Whether you pay for a band rehearsal space or practice for free at home or at another location, time is one thing you can’t replace and it is crucial to manage it properly in your band setup. You’re dealing with more than one personality in your group and every member has different priorities and allocate time to various aspects of their lives, be it responsibilities with work, studies, family, health or personal matters. Hopefully this guide will help you steer your band in the right direction as far as handling your band rehearsals are concerned. We’ve gathered these tips from personal experience with bands, but mostly it is common sense.
Schedule your band rehearsal. The overall meeting time should be known by all band members well in advance. Short rehearsals can leave little time for anything but warming up, while excessively long rehearsals can lead to fatigue and distraction. Depending on your arsenal of songs or material, a good starting point would be around the 3-hour mark with a short break every hour. Nail down how often you intend to rehearse. Daily? Several times per week? Once a week? A few times a month? Try and stick to the schedule you decided on.
A little planning goes a long way. There are three more or less obvious phases for bands rehearsing:
Building a set list – bring 3 or 4 songs to rehearsal
Refining a set list – play through the songs in order and make notes of where you messed things up and go back to them at the end or create a plan for the next band practice to work on those tracks that need more attention.
Songwriting – in some cases this could be a tricky one, as songwriting should preferably happen at home, but if you can, use half of a rehearsal session every once in a while to work on new songs. When you do work on songs at home, keep the rest of your band in the loop.
Distribute the necessary materials well in advance before the next rehearsal such as copies of the notation and lyrics or musical score. A lot of “garage” bands are self-taught and don’t necessary read music, so an audio recording from a smart phone could help your members out big time. Details of the rehearsal detailing how the time will be spent could come in very handy.
Way before your first rehearsal, figure out what your band is all about. What is your overall image, sound or message? How do you come across to a crowd? This eventually becomes your brand and your band’s personality and a trademark of sorts. What are you trying to accomplish? “Rehearsals aren’t performances” is a mistake bands often make. You might not realise it at first, but what happens during rehearsals later transpires on stage in front of an audience. Repetition of anything is eventually habit forming – the way a bassist walks over to the drummer after a chorus, the way you introduce a song. Even mistakes that aren’t addressed properly.
Don’t invite friends or your better half to band practice. It might distract yourself and your band members. You should however try and rehearse in front of a small crowd every once in a while, just to see if the energy works and to get rid of the jitters or whatever amount of stage fright there might be. Things get better over time, don’t worry.
Arrive on time (unless you have a special arrangement with your band). Don’t be that person that the band always has to wait for or worse, sometimes don’t show up. Being punctual shows respect and commitment. Frequently not showing up for practice without a valid excuse or increasingly and more frequent lame excuses might see you getting kicked out of the band. No-one is irreplaceable.
Take a notebook with you or make notes on your phone or tablet. It is useful to have a reference to go back on to suggest changes or suggest improvements. It could also make for interesting reading a year or two down the line and track how vastly your band has improved.
Make a realistic “to-do list” of what you would like to cover during rehearsal and stick to it. Don’t make a stupidly long list and don’t deviate from the plan. If one member really struggles on one of their sections, skip it and move onto the next item on your list. Get back to it at the end and give it another try if there is time. If it is really horrendous, that person needs to give it more attention at home. If you start off a song wrong, don’t try and adjust. Stop and restart. There is no point in practicing a song wrong especially when you start it off completely wrong. Work on what you should work on, not what you would “like” to work on. Nail existing songs before moving onto new stuff. Don’t be just OK – nailed songs should be second nature. In fact, once you nail a song, do it twice in a row. Once it is faultless you can move on. After all, that is the point of rehearsal – getting it right eventually, perfectly.
Band practice is for band rehearsal, home is for individual instrument practice. Keep practicing throughout the week at home. Master songs in your own time and leave band practice to work on getting tunes tighter. When at home and practicing your bits on your own time, use a metronome. A lot of guys hate doing this and try to stay away from it. Just do it. Find the BPM on which you guys agree and practice with a metronome at home. It is not only the drummer’s job to keep time – everyone should be on the same beat. You’ll find that when you practice with a metronome that muscle memory will eventually kick in and you will play in time more naturally when practicing without a metronome. You don’t have to get anything fancy. There are plenty of free apps for smartphones and basic in-ear headphones are very cheap.
