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How to get ready for an orchestra concert

Orchestra conductor

Raise your hand if you’ve never been late for the study of a part to play in the orchestra.

This is what happens: you get called by the orchestra that needs your valuable and essential competence as percussionist. You receive an email with all the data about the working days and the music to play. If you are lucky they send you also the parts you’ll have to play. You write down in your organizer the days of the artistic production (in this way you seem cool every time you need to show others how busy you are), then you do other things until one to two days before the first rehearsal when the thought “I have no idea of what I have to play” becomes more and more annoying. Then you study, maybe…

Well, all that happens periodically also to me, yet there are strategies to prevent the “preparation-stress-of-orchestral-production”, a common disease among many freelance musicians.

 All you have to do is follow some simple tips which I’ll try to reveal in this post.


This suggestion will seem trivial but it’s the best thing you can do: start reading your parts as soon as possible.

For example, suppose you were called on the phone and you were sent an email with the information on how and where the rehearsal and the concert will take place. When you receive the e-mail by the orchestra you can do two things:

  1. If the parts are attached to the mail: start studying the parts.
  2. If the parts are not attached to the email: search the parts!

At this point you may be wondering how to find the parts in case number 2. Well, you have several possibilities:

  • search them on the internet (in this case a good resource is;
  • ask for them to the person who has contacted you from the orchestra;
  • ask them to your colleagues;
  • call your dear old and experienced teacher.

Anyway you need those parts on time to begin studying them as soon as possible.

And what if instead of a single part you had been sent a score with all percussion instruments? Well, at this point it starts getting interesting. So here we can distinguish a coward percussionist from a fearless percussionist:

  • The coward percussionist studies the part he likes most and then at the first rehearsal he does everything to convince all others that he had been assigned exactly that part;
  • The fearless percussionist instead, studies all the parts and then he plays the one decided by the chief of the percussion section.

And what about you, do you want to be a coward or a fearless percussionist…?



The following step is: begin studying these blessed parts. Which strategies do you use?

The first thing I do is looking at the part and try to understand:

  • The context: what kind of music I’m playing, by which author, of which age;
  • which instruments I’ll have to play;
  • if there are difficult passages and solos.

When I realize more or less what the future holds for me I usually turn on my computer, I go to YouTube and I look for some quality recordings that can help me. I keep at my fingertips a pencil, an eraser and a highlighter.

Then I wear my headphones, I concentrate and I click play. In front of me I only have the written part, the computer monitor, what I need to take notes and no percussion for the moment.

I listen to the tracks two or three times and I sign all the passages, the instrument changes and all kind of notes I need. This phase can also take you a whole day of study because a concerto for piano and orchestra of the Romantic era, for example, lasts on average about thirty minutes minimum.



Studiyng the score

That’s one of the features that makes the difference between the professional from the amateur: the contextualization of your own part in the orchestral score.

Certainly, understanding a score is better than just reading it. But even if you don’t have great qualities in musical analysis the study of the score can give you great benefits like noticing any references to other instruments that can be useful to you during the performance.

And if that’s not enough, a look at the score may help you to understand how your part fits inside the piece, what is your role as percussionist, when you have to come to light and when you have to remain on the background of the musical discourse.

Too complicated? Not at all. The study (of the music, not just of percussion) and the practice will make you an expert in this too.



Once you have completed all these steps my suggestion is: play on instruments. At this point, you’ve done 90% of your work.

Now if there are any technical problem all you have to do is… to resolve them! You’re probably thinking “Thank you Mr. Parolini …” and I must actually give you reason.

But I need to spend more time to talk about this topic and for this reason I postpone it in for my next article.

Meanwhile, I recommend you to read this wonderful post by Rob Knopper, a wiser and more experienced percussionist than me, on how to deal with technique problems. First of all: admit you have a problem. How to blame him … Enjoy reading!



Well, I hope I’ve given you some interesting piece of advice. If you disagree or you want to complete my argument in any way, please write down a comment!

In conclusion, what I recommended in this post is:

  1. Find the parts as soon as possible;
  2. study the parts listening to the recordings;
  3. study the orchestral score;
  4. practice on instruments.

Meanwhile, as I’m writing I know that tomorrow I’ll have to play in the orchestra the Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major (whose second movement is one good reason to live) and the ‘”Overture on Hebrew Themes” by Prokofiev (version with bass drum).

According to you, have I followed the strategy I preach?

Between words and deeds…


Question: what strategy do you use to prepare for an orchestra concert? Do you think it is necessary to have one? Leave a Comment.