Photo: A portrait of the writer in a rehearsal space.
If there’s one activity that has the potential to be hugely productive or a complete waste of time, it’s band rehearsal.
Sure, many 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 snare rolls 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 who decide, “Yup, I gotta start looking for a new band.”
The next thing you know, you’ve spent valuable time and even 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 top 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 come together to perform their parts together and get the song down tight.
Yes, a certain level of song-tweaking happens in rehearsal. Yet overall, rehearsal is like sitting in the wings at a concert and warming up before taking the stage.
To get there and deliver audiences the kind of performance you know you can give, email band members sheet music, tab and lyric sheets, demo recordings or whatever works best so members can practice their parts on their own, well in advance of rehearsal. If email doesn’t work, set up a shared folder in Dropbox or other file-hosting service so band members can download what they need.
Other helpful things to share include rehearsal-time schedules, band-member contact info and important song-change info. It’s all well and good, for example, if the singer has decided to change some song from the key of G to A. Yet if the rest of the band doesn’t know about this, valuable rehearsal time can get wasted before everyone else is playing on the same page.
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.
Choose a Leader
Whether your band has a recognized leader or your group operates as a democracy, appoint someone to lead the rehearsal and keep things running productively and on track. That’s why orchestras appoint conductors and movie studios appoint directors.
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. 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 10-minute breaks every hour.
Hang the “No Friends” Sign
Rehearsal time is not an opportunity to impress your friends with an “exclusive invitation” to check out your “killer band.” You wouldn’t invite your friends to your day job to check out your “killer 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 not 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 shot over the Grand Canyon. Said another way, most daily phone calls are regular calls that cause needless distraction in rehearsal and are best left for voicemail. So turn off your phone and focus on the music.
Choose Soundproofed Commercial Space
When it comes to renting commercial rehearsal space, demand definitely outweighs supply in most 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.
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 can also serve to show other musicians how a song goes, should you need to bring in additional players.
Rehearsal recordings do not need to be audio perfection, and they’re definitely not created to post on social media or send out to labels. 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.
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. Easier still, some commercial rehearsal spaces come pre-wired with basic recording equipment that either comes with the cost of the rental or is available at an additional, nominal cost.
Bonus Tip (And the Most Important One of All)
Have fun. Yes, band rehearsals and the music industry as a 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 amazing and fun. So keep that feeling in rehearsal. Embrace it and nurture it. When you have fun in rehearsal, you carry that energy to the stage, where your audience has fun. And that feeds back into a loop that helps keep your band thriving and performing at its best for years.