How to Rehearse
You’ve got a group together, you’re meeting up with somebody, or you’re joining a pre-existing group. Great work! Quite often the first meeting will just be figuring each other out, trying to decide if you want to pursue the relationship. The second meeting, once you’ve decided to meet up again, is when you’ll actually need to have a plan.
Decide on somewhere to meet. It needs to be somewhere either soundproof, or far enough away from other people not to matter. Trying to have a good time while you’re thinking about the neighbours pelting your garage roof with rocks isn’t ideal. I’ve rehearsed in basements, garages, barns, lounges, art studios, recording studios, and dedicated rehearsal studios. There’s always somewhere if you look, even if you’re not in a big city. At the very least, it needs to be somewhere with reliable electricity and (depending on your set-up) a PA system.
A public address (PA) system is used to amplify any instrument that’s quiet, so it can compete with things like drum kits and guitar amps in terms of volume. In a basic setting you use a PA system for vocals, acoustic string instruments, and electronic instruments to be heard. Unless you are extremely fortunate it will be years before you get anywhere close to a half-decent PA system. To start with you need to learn to make-do with whatever you can get, usually it’s that or nothing.
A PA system needs at least a small mixer, an amplifier and a speaker (ideally two speakers). Some systems have an amplifier built into the mixer, some systems have both built into the speakers. If you aren’t rehearsing in a room that has a PA, you need to find one elsewhere or buy one yourself. In a pinch, and it’s not advised, a microphone can be plugged into a guitar amp. It won’t sound good, but it will work. You will also need a microphone.
Now that you’re in a room with a PA system and (hopefully) your instruments, you need something to play. A great way to break the ice is to have a few cover songs agreed upon before the rehearsal that you’ve all learned and prepared to play. This way you can go in, set up and get playing immediately.
I’m going to mostly leave the rest up to you, people work in all kinds of ways and thrive in different environments so there are no set rules about how you should rehearse and jam. I can however offer some advice based on more than 20 year of being in this situation:
Have a warm-up. This can be one of the songs you’ve prepared, it might be a cool riff that’s not a song, a cover or a standard. The point is that everyone can play it, it’s not too difficult or demanding and it’s fun. This gives you a chance to warm up, get a good feeling going and relax into the atmosphere.
Do the hard stuff first. If there’s a tune that you’ve been struggling with, a song you’re dreading or something that’s difficult: tackle it first. You have greater patience and you’re more likely to succeed when you’re energetic and fresh than you are at the end of the session when you’re tired and just want to go home.
Get the work done. Rehearsing can be super fun and it’s easy to get carried away, but if you have an objective for the session other than jamming, you need to prioritise that first. Getting to the end of a rehearsal and realising all you’ve done for the last three hours is jam on Dave’s riffs, isn’t going to help if you need to be perfecting your set for next week’s gig.
Take breaks. This might seem counter-intuitive to getting work done, but rehearsing can be a demanding, pressured environment and taking regular breaks will keep you focused and enthusiastic. Stepping away from something for a few minutes can shed light on it. For example, if you’re struggling with a part, the breakthrough you’re looking for could be as simple as putting the instrument down, getting some air and maybe talking it through with someone else. I can’t count how many times I’ve been struggling with a part, but after taking a break and talking it over, I’ve gone back in and nailed it first time.
Make time for fun. We’re talking about ‘hard stuff’ and ‘work’, and rehearsing can be like that at times, but the core the reason you’re there in the first place is because you enjoy playing. Make sure to dedicate some time each session to jamming new ideas, playing some fun covers, or just having a laugh. This is what will keep you coming back week after week.
Here’s how a typical ‘serious’ weekly rehearsal session with one of my bands would look:
- 19:00 - Meet, load-in, set-up, sound-check.
- 19:20 - Warm up. Usually a cover or an ‘intro’ track. Easy, fun.
- 19:30 - Run through the set. This is every song we have and still play.
- 20:30 - Break.
- 20:45 - Refined set and issues. These are the songs we are playing live next gig, spending time on any problems we had the first time around.
- 21:15 - Time for new ideas, jamming and discussions.
- 21:55 - Pack-down.
- 22:00 - Finished.
Some groups rehearse once a week, some twice, some every day. How much you rehearse is up to you and what you have set as your goals.
Often groups or songwriters will meet up at another point during the week to go through ideas and work on new songs. This is usually a quiet session in someone’s lounge or bedroom with acoustic instruments. These sessions are a great way to keep new material coming, but not waste valuable paid time in the rehearsal room while you are trying to write a chord progression.
This kind of schedule might not work for everyone, but it’s a good place to start for a rehearsal. Remember, rehearsing and jamming are two different things: rehearsing is preparation, jamming is recreation. There will always be exceptions; some bands write new material as a group just by jamming together. Some bands ARE just jam bands. Whatever type of rehearsal works for you, remember why you are doing it and what you are trying to achieve from it, and you’ll get along just fine.