1.) Connect beforehand – Once a rehearsal is scheduled, specify what the musicians need. If you’re running a rehearsal, make sure the musicians know what they need. If you’re not in charge, inquire with the rehearsal leader if you have questions. Amps, drums, extra cables, music stands, mutes, music, and the like should be addressed in advance of the rehearsal date. Oh yeah, bring a pencil!
2.) Study the music – It’s important to consider style, historical lineage, dynamics, articulation, groove, trouble spots, and transitions, among other aspects. Some music will be looser and more improvisational than others. Other type of arrangements and compositions requires the group to focus more on the fine print. If it’s loose and improvisational, don’t force anything, but think about your concept before rehearsing. Also, make sure you know how to play over the chord changes. If a song is very specific, jot down the details and define the way they should be played. How loud is forte? How soft is pianissimo? In general, think about how other musicians approached this music in the past and how they approach it today. Study well-known recordings as well as lesser-known recordings. If possible, always listen to the original version for ideas, but come up with your own take of the tune. If there’s a score, don’t forget to study it.
3.) Anticipate trouble spots – Rehearse these by isolating them. Practice the section slowly. Gradually increase the tempo until it’s where it needs to be. Then run the section by starting a few measures before at performance tempo. When rehearsing a tune for the first time, you can start directly at the trouble spot or you can start at the beginning. If you did your research, you’ll know where the hard sections occur. Thus, you can stop the band to rehearse through them. Can you see why studying the music before comes in handy?
4.) Show up on time – It doesn’t matter if you’re great or mediocre. If you’re going to be late due to some unforeseen event, let the rehearsal leader or another band member know. Though circumstances do occur, being consistently late can affect your reputation and the amount of future collaborations you have with other artists.
5.) Figure out setup configurations – Rehearse in a way that everyone can hear and communicate with each other. Though beyond the scope of this post, you can experiment in different configurations such as setting up in a circle or playing straight across from each other. I like to see everybody so I can feed off body movement and facial expressions.
6.) Tune before rehearsing – Common sense I know, but important. Tuning wastes time. It may result in a tune getting short-changed or not rehearsed at all. Strive to play the first note on the downbeat of rehearsal.
7.) Figure out rehearsal timing and sectionals – Plan ahead on how long you want to spend on each tune. Also, decide if you want to start a tune at the hardest section first. If you have a bigger ensemble, figure in times for sectionals. Plan the best way to make these the most efficient for the different sections of the ensemble so that when the group comes together, one section doesn’t sit idle while another section still rehearses their part. The key is to be specifically clear on aspects such as the key center, tempo, groove, form, and any type of transition before breaking off into sectionals.
8.) Use a timer – This ties into figuring out the timing of the rehearsal. Using a timer maximizes your efficiency and holds you accountable for covering everything.
9.) Play a lot; talk little – Don’t waste time trying to elaborate on what you want to hear. Let the musicians convey that with their instruments. Be succinct in your words. The more specific the sheet music, the less you’ll need to talk.
10.) Don’t waste time transitioning – Know and share the order of the tunes you want to run through. Don’t waste time in between talking about what your cat did yesterday. A musician’s time is precious, especially if the rehearsal is unpaid. Most likely, they’ll need to run to a lesson or play a gig afterwards. Moreover, you run the risk of losing focus in the ensemble. Music should take precedent over everything. Believe me, the music will provide the conversation if you concentrate on it. You can still have humor (you need it) and have a good time, just don’t babble on and on.
11.) Don’t keep sections idle for a long time – If I had a penny for each time I sat idle in a rehearsal, I could buy multiple brownstones in Manhattan. This seems to be a common problem for many groups rehearsing. It all goes back to specifying clearly what needs to be worked on at home or in sectionals. If rehearsing a section ends up taking longer than expected, find a useful way to incorporate the idle sections.
12.) Be consistent – Make sure you cue and cut off the band the same way.
13.) Don’t stop band without explaining why – Don’t guess that something is wrong. Know that something is wrong. Know how to address the problem quickly and efficiently.
14.) Don’t pretend to know everything – Just because you lead a rehearsal, you don’t need to put on a front that you’re the definitive authority on all things music. Trained musicians will see right through you. This also limits your growth as a musician. Generally if you have this mindset, other bandmates will most likely feel uncomfortable putting in their two cents about the music. Thus, you may be missing out on some great ideas that you’d never think about.
15.) Listen for time – Lock into the bass player and drummer. Personally, I listen for the bass drum and hi-hat/ride cymbal. Consider using a metronome in rehearsals too. It can tell you a lot about specific tendencies such as placement (playing behind, center, or ahead of the beat). It also helps you decide on the best tempo for the song. Some songs groove best at 80 BPM while others work better at 160 BPM. The metronome’s main asset is informing the group if a tune is dragging or rushing in tempo. While it’s invaluable to use one, develop the ability to not rely on using it all the time.
16.) Log progress and trouble spots; use a recorder – Keep note on the progress of your rehearsals. This helps to develop goals for the overall sound of the group. Also, the more you keep record, the more you’ll notice minor mistakes. Secondly, using an audio or video recorder works well because you will not hear everything in rehearsal due to the way the brain and ear work. A video recorder works really well because you get to see how much energy the group conveys. Forward the recordings to all the musicians with notes on how to improve the sound of the group.
17.) Critique honestly – Once in high school I heard someone remark, “I love music’s honesty.” This quote still strikes a chord with me today (no pun intended). Set all personal feelings aside. Sugarcoating will only disservice the musicians and the sound of the group as a whole. The truth will eventually come out in some form.
18.) Have fun – Don’t forget that your purpose is to create great music. You rehearse to work stuff out. However, if you have a bad attitude about it, that negativity and sluggish energy will show in the music. Not good! If that happens, you’ve basically wasted your whole rehearsal time.