A successful gig on stage starts with successful rehearsals. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is your best show. As a rehearsal space with lots of different types of artists at all levels, from international touring to local coffee shops, we’ve picked up a few tips along the way and want to share them with you. Implement some or all of these tips to kick start your next rehearsal.
1. Have a leader
Someone is going to have run the practice and keep everyone in check. This person should rise to the occasion naturally, but in case it doesn’t know that someone at least needs to be the go-to spokesperson. Everyone has a strength, so just because you aren’t the leader doesn’t mean there’s not a role for you or that you can’t be helpful in another way. Play to each of your strengths. Someone has to print the flyers, right?
2. Set the mood
Get the right mood with lighting or decor. If your band has a chill vibe, do what you can to practice in a chill environment. If you’re in a standard-issue rehearsal room, try using floor lamps with some color-changing LED bulbs or even consider something like the Nanoleaf light panel kit. If you need to hang some inspirational artwork to complete the look, hang it on the walls with some Commando strips or something similar.
If you consider your group a serious band then your rehearsals should reflect that. Don’t make practice a time to booze it up and party. If you’re there to just hangout and get away from the house while messing around, then you’re good to be pretty casual in your approach to rehearsal. Focus on getting better. Clear your mind with whatever technique that works best for you or your group. Consider yoga or meditation to get everyone in the same mindset. You’ll be amazed by the power of these tools.
4. Make a schedule or routine
To have the best chance for everyone showing up to each practice, it’s a good idea to have a standing practice schedule. Pick a day and time that works best for everyone one week and there’s a good chance that will work the following week. Obviously schedules change, events happen and something has to be moved around. This way bandmates can easily plan around practice rather than trying to schedule practice around their plans. This will help dramatically reduce the chance for no-shows and constant rescheduling. Once you get to rehearsal, establish a routine, no matter what it is. If practice starts at 9pm, have a whiteboard that lists out what happens every 10 or 15 minutes, even if it’s just hanging out or goofing off. This actually works best for bands that don’t feel like they get a lot accomplished during practice. Do this for each practice (ahem…leader) and you’ll be surprised how quickly time will fly by.
Actually go through some warm-up exercises before just shredding it. A warm-up routine, whether it is individually or as a group, or both, will get the blood flowing in the muscles that matter and stimulate lubricants in your vocal chords and joints. Start at moderate tempos and volumes and then gradually increase the intensity, tempo and range. Even if you want to start with some of your music, that’s totally fine; just make sure that it’s not demanding on your body. Your rehearsal should be a marathon, not a sprint.
6. Use a metronome
If your band isn’t using a metronome at some point during practice, I’m telling you right now you’re doing it wrong! Aside from the obvious reason of keeping all the musicians on beat, it’s also an effective way to track your improvement over time. It will keep you aware of timing issues throughout the song and, ultimately, your fans in the crowd on beat. When you’re using a metronome, you’ll be able to simplify any challenging rhythms while making you aware of playing songs at a different tempo than they were intended. Individual musicians will be able to work on the song while away from the group and drop right into full group practice and not miss a beat (pun intended). These are all great, but what is actually the best reason to use a metronome? I have two big reasons for you. One, it will allow you to play with backing tracks live and two, it will help you record mult-take sessions in the studio.
7. Use a tuner
Ears can be golden, but not always trusted. Using a tuner will allow you to control your notes the way you want to control them. It’s extremely important to blend with your bandmates and a tuner will get you there. When you’re on stage, it might be somewhat difficult to use your ears if the venue is a loud bar or venue. If you use a tuner in rehearsal, you’ll be a pro at using it on stage when it’s even more important. Until you’ve mastered tuning with the pedigree of Tony McManus, use a tuner. Just watch the first 40 seconds of this clip to see what I’m talking about.
8. Use a clock
The world’s first metronome: the clock. Clocking in a steady tempo of 60, the clock is really only used for timing. When you have your next show lined up, time your set as if you were on-stage so that you don’t go over your allotted time. You definitely don’t want to have a killer show and then cause problems for someone else by playing your encore when you are already over your time. This matters enough to consider it, so use a clock in your rehearsal.
9. Take a break
Practice is important. It absolutely is, but part of practice is making sure you can last the entire time. Always schedule a break during each practice in order to keep your chops in a good performance-ready condition. Running a marathon can be intense on its own so there’s no need to run two of them without a break in between. You should treat your practices the same way.
10. Record your rehearsal on video
Recording your rehearsal is a great tool for finding out exactly what’s going on in a certain passage and increasing your accuracy. Recapture that magic, be it something visually or audibly. And if you’re rehearsing in a room that doesn’t have a giant mirrored wall (our Hourly Studio at Kessler Park does btw), recording your rehearsal on video will give you a point of view that you would not otherwise have. Having the recording will help get rid of some excuses and allow band members to self-evaluate. From your cell phone to a laptop with an interface, there are many ways to record your rehearsal. One of our favorites is the Zoom Q2n, which has a pretty good wide-angle lens to capture the full band as well as capturing high SPLs that typically come along with loud live music. And at around $220 it won’t break the bank. Whatever you choose, remember to keep it simple for both recording and sharing afterwards.
11. Playback and breakdown a recorded rehearsal or performance as a band
Recording your rehearsal is worthless if you don’t play it back to analyze the performance. Watch it both individually and as a group to find different things you can do differently, or things you can suggest to your bandmates. Build this into your rehearsal time as you see fit.
