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In UK Brass Band music it's very common to have rapid meter changes in close succession, e.g. one bar of 5/8 then one of 7/8, then 2/4 then 9/8 and so on. When we're rehearsing these in person, the conductor indicates the meter changes and I read his gestures together with the 8th note groupings that I've marked on my part, so I know whether a 7/8 bar is 3+3+2 or some other grouping, or whether a 5/8 is 3+2 or 2+3, and so on.

Inevitably, I need to play these passages better so I need to practise them on my own to avoid wasting everyone else's time during the rehearsal.

The question is, what's the best way of rehearsing such music on my own? Do I need audio? A click track? I'd like to be able to practise with just a metronome if possible? Is it possible?

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    If setting a metronome to continuous eighths doesn't work for you, there are free software metronomes that let you program complicated patterns.
    – PiedPiper
    Oct 3 '21 at 13:11
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    I'd be inclined to record full (or part) rehearsals, and play along with those at home, counting like heck all the time. I do that in Bigband rehearsals, as I quite often miss things the conductor says - dynamics, phrasing, etc.
    – Tim
    Oct 3 '21 at 13:33
  • So are you saying that its not clear in the printed part how the notes are grouped in the 5/8 and 7/8 bars?
    – JimM
    Oct 3 '21 at 15:22
  • JimM - I need to know how the quavers in my bars rest are being grouped by the other performers so that I count my bars rest properly. Oct 3 '21 at 21:08
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    I don't know whether it's the best, but I've personally found listening to a recording of the piece ad nauseam (along with regular old practice) to be good enough for me. (Granted, I don't think I've encountered a shift from 7/8 to 2/4 yet, I also tend to sing the piece if I like it enough, and practicing conducting the piece is something I tend to but don't always do.)
    – Dekkadeci
    Oct 4 '21 at 12:45
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Since you clarify in the comments that one of the challenges you're focusing on is how to count rests during which other parts have metric changes. I'd strongly recommend doing some work with the score (if you have access to it) and a good recording, so you can get familiar with what those other parts are doing and how you'll fit into it. Yes, it's an important goal to be able to sight-read complex meter changes cold, but ultimately we often perform (arguably, all well-prepared pieces) by internalizing the piece and memorizing or "semi-memorizing" it.

Your approach might depend on the length of the rests. If you have a very long rest, like 24 bars, don't worry too much about counting every beat and subdivision in it. Instead, get very familiar with some very recognizable "landmark" near your entrance. Maybe another instrument enters prominently 2 bars before you; maybe there's a notable tempo or dynamic change. Listen for that "landmark" and then you only have to count accurately from it. (I recommend marking up your part to show your "cue" and what follows.) Get familiar with the big structure of everything else during the rest, too, so you avoid "false alarms" and know when you're getting close.

If you have much shorter rests, like individual or partial bars, then yes, you have to get very involved with the subdivisions. If you have time and access to the score or parts, it's great to even play through the other parts to see how yours fits in. At the least, listen to them and get familiar with what they do.

When it comes to actually learning complex metric changes, there are a lot of approaches. Yes, set a metronome to whatever the "common factor" is, like 8th notes. Do some work without your instrument, clapping and counting out loud (using whatever syllable system works for you, from "1e&a" to "tee ta" or Gordon "doo de" or even your own made-up ones). Try actually conducting the patterns.

Ultimately, though, these are all just methods for "decoding" what's on the page, and you want to move beyond this kind of analytical approach to a fluent, internalized familiarity where you don't have to think much about the patterns. I'd strongly encourage looking at the "bigger picture." As much as you can, rather than "zooming in" and counting 8ths or 16ths, look for the big (irregular) "beats" that they constitute, and especially look for downbeats. It's easier to keep track of what's going on when you look for the larger formal structures.

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Yes, brass band music, especially test pieces, loves meter changes! Blame Edward Gregson, 50 years ago. His piece 'Patterns' may have started the trend.

You COULD practice to a fast 8th note click. Or you could program the actual piece into a computer sequencer, either as clicks in the required groupings - or why not program in the complete part, melody and all?

Also, practice conducting the piece!

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  • Thank you for the suggestions. I was hoping there'd be an answer that didn't involve preparing a click track part to rehearse against. Oct 3 '21 at 21:11
  • @BrianTHOMAS - I guess in rehearsal, the conductor effectively becomes that click track - and more.
    – Tim
    Oct 4 '21 at 7:37

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