My Top 10 Tips for Effective Rehearsal
Performing live is harder than it seems. Sure, the band makes it look easy, and everyone has the perfect parts at just the right time. Bigger acts know just where to stand for certain lighting effects, and the guitarist is always under the spotlight for The Big Solo. However, what you might not know is that for every minute of stage time, there could be dozens of hours of rehearsal that goes into making those songs into a performance and that performance into a show. I have logged in years of rehearsal at this point, and this article is about how you can make all of that rehearsal time more effective.
10. Rehearsal is Not Practice
I have been in bands that the only time a musician picked up his/her instrument was actually at rehearsal. Even studious musicians should be practicing the songs you are actually going to be playing at the next show. Sure, they should also actively work on becoming a better musician at all times. But the time to learn how a song goes or get that fast riff or solo right is not at rehearsal where 4 other people are staring at you waiting for you to practice while they play along. This is a waste of time for the other musicians that worked on their parts and disrespectful to treat them as your backing track while you work on your part. We should practice our part at home, and put it all together with the band at rehearsal. Tweaking a part is fine, but there is no excuse for repeatedly not getting your part right. No one wants to be the guy or girl who everyone shakes their head about after rehearsal.
9. Record Everything
Sometimes it is difficult to hear how your part is fitting into the overall sound of the band while you are playing it. Recording everything helps you remember all those notes as they fly by. You could use your phone, or even a cheap cassette recorder you found in your garage, it doesn’t matter. If you worked on an arrangement, you can always consult the tape when you get home. It also provides definitive proof if someone tells you your backing vocals are out of tune. Use recordings as an impartial judge: Was that riff awesome? Consult the tape. What was that lick at the end of the solo? Consult the tape. Did the bass player play the whole first verse in the wrong key? Probably. But consult the tape to know for sure.
8. Try Setting Up Like You Would Onstage (at least sometimes)
Playing while sitting in a circle is great for verbal and optical communication. Onstage, with the drummer behind you, with the bassist and other guitarist on the other side of the stage on an even plane with you, it might be harder to communicate. Onstage, there is always something that has to change, or a part of a song that has to be cued: if the entire band has to turn around to see the drummer count to 4, you are also turning your back to the audience. Come up with ways to either musically or physically (hand gestures?) communicate with the rest of the band. We are never as relaxed onstage as we are in rehearsal, and our adrenaline tends to be flowing quite a bit. Make sure you can get a message out to your band members quickly if you want to extend the end solo of a song, or if you have to cut a few songs from the set due to time constraints.
7. Take Notes
Many songs change in rehearsal, and sometimes they change radically. Figure out a way to quickly write out arrangements that you change, and keep them in a master book. I use a strange combination of notation and tab, but use whatever works for you. If you drop the song for awhile and then come back to it months later, you don’t have to remember how to do it, since you wrote it down. Make notes on pickups or guitars you used as well as effects and amp settings. If you decide to double the solo going into the chorus, writing that down can help you remember what to practice that week. You should also take note details of the next gig. Keep all of these notes in the same place- not on scraps of paper. Get a binder and put everything in there.
6. Work on What to Do or Say Between Songs
Perhaps a musical interlude? Maybe an interesting story? Knowing which songs in the set will be introduced should be discussed in rehearsal too. This will prevent everyone’s eyes going from the singer to the drummer after every song. If you want to portray confidence, and put together a tight show, make sure the music or talking flows without 20 second gaps of silence. This is because onstage, 20 seconds feels like an eternity to the band AND the audience. The singer doesn’t always have to do introductions, either. But the idea is to make everything smooth. In order to do that properly, it should be rehearsed.
5. Isolate Difficult Parts
Fast unison riffs or compound time signatures are hard to pull off live. Those parts should be isolated and worked on at rehearsal. Maybe even have separate rehearsals for the few musicians involved to work out the parts before it is shared with the group. Most hard parts need repetition to get tight, and it is better to work on that in isolation while the rest of the band isn’t staring at you. Know when to give up too- if you will require more personal practice, let everyone else know so you can move on (see #10).
4. Set Party Time for Afterwards
Everyone likes to have a good time, and rehearsal for many bands also includes drinking a few beers (and maybe other stuff). However, you are there to get a job done, and you will have more time to hang out and have a great time if you accomplish your goals quicker. Take rehearsal seriously, because other bands do. If you are a professional band, or aspire to be, then you have to make every aspect of your playing life professional. Go out and have drinks afterwards, but during rehearsal, you have a job to do, and the music deservesw 100% of your focus.
3. Have an Agenda
Know what you are going to work on at the start of rehearsal. Better yet, it should be sent to each band member after the previous rehearsal. This lets all of the band members know what to work on and what they must have ready. Have one band member ‘direct’ the rehearsal, call out the songs/parts that are going to be played and/or worked on. A lot of time can be wasted by saying:
Well, now what do you wanna play?
I don’t know.
Let’s play that one song…
No, I hate that, let’s just jam!
Have one person make those decisions, and move through the work you have to get done efficiently and quickly. You can jam later.
2. Eat Before You Show Up
Hungry people get grumpy. So grab something to eat before you rehearse. You will feel better, and play better. This one isn’t that hard. You will be using a lot of brain power and using very precise movements with your fingers. Eat something good for you, or you will regret it in a few hours. Especially if you are older. Food is fuel, so treat it as fueling up for the massive riffs you are about to unleash.
1. Don’t Noodle!
Everyone knows that guy. He practices his Seinfeld-worthy slap bass licks between every song. Or the guitarist that shows you he can do 3 octave sweeps while you are trying to talk. Or perhaps that drummer who practices his blast beats in every second of silence in the room there is. Don’t be that guy. No one likes that guy, and that guy won’t be in the band for long. Don’t play while you are working. We know what you can do, and you’re great, but it is annoying. To everyone. Stop it, please.
Do you have effective rehearsals? Where does your band rehearse?