If there’s one activity that has the potential to be hugely productive or a complete waste of time, it’s band rehearsal.
Sure, most band rehearsals start out with the best intentions. Yet without planning, focus and (dare I say) dedication, intentions can quickly derail, headaches can soar, and you can easily wind up with:
- Guitarists endlessly noodling away on riffs that may have nothing to do with the songs at hand.
- Drummers ceaselessly adjusting their kit or practicing paradiddles because they’re bored as hell.
- Singers who show up late, then waste another half hour texting or making social-media posts to “fans.”
- Bass players or keyboardists who decide, “Yup, I gotta start looking for a new band.”
The next thing you know, you’ve spent valuable time and hard-earned cash for rehearsal space when it would have been just as productive to stay home, eat Doritos and play Minecraft.
To avoid all this, here are nine tips for a good band rehearsal.
Rehearsal Is Not Practice
Practice is what happens when band members sit down at home to master their individual song parts. Rehearsal is what happens when band members gather to perform their parts together and get songs down tight.
Yes, a certain level of song-tweaking happens in rehearsal and unplanned moments of inspiration can lead to musical awesomeness. Yet overall, rehearsal is similar to sitting in the wings and warming up before taking the stage.
To deliver audiences the kind of performance you know you can give, email sheet music, tab and lyric sheets, demo recordings or whatever works best to band members before rehearsal so members can practice their parts on their own, well in advance of rehearsal. Or set up a shared folder in Dropbox or other file-hosting service so band members can download what they need.
Arrive on Time
Band rehearsals tend to work best when all band members show up on time.
Yes, cars break down. Buses run late and other unavoidable things happen to occasionally cause legitimate lateness. However, showing up late because “you forgot” doesn’t just waste the time of your band mates who did show up on time. It’s disrespectful and sets a bad precedent. So, leave yourself time to get to rehearsal. If you’ve got a lot of gear to set up, show up earlier to make sure everything’s cabled and ready to rock when the others arrive. If you’re renting a rehearsal space and can’t arrive early, skip the complex gear and strip down to a rehearsal setup that’s easy to move and quick to power up. Or look for a rehearsal space that comes with amps, drums and PA equipment so you can basically walk in, plug in and play.
The less gear you need to cart through the door, the quicker you can get to what matters.
Choose a Leader
Whether your band has a recognized leader or operates as a democracy, appoint someone to lead the rehearsal and keep things running productively and on track. That’s why orchestras appoint conductors, movie studios appoint directors, dance troupes have choreographers, and… well, you get the gist.
Structure Your Rehearsal
Decide on the goal of a rehearsal in advance. Will you be working on an entire set? Just one or two songs? Will you be working on a new arrangement or cover songs? You don’t need to be a drill sergeant about it, but have a plan before you walk into rehearsal, and communicate that plan to band members ahead of time.
Commit to Time
Rehearse for a solid two to three hours if possible. Unless you’re a member of Jimmy Fallon’s house band or a similar crew who can pretty much whip off a killer performance on a coffee break, an hour simply isn’t enough time to work through songs when you factor in gear setup time, tuning, a bit of chit-chat and so on. Yet don’t make it one long rehearsal. Be sure to allow for short breaks every hour.
Hang the “No Friends” Sign
Rehearsal time shouldn’t be an invitation to friends to check out your band. What I mean is, you wouldn’t invite your friends to your day job to check out your workplace. Your co-workers wouldn’t appreciate the distraction and your boss might just bounce your butt to the curb because a workplace is for work, and rehearsal time is for the same purpose—necessary work to hone songs and perfect your show. It’s shouldn’t be an excuse for a house party.
Turn Off Your Phone
In the history of band rehearsals, very few musicians have missed a call informing them that they’ve just inherited a tropical island or their Auntie May has tragically (albeit spectacularly) perished in a flaming stunt-rocket escapade. Said another way, most daily phone calls are regular calls that cause needless distraction and are best left for voicemail. So, turn off your phone and focus on the music.
If you absolutely must take a phone call, look for a rehearsal space with a lounge or other quiet area where you can chat without distracting your band mates.
Choose Soundproofed Commercial Space
When it comes to renting commercial rehearsal space, demand tends to outweigh supply in many areas. So would-be rehearsal-space businesses are often quick to just divide up some vacant cinder-block warehouse with plywood walls and call their spaces awesome. Yet without proper soundproofing between units, that “awesome” space may quickly turn into a nightmare as you attempt to work through songs while your ears bleed from the invasive sound of some neighboring thrash-metal band performing “Bohemian Rhapsody” with chainsaw abandon. Find a soundproofed commercial space that fits your budget and keep using it.
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Record Your Rehearsals
A rough rehearsal recording serves as an unbiased post-rehearsal review. You may notice things that weren’t apparent while involved in playing. That includes capturing moments of inspired brilliance that may otherwise be lost.
Rehearsal recordings do not need to be perfect, and they’re not created to post on social media. They simply need to be good enough to help you understand what’s working and not working for your band so you can iron out the rough spots before performing live or booking a recording studio.
You don’t need pro audio equipment to make a rehearsal recording. Some bands simply use a single microphone in the middle of a room. Other bands just clip a digital camera to a tripod to both examine their performance and study how they can improve and perfect their stage show.
Bonus Tip (And the Most Important One of All)
Have fun. Yes, band rehearsals and the music industry in whole can seem like a lot of work. Yet you likely didn’t get into music because it felt like a job. You got into music because it felt great. So, keep that feeling in rehearsal. Embrace it and nurture it. When you have fun in rehearsal, you carry that energy to the stage. That energy translates to the audience, and that feeds back into a loop that helps keep your band thriving and performing at its best.
Written by Xristopher Bland