I remember the first time I ever went in to record an original song. I was seventeen years old and thought I was going to be the next big thing in music. The engineer for the small studio in New Hampshire, Mary Warren, advised me on the phone to rehearse a ton before we came in to track.
Always a good follower of directions, I assembled the band everyday for about two weeks prior to the session and we played the ten songs we wanted to record over, and over, and over, and over. We walked in to the studio, confident and ready with weeks of focused rehearsal behind us. Take one… We’re about a minute in to the song when I hear Mary’s voice coming through my phones.
“Stop stop,” She said. “Maybe you should come in to the control room for a sec.”
She then informed us that the take we had been in the middle of was horrible and she thought she had asked us to practice. I’m going through all of this to say that there is a right and wrong way to practice.
Rehearsing is not playing down your song list and calling it good. Rehearsing is focusing on the trouble spots, identifying issues, correcting them and drilling them. If the transition from the verse to the chorus is a little loose, play that transition as many times as it takes to get it sounding right every time. For me, something isn’t fixed until we’ve done it at least three times in a row correctly.
Another suggestion is always rehearse with your drummer on the click. Your drummer can play to a click, right? If your drummer is on the click, all rehearsal, every rehearsal, the proper timing becomes second nature to the whole band.
When you’re playing that tricky spot live without the click, you’d have rehearsed it so many times in time, you’ll be much more likely to nail it in front of an audience.
This brings me to my next point – follow the drummer. The band is no good if the drummer isn’t leading the way with tempo and dynamics. Guitarists and singers might get all the attention, but a drummer will make or break the band.
Next, listen for problems, his also means keeping your rehearsal volumes down. I like to play it loud too, but in rehearsal it’s all about listening. I like to play a song through one time, listening to everything going on. I make mental notes of any mistakes I might hear, or might have heard at the last show. When I’ve got my list of questionable passages I’ll have the band revisit them. This also goes for my mistakes too.
The next tip is addressing problems. Knowing how to communicate with each individual band member in a non-confrontational way, that avoids hard feelings, but still gets the job done and the part played right is a topic for a whole new article. Still, keep in mind that when the lead guitarist is messing up the solo on your masterpiece, he’s still a valued team member and contributor. Tell him that you’re hearing something you don’t think you like in his lead part and spend the time working it out with them. Don’t get inpatient, give people time to feel comfortable learning.
Finally you need to drill. When each member knows their proper parts, play it as many times as it takes to be done with ease and precision. When you’re playing it live you don’t want it to sound forced or unnatural. Remember, when you’re playing live your focus is a lot more divided, with a live audience, an unfamiliar monitor mix, than it is in rehearsal. You’ll need to really have your parts worked out and second nature in practice before you can expect to consistently hit them on stage.
Don’t be afraid to hold yourself and your band to a high standard. The market is flooded with bad music, performed by bands that are under rehearsed or not properly rehearsed. Take the time to set your band apart and work up the most polished show you can.
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