1. Have you practiced before the rehearsal?
The key to rehearsing is to look at it as a time to build arrangements and getting the band to ‘gel’ with a song. Rehearsing is different to personal practice times.I always try to get my band members to learn chords, parts, lyrics, melodies etc well before they come to rehearse. Try to create a culture where set lists, charts, MP3s etc are emailed to the band a good few days before the rehearsal and it really will speed up the creative process on the day. This also allows musicians to bring a ‘worshipful offering’ of a part they have thought through.
2. Who’s in charge?
It’s very unusual for a band to operate efficiently as a democracy so have a leader or musical director for your rehearsals. That person doesn’t necessarily have to be the worship leader but they do need to have a broad understanding of each instruments role and some creative directional ability. Also most great pop music has been made in teams so they should welcome and be able to integrate creative input from other musicians.
3. Can you see each other?
Bands often rehearse facing a fictitious audience but for developing arrangements physically arrange your team where they can see each other, even facing each other, perhaps in a circle. Communication is so much easier when you can see everyone and read their expressions.
4. How can we let off steam?
Very often musicians may not have played at all for a week or two so start off with a fast familiar song for a couple of minutes that allows everyone to warm up/show off their latest chops/turn the amps up to 11/pretent they are Eddie Van Halen. Afterwards they should be much more docile!
5. What are the basics?
At whatever ability level your musicians are at, the key to a great sound is to work on playing simple stuff well. Lock down a rhythm that everyone can add parts to. Work on timing and use a metronome if necessary. Try and make strumming patterns fit with the accents of the drum groove. Often rhythms clash because a musician changes their part mid section without warning so if it sounds messy, strip parts out rather than add in extra. For lead instruments, play in the gaps to compliment vocal lines and above all don’t fill up every moment of musical space.
6. What should we focus on rehearsing?
Practice changing dynamics without changing tempo. Many inexperienced bands slow down for softer song parts and speed up for louder sections. Listen to a good contemporary album, in most songs the actual tempo doesn’t change at all. However by getting your band to practice playing a song really loud then really soft over a metronome you can create huge shifts in its ‘feel’. This can be very beautiful especially when it matches the expression in the lyrics.
Don’t just run through the full song ad nauseum. Practice stops, starts and junctions. Practice them again. And again. Make sure the musicians look around at musical junctions so they don’t miss direction changes and communicate two bars ahead at key transition points. As long as they are looking you can conduct so much verbally, bodily or even with your eyes. What do those lyrics make you want to do? Bow down, shout, laugh, cry, dance? How would you interpret on your instrument?
7. What should we NOT do?
Encourage your musicians not to ‘twiddle’ between songs, it wastes time distracts others and generally means they are not paying attention. Try to minimise chat and leave much time for playing as possible but don’t be afraid to stop a song if a section goes wrong. Loop it around 3 or 4 times for everyone to get it into ‘muscle memory’ and then go back and play it from the top. Repetition is the key to building memory pathways.
Don’t spend ages arranging the song in advance. There are three ways to arrange; before you play the song, as you play the song, and to correct the mistakes after you’ve played the song! For worship music I prefer to spend less time arranging complex forms as they may well change once the congregation interacts. Many musicians can’t remember lots of complex arrangements unless they are charted out or the leader heavily conducts so a great way to arrange as you play the song is to work on musical listening skills, communication and expressing parts to support the lyrics and melody.
We cover rehearsals and sooo much more on our Worship Band Skills course. Available on DVD, as a download and also in our subscription website.
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