Whether you're thinking about putting together or joining a new band, or you've played in one for years, it's easy to fall into certain traps and patterns of behavior that hold the band back. The very nature of playing in a band can be conducive to bad habits.
Here are ten quick tips to make rehearsals more efficient, your sound fresher, and your band more confident when playing out.
Some of these ideas may already be in play with your band, some may be quick reminders, and some may be completely new. But whatever the situation, keep them in mind during your next practice, rehearsal session, or gig:
- Use Electronic Tuners - Don't tune to each other. Everyone should have their own tuner, and should tune to it constantly. Most effects units for guitar & bass have a built-in tuner. Learn how to tune silently and use it every chance you get, even in the middle of a song when you're tacit (e.g. laying out).
- Kick Everyone Else Out of Practice/Rehearsal - Practice is for the band, not to impress people you've invited to hear the band. That's what the gig is for. If there are people in the practice space that are not actively taking part in the creation of the music, it's time for them to leave. You can meet up with them later.
- Don't Play When Someone is Talking - If someone is constantly noodling during practice, then they need to either keep quiet or take a hike. It's not possible for anyone to make a useful point or suggestion over the drone of someone's musical mumbling, and it's the fastest way to create anger, frustration, and fisticuffs. If it's you, stop it. If it's someone else, unplug them.
- Locate Drummer and Bass Player Together - They are your rhythm section. They are the foundation for everything that can be good about your band. They can't completely make the band, but they can easily break it. Thus, they need to be in sync, and the first step toward this is physical proximity.
- Play Half as Loud - Everyone wants to be heard. So what happens? Everyone, in succession, turns themselves up or plays just a little louder so that their part is just a bit more prominent. A few go-rounds of this and the volume is so loud that you can't objectively hear the music anymore. Drummers can use Hot Sticks or similar to bring down the volume. While playing, if you have to shout to the person next to you in order to be heard, the band is too loud. You also won't be able to practice as long because the extra volume causes everyone to fatigue faster.
- Eye Contact - If you're just looking to rock out in your own head space, you might as well play along with your MP3s. Playing in a band is about playing with other people, hopefully people you like. Take time to look at each other, both to acknowledge when the band is really rocking, and also to take cues when there are upcoming changes in the song. If the bridge is meant to be played twice and the band keeps forgetting this, you need to work out a signal from someone as a reminder, and then everyone needs to pay attention to the cue.
- Record Your Rehearsals - The only objective way to evaluate how you sound is to record it. Check for problems with tuning, starting tempos and subsequent changes (bands tend to speed up over the duration of a song), overall volume levels, and how locked in the band is playing. Anything that sounds unprofessional should be eliminated.
- Rearrange Your Best Song - Take your best song and re-work it in another style or feel. Try it in an acoustic/unplugged vein, or re-arrange it as an emo or ska tune. Part of what you get out of it is, of course, some new version that your audience will find interesting (you can always switch up to the previous version whenever you like), but the other part is that your musicianship will grow. You can then draw on what you've learned as you write or adapt new songs to be added to your repertoire.
- Play Covers as Originals - If you play cover tunes, you should alter their arrangement or feel to fit the originality of your band. This may take a little bit of time to hone, and that's OK. The point is: you're a band, not an iPod. Make sure the audience can tell the difference.
- Rehearse the Gig - When preparing for an upcoming gig, the band should run through the set list a few times as if it were the real thing. This means no stopping, no matter how many mistakes are made. You should simulate all aspects of the performance, such as chatter with the audience between songs from your frontperson/singer, or equipment changes/mods/re-tunings that occur between songs.