Top 10 Band Rehearsal Tips
If ever there’s an activity that has potential to be a waste of time it’s a band rehearsal! Without planning an effective band rehearsal, you can end up with drummers endlessly tweaking things then tuning their kit; guitarists turning up to 11 and noodling away on some exotic scale 5/4 time signature riff; singers rolling up late and then taking calls from their “fans”. Thank god for bass players or nothing would ever happen! With The Hellbenders recently heading back into rehearsal mode, it seemed like a good time to run through some band rehearsal tips – some we follow, some we don’t, but we know that the following is what we should be doing!
The most important thing for having a good rehearsal is to actually have a plan of what you want to do. Sounds bleeding obvious but it’s funny how rarely it’s done. There are three obvious phases for a band in rehearsal: building a setlist, refining a setlist, or songwriting. When we are in the setlist building mode, we bring no more than 4 new songs to rehearsal. Trying to work on more is just too hard if you want to really nail them.
If you are in set list refining mode you should try and play through the songs in order, one at a time. If there’s a major screw-up early on you might start again, but generally you should make a note of ones that weren’t quite right and go back to them at the end.
Song writing mode is a very different beast and best done as a standalone session – trying to come up with something new around working on existing material is tough. At a pinch you could devote the first half of the rehearsal to song writing, then take a break and come back to existing stuff in the second half.
The idea of taking a break is also important. Sure, rehearsal space isn’t always cheap so you want to try and maximise your time, but a genuine 10minute break in the middle of a two or three hour session will keep you fresh and focussed.
And above all, turn up on time and be ready to go!
2. What’s important?
When you are getting the rehearsal structure together, make sure you think about what you “should” work on rather than what you “want” to work on. Ideally, you should have your existing material really nailed before you start introducing new stuff; so make sure you are all comfortable with a song before you move on. If you find yourselves having problems with a song for a few weeks, then allocate more time to nail that song the next week.
3. Who’s the boss?
While ideally a band is the perfect collaboration between like-minded individuals, it’s rarely that way in real life. Someone has to lead the rehearsal process. There’s a couple of ways to approach this: either designate someone to run the entire rehearsal, or designate different leaders for each song. When someone is in control you’ll be much more effective and debates around what you want a song to sound like can be moderated.
4. Have you done your homework?
The most important thing when working on covers or existing material is knowing each song! You know when something is challenging you, so don’t waste the rest of the band’s time using the rehearsal to work on something you could have done at home. If it’s a new song, download the tab or chords and practise it. 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 tab/chords/lyrics and eve YouTube clips to refer to. That’ll keep you all singing off the same page so to speak rather than have each member practising in a different key.
5. Warm up and set levels
Yep, this is starting to sound like footy training – and in many ways it is. There are a couple of ways to get warmed up: muck around over a basic 12 bar blues pattern, or, perhaps more effective, is to pick a warm up song that isn’t part of your set list. At least that way the singer can loosen their pipes as well. This is the time to check levels and make sure your rehearsal can flow uninterrupted. And by setting levels, that means keeping the sound below ear-bleeding levels. Rehearsal rooms are small and loud noise won’t dissipate too well so resist the temptation to crank it up and your ears will thank you.
6. Record it
Whenever possible you should record your rehearsals – it doesn’t matter what the quality is as you aren’t going to be using the recordings for anything other than your own reference. Listening back to a rehearsal recording can really help identify issues the band has with songs. We’ve recently been setting up a GoPro camera to record our stuff – the sound is surprisingly good and there’s the bonus of being able to actually work on your stagecraft!
7. Get it right!
Don’t be satisfied when a song is just “okay”. You need to really work a song until it becomes second nature. It’s very easy to be satisfied with a song before you really should be – everyone is keen to move on to the next thing after you’ve played the same song half a dozen time, but if it’s not right, play it again. If you are really disciplined about this you should only move on to a new song when you’ve played the current one to the standard you want twice in a row. This is all about staying focused, and while we’re on that, don’t invite friends to rehearsals: they aren’t “performances”, they are for you to practice and do so without distractions. That said, a couple of times we have booked a large rehearsal space with the specific intention of inviting a few people along (mainly our kids, or friends who wouldn’t be able to go to the gig itself).
8. New material keeps you fresh
Some of the best rehearsal fun happens when you are trying out songs for the first time – especially if the band members have done their homework and learnt the nuts and bolts of the song ahead of time. About the only time to not have new material in your rehearsal plan is when you are in the final stages of nailing a set list before a gig. Otherwise, always have something new to try. A good way to do this is 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. I’ve also seen advice that if you don’t have anything new, a good alternative is to take an existing song and try and play it in a different style.
9. Stage craft needs practice too
As you get close to a performance, you should ideally have a rehearsal that reflects the live performance as closely as possible, even down to the between song banter. Get comfortable with the flow of the songs and get used to some song transitions that may require a bit more time (like a guitar change). Obviously this is where filming the rehearsal can be really beneficial.
10. So, how did you go?
It’s really important to have a genuine postmortem at the end of a session and to also start the planning process for the next one. If you don’t do it then, important things will be missed when you meet again. Ideally someone should take notes on where you are at with each song, highlighting any areas to work on next time. It’s just like taking notes in a meeting or class. If you develop the discipline to do this rehearsals will be significantly more effective each time.
Hopefully that helps, but no doubt you’ve got other tips to keep rehearsals humming, so please share any thoughts you have!