12. Grab an audience
Once you have a good set rehearsed out and you think you’re ready for your next gig, invite a couple of close friends, family, fans or even other bands or musicians wandering the halls at your rehearsal space over to provide some constructive criticism on your set. Let them know that you’re looking for feedback on how you can make your “show” better. They will likely give you some input that you might not be thinking of as a musician like you’re spread too far apart or less dialog in between sets because your jokes aren’t funny. You’d rather know that now in a space with people you trust rather than on stage in front of a crowd full of strangers.
13. Use earplugs
Don’t be a hero and crank it to 11 without using earplugs. Your ears are naturally degrading with age and they need all the help they can get. You might feel like you can’t hear what your bandmates are doing, but try to get some premium earplugs. They will let in the noise you need to hear and also be much more comfortable over longer periods of time. Wearing earplugs can also help prevent tinnitus, the perception of noise or ringing in the ears, when used correctly. Be careful of earwax buildup and clean your earplugs regularly. Your future self will thank you immensely.
14. Practice your weaknesses
It’s important to know what areas you excel in and what areas need more work. If you aren’t sure, go back to #10 about recording your rehearsal and #11 about playing it back. If you can’t find any weaknesses, ask someone else that plays your instrument to point them out. If a section of a song is too difficult, water it down for the upcoming show and come back to it next time. Better to sound right than sloppy. Find some songs or exercises that demonstrate your weak areas and concentrate on that until you get it sounding better and tighter.
15. Stop noodling
Don’t waste time messing around with riffs or noodling in the middle of rehearsal. It’s disrespectful to your bandmates. Besides, they already know what you can do and aren’t impressed anymore. Rather, set aside 5-10 minutes during your practice to just mess around. You still need that freeform as a musician, but there is a time and a place for it. Know it. Practice it.
16. Come equipped
You might get lucky and your rehearsal space has a vending machine that spits out peg winders, valve oil and drum keys. Ultimately though, it is on you to have the right tools for repairs that will inevitably need to happen at the worst possible time. Know your instrument(s) and the tools and supplies you need to keep it operating at peak performance. There are several generic musician tool kits on the market, but it might be best to simply get the tools you need and assemble your own bag of tricks for the next time the 💩 hits the fan.
17. Captain’s log
In poker, one of the most effective methods to steadily improve your game is to keep a log of your play at the end of the game. Music is no different. Keep a log or journal on how you did and reference it next time to compare notes. It doesn’t have to be anything super fancy; it could be a simple spiral notebook from the dollar store. Alternatively, you can use the Notes app on your phone or Evernote. Both of these apps typically include a way to insert files, which can be great when you record yourself (video or audio). It gives you something reference alongside your notes, which would make it a snap to show to share with a bandmate or teacher. Sometimes playing it is easier than describing it. Here’s a sample journal sheet you can use to get started.
18. Spice it up
Playing music is one of the loves of your life. It’s meant to be fun, not a job. Keep things interesting with creative ideas to spice up your next rehearsal. Try trading instruments for a song or have a theme for the night. Maybe the circle game does the trick. The more tomfoolery, the better IMHO. Just don’t let it get in the way of staying focused on the goals your band has established.
19. Listen together
If you haven’t already done so, listen to an inspirational song together as a band. Maybe even one from outside your genre. The idea here is that you might pickup something together that you may not individually. If your group idolizes the same singer from another group, listen to one of their tracks together. When you do this regularly you will find some things to add to your own musicianship. Batter yet, find a genre you all hate and try to find just one good thing they’re doing and figure out a way to incorporate that into one of your own songs.
20. Set actionable goals
This comes from the business side of me in a book called The 4 Disciplines of Execution by Chris McChesney. I’ve found it exponentially more effective to set goals that are called lead measures. These are goals that are achievable by simply doing them and the byproduct of achieving them is you end up reaching your overarching goal. An example of this would be rehearsing for 5 hours every week. You’ll find that when you do this, you will reach your lag measure, or the goals that you lose sleep over. They are purely a byproduct of your performance. So rather than setting your goal of wanting to add 20 songs to your repertoire, set your goal of rehearsing 5 hours each week. From there you will achieve your larger goals.
21. Connect with your bandmates
Bands have come and gone for a long, long time. Very few remain intact. Those that do are usually very close with each other. Respect and trust are earned over years of being together on the road. It is important that you spend at least some time outside the rehearsal space with your bandmates. Go grill out together or to someone else’s show together. If you’re on tour, a regular round of Roses and Thorns works well. I noticed this to be especially effective after working with Abner and Amanda of JOHNNYSWIM. Their crew and bandmates make an effort to come together and give a highlight (the Rose) and a lowlight (the thorn). The things you’ll end up talking about are often deeply personal and sometimes emotional. This did amazing things to keep the connection strong between everyone and is something that you can easily add to your rehearsal routine.
Some of this may sound like a waste of time or too cheesy for your group to pull off. But if you’re out here searching for ways to kick your rehearsal into high-gear, give them a shot. Hopefully you’re already doing most of these. And I’d love to hear any suggestions you might have to make someone’s next practice their best practice. What ways do you get the most out of your rehearsal?
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I'm the co-owner of The Music Box and a lifelong musician as a euphonium player. The son of a band director, alumnus of the University of Alabama and father of 3, I keep busy on my Peloton and managing multiple businesses.