsal experience might not be the main event, but it should be taken seriously nonetheless by the entire orchestra and used as a time to perfect all aspects of the concert program, from the attire to the musical concepts and every detail.

Bringing elements from theatre, opera, and concerto into the dress rehearsal can significantly enrich the performance. Just as theatre actors immerse themselves in their roles and settings, musicians should embody the spirit of the pieces they perform, whether it's the dramatic flair of an opera or the intricate dialogue between soloist and orchestra in a concerto. 

Benefits of a Dress Rehearsal

Firstly, it allows the musicians to familiarize themselves with the physical layout of the stage, ensuring smooth transitions and coordination during the actual performance.

Secondly, it also provides an opportunity to practice the technical aspects of the music, such as intonation, dynamics, and balance, which can lead to a more polished and cohesive sound.

Finally, a dress rehearsal allows the conductor to fine-tune their interpretation of the piece and make any necessary adjustments to ensure a unified and expressive performance. Overall, a dress rehearsal helps to build confidence, improve ensemble playing, and create a more captivating and memorable experience for both the musicians and the audience.

Essential Preparation Steps

We've compiled some tips of must-do's for a dress rehearsal before, during, and after arriving at any concert hall. From string players to brass and woodwind, there's a bit of everything for all members of an orchestra. Maybe it's a 60-minute casual rehearsal, a session with a private teacher, or an all-nighter for professionals, but it's worth it for any musician to take this advice to heart nonetheless.

Let's start with preparing first.

Follow the Dress Code

Wear the attire you'll be wearing for the actual performance, even if they're concert dresses or tuxedos. This helps in adjusting to the attire and making sure it's comfortable. As a director or conductor, it's important to establish a dress code in the first place, so don't forget that. Otherwise, don't be shocked or disappointed if someone shows up in jeans or a t-shirt.

Prepare Your Instrument

Ensure your instrument is in perfect working condition. Tune it beforehand and have any necessary repairs or replacements done well in advance and not at the practice.

After ensuring your instrument's optimal condition, violin and other string instrument players should particularly focus on the visual presentation for the dress rehearsal. This meticulous attention to both the sound and appearance of your instrument will contribute significantly to the overall elegance and professionalism of the orchestra's performance.

Double Check Sheet Music and Concepts for Accuracy

It might not be the main performance, but you already have to have the pieces and the parts selected. Every player has to come prepared as well, knowing each passage and part. A dress rehearsal is meant to fine-tune detail (and the music), not to learn every note.

Mark Your Score

Use colored pencils or highlighters to mark important cues, dynamics, and key passages in your sheet music. This makes it easier to follow during the rehearsal.

Bring a Pencil

Always have a pencil handy for making notes on your score, marking changes, or writing reminders.

Listen Actively

Pay close attention to the conductor's instructions and feedback. Be ready to adjust your playing as needed.

Tips for During the Rehearsal

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Respect the Rehearsal Schedule and Arrive Early

Let's start with an obvious one. Arrive at the rehearsal venue well in advance to allow ample time for any unforeseen delays, such as traffic or instrument setup. It's important that the rehearsal schedule is kept and no one runs late. Also, respect everyone's time and make sure you give notice of your absence from rehearsal if you can't make it.

Turn off Your Phone

Make sure your phone is off. Not just silent but turned off completely. Even in silent mode, the sound of a vibrating phone is enough to ruin a solo or the entire orchestra in unison, ruining what should be a fun and exciting time.

Run Through Entire Piece At Least One Time First

It's a good way to warm up and just dive into the orchestral music piece, or at least one movement from it, just to get rid of any possible nerves or pick up on unturned instruments or problems with seating, rhythm, etc.

Focus on Timing

Carefully watch the conductor for cues on timing and tempo. Maintain eye contact and stay in sync with the ensemble.

Watch Your Dynamics

Be mindful of dynamic markings, such as crescendos and decrescendos. This is crucial for achieving the desired balance within the orchestra.

Balance and Blend

Pay attention to your role in the ensemble. Ensure that your instrument's volume and tone complement the overall sound.

Incorporating elements of a choir into your rehearsal can greatly enhance the musical ensemble's balance and blend.

Practice Transitions

Work on smooth transitions between movements or sections to maintain a cohesive performance.


Maintain good communication with fellow musicians, especially in sections that require coordination.

In addition to focusing on your instrument, pay close attention to the conductor's cues during the dress rehearsal. Effective conducting is crucial for synchronizing the ensemble, ensuring that each section, from strings to brass, comes together in perfect harmony.

Recover from Mistakes

If you make a mistake, don't dwell on it. Keep going and stay focused on the overall performance.

Encourage School Students to Subdivide Work

When it's a dress rehearsal for a school orchestra, it might be good to subdivide, which means that one section plays repeated notes while the others play their rhythm or they change a passage on the page to all eight notes and get rid of slurs.

Manage Nerves

Dress rehearsals can be nerve-wracking. Use relaxation techniques, deep breathing, and positive self-talk to manage anxiety.


Use Recording Devices

Recording the dress rehearsal can help identify areas that need improvement and provide a useful reference for practice.

Test Acoustics

Familiarize yourself with the venue's acoustics during the dress rehearsal. Adjust your playing to suit the hall's characteristics.

Follow Etiquette

Adhere to orchestra etiquette, such as refraining from talking during instructions and maintaining professionalism.

Teach Younger Players the Art of "Hidden Yawning"

To yawn is to human and is mostly unavoidable during a live orchestra performance and a senior dress rehearsal, but you can learn to hide it. Pretend to scratch your nose, maybe move your instrument just right and block your gaping mouth, or quickly tie your shoe.

Stay Hydrated

It's a tip that is essential for everyday life and more for orchestras. Drink water before and during the rehearsal to stay hydrated, especially if it's a long session.

Stay Flexible

Be prepared for last-minute changes or adjustments as directed by the conductor or music director.

Positive Attitude

Approach the dress rehearsal with a positive attitude and a commitment to the collaborative effort of the orchestra.

Professional Orchestras Need Extra Practice Time

School bands, inexperienced orchestras, or smaller ensembles might have enough with an hour or so, but professional orchestras will likely need extra practice time in case issues arise and it need to be corrected or overcome during rehearsal.

After Practice

Evaluate the Performance

After the dress rehearsal, review your own performance and seek feedback from your section or conductor for areas of improvement.

Always Check Your Instruments

The first thing to do after leaving rehearsal is to go over the condition of your instrument. Make sure nothing fell off, damaged, or, if indeed, it's even yours.

By following these tips, you can make the most of your orchestra dress rehearsal and contribute to a successful and harmonious performance.

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