A band should be somewhat of a democracy. Everyone must contribute, and everyone has a voice. It is a given that some personalities are larger than others but learn to speak up and give input and most importantly, learn to listen. Have a leader for rehearsal sessions. You can designate someone to lead the entire rehearsal or have different “leaders” for each song – a song can for instance be more drum driven or have intricate drum parts, so let the drummer lead that song. The bassist might be the one to start of the next one, so let him handle it. A good way to do this is to take it in turns to bring a new song to rehearsal and the relevant band member takes responsibility as the musical director in setting out how they want the song to sound. If you don’t have new material, take existing stuff and see if it could be modified a bit. Try a different style and see if it works You get the idea. It’s also a very good idea if each new song is allocated to a member of the band and it is their responsibility to circulate tabs/chords/lyrics and even YouTube clips for reference. Always have something new to try.
Don’t mess around by making unnecessary noise or play out of turn. Drummers are often the culprits here, often during setting up instruments. Give each other time to check instruments and levels and take turns to tune instruments. If you know you need to change guitar strings, don’t leave it for rehearsal time as far as you can help it.
If your vocalist doesn’t play any instruments, allow that person to arrive 15 minutes later than the rest of the band. He or she might distract other members while setting up gear. People without instruments or gear also tend to get bored or distracted, so have your gear set up and ready to go so that the minute your vocalist arrives your session can begin.
Warm up with an easy cover or a short section of a new song that your band knows really well. Try to pick a warm up song that isn’t part of your planned set list. That way the vocalist can loosen up a bit and oil the pipes.
Keep your sound below eardrum-rupturing levels. If you crank everything up your’e just creating black hole of noise and everyone will lose their place in the song.
Taking a 10 min break every now and again is helpful. Have a smoke, do some stretching, have a coffee or whatever and discuss with your guys what went right and what went wrong to form an idea of how to tackle next section of rehearsal.
Whenever possible you should record your rehearsals – it doesn’t need to be super studio quality, as you aren’t going to be using the recordings for anything other than your own reference. Recording your rehearsal session helps you to hear things you didn’t while you were playing, and get a better idea of the overall sound of the band. You will also get an idea of much time you waste talking shit. You might find out you sounded tighter than you thought during practice or you may discover you were horribly out of tune in a song or two. Or completely fucked up a part and nobody even noticed. If you keep all these recordings it can turn out to be a fun way to look back and see how far you’ve progressed.
Practice tops and tails (beginning and ends of songs). Go from the tail of one song to the top of the next. This allows you to get familiar with transitions between songs, including changing guitars, moving from one instrument to another and for singers, any change of vocal approach. This will also confirm if your set list works or needs rearrangement.
Aim to eventually get to a point where you are able to rehearse your full set list, uninterrupted. You develop your mental as well as physical transitions while you navigate through each song in order of actual performance. This also helps you develop physical and mental performance stamina. Avoid clumsiness on stage by practicing any necessary guitar changes, effects pedal settings and the likes . Your eventual live performance rehearsal will at some point make it to the stage. How you move and look to the audience will either complement or distract from how they experience your music. Performance energy is enhanced when a group works in unison and plays off each other musically and visually. Audience connection can be enhanced with short verbal interchange between some songs. It takes practice to say something appropriate to the audience to fill a few moments of downtime while a player changes a guitar or the singer moves to a different instrument for the next song. Practice this during your full set rehearsal so you get comfortable doing it without rambling on. “Dead airtime” is a thing your band can do without on stage.
Filming rehearsals for review purposes could be very beneficial. As per the previous point, don’t neglect practicing performance skills such as movement on stage, microphone handling, the banter with the crowd in between songs. Spend some time practicing as though you’re on stage and singing to the audience. This will also raise the energy levels between band members and get them psyched up. For this purpose, don’t worry if you fumble notes and miss beats – the purpose her is to focus on practicing you performance for a crowd – in the end you will get it right, but don’t practice this way if you haven’t nailed your songs during your “routine” band practice sessions.
It’s really important to have a genuine postmortem at the end of a jam session and to also start the planning process for the next one. If you don’t do this, important things will be missed when you meet for the next session. Ideally someone should take notes on where you are at with each song, highlighting any areas to work on next time. It’s hard to find the time to review these sessions, but someone should. Maybe that band member who takes the Gautrain to work every day? He might have an hour or two to kill helping out with all the admin issues that surround your band rehearsals.