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How to make your band rehearsals more productive

Tens of thousands of musicians a year pass through our studios, we have sixteen rooms and most studios have a minimum of one or two bookings per day.  We see everything from bands of teenagers having their very first rehearsal, to established artists such as the Damned and ModeStep rehearsing for national and global tours. We’ve seen artists develop from first rehearsals to number one sellers (most notably Amy Winehouse and Kate Nash). A common question bands ask me is how you can make your band rehearsals more productive. What sometimes amazes me is just how much time bands waste on unproductive rehearsal, especially when they have important events coming up. Perhaps what is even more incredible is how often you advise bands as to what they should do to make rehearsals productive and they don’t listen at all.

So what should bands do and how should they approach rehearsals? The first thing to do is to set a clear goal for each rehearsal.  First of all, what are you rehearsing for? There are four main types of rehearsal which bands and artists have. 1. Getting to know you rehearsals 2.audition rehearsals. 3. Gig rehearsals. 4. Recording rehearsals. 5. Social rehearsals.
How can you get the most out of each of these.
1. Getting to know you/audition rehearsals.
So you’ve put a band together and you are meeting up for your first rehearsal. Some of you have never played together before and some of you have never met each other before. Everyone is looking forward to playing together. How do you ensure that you get the most productive and enjoyable rehearsal possible? Well for a start, try and make sure that you have some idea of what you are going to play. If you are doing covers, email everyone a list of the songs to try. I always send the tabs for the music and links to clips of the songs. Ask people whether they know the songs and whether they like them. There is no point getting people to play numbers they don’t like (unless it is for a specific function, where it is a requirement). Always start with a  few songs which are more simple to play. This will give you some idea of what the players are like. They should pick them up straight away. I would advise trying to do as many songs as possible and try each song no more than 2 or 3 times initially. If you play all of the numbers, by the end you should have some idea of what you can get together easily. I’d suggest ten songs initially. For a three hour rehearsal that should be plenty. You should also try and ascertain if the singer is more comfortable in particular keys. Don’t force them to sing in a key which doesn’t suit their voice. If you are doing originals, it helps to make a rough recording of the songs first and circulate this, as well as tabs for the music. This gives people a fighting chance of getting the songs together. for the rehearsal. If songs have lots of complicated changes/stop starts, it will take time to get together. Make sure that your fellow band members get ample time to learn the transitions. Don’t send them a recording the day before and expect it to be perfect.
2. Audition rehearsals.
If a member of the band leaves and you need to audition new members, it is worth giving some thought to how you’ll approach the rehearsal. Assuming you have five applicants to join, you need to make sure they all have a fair crack of the whip. If you have a three hour slot, allow 20 mins for each person, with a ten minute gap. People feel more comfortable if they don’t hear the other applicants. If possible ask them to learn four of the songs and provide links to videos and send the tabs. Give them a few days notice. Make it clear that you will let them know afterwards. Use the last half hour to discuss the candidates. Order them and contact them in order of preference, with best candidate first. If you really like one person, but they don’t like you, make sure you have a fallback position, but don’t get someone completely unsuitable. If you only do originals and you don’t have recordings or tabs, at least give them a fighting chance by starting them on easy numbers. If they pick these up quickly try a more difficult one. I find that most people take 2/3 rehearsals to get their head round original material, if it is complex. Be prepared for this and maybe increase the frequency of you rehearsals until they have learned the songs. The most important thing for auditions is to give everyone a fair crack of the whip. If someone doesn’t turn up, don’t give one candidate twice the playing time. If you do, you will be giving them an unfair advantage. Tell candidates that you have allowed 20 minutes for their slot. That should be ample. It also means that if they are unsuitable, you are not stuck with them all night. Even if theya re the only applicant, this is a good strategy. If it goes swimmingly, you can always ask them if the fancy jamming on a few more numbers.
3. Gig rehearsals.
So you have a gig to play. If you’ve taken on the commitment of playing a gig, always allow suitable preparation time in terms of rehearsals. Work out a set list and running order. When I have a gig to play, I always have a set regime for rehearsals. The band runs through the set once at the start of the rehearsal. No matter how badly we play the songs, we do not go through the numbers we played badly. We keep gaps to a minimum. We simply move on to the next song. When we’ve played the set, we have a five minute break. We then work on any songs which were played badly. We concentrate on the section or transition that we played badly, until we’ve sorted the problem out. When we’ve addressed all the issues, we have another five minute break and then play the set through again, no breaks, minimal gaps. If there is time, we then have a jam to let off steam. This ensures that we clear our mind. Many bands will “play a few songs to warm up”. This is a mistake. You get no warm up at a gig. learn to get the songs right first time. Structure your set so you play the easiest songs to “warm up” with.
4. Recording rehearsals.
When you have a recording looming, you need to rehearse in a totally different way, should you want the best possible use of the recording session. If you want the songs to sound good, there are several things you can do to increase the chances of getting the best possible recording. Firstly make sure your drummer plays to a click at the rehearsals. If he can do this at rehearsal, he can do it in the recording. This will make editing the tracks a million times easier. If the drummer has trouble with this, he simply needs to practice on his own with a click. Secondly spend some time rehearsing vocal harmonies without instruments. This is important, because in full volume rehearsals, you won’t notice if someone is off key. By doing vocal only rehearsals, you can get the vocal harmonies working properly. You should spend as much time as possible on the songs you will be playing. Some musicians feel that if they haven’t played the set, then they haven’t had a proper rehearsal. This is the wrong mindset for recording.
5. Social rehearsals.
So you have no gigs lined up, no recordings planned and you are just having a rehearsal for the fun of it. Are there any rules you can apply to these to make them better? There is one. If you are purely rehearsing because you like playing, make sure that everyone is playing music they enjoy and they are getting something positive from the rehearsal. Don’t put upon people and force them to play a load of songs they don’t like. They won’t have a good time and you soon won’t have a band. If the band isn’t planning gigs or recordings, don’t take it too seriously or get the hump with band mates who aren’t taking it as a life or death matter.
The thing to remember about music is that it is meant to be enjoyable. Make sure this applies to everyone in the band. If someone isn’t enjoying it, they will get sick of it and leave you in the lurch.
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