Band practice is essential. It doesn’t matter if you’re a duo or a professional orchestra, making sure everyone can play together correctly can make the difference between success or failure.
Band members, like anyone, will always have other commitments, whether it’s family, work or something else. It’s therefore important to make the most of your rehearsal time. Let’s look at ways to get the most from your practice sessions.
Learn songs at home
All musicians at some point will have come across the band member that’s decided band practice is an ideal time to learn the songs!
This is unfair on the other musicians. Learning songs should be done at home. Band practice is the time to iron out any issues when everyone attempts to play together.
If you have a band member that is not prepared to put in the work at home, he/she will hold the band back, frustrate everyone and cost you money if you’re hiring a rehearsal room.
Make sure every band member understands and agrees to learning songs at home.
Get the levels right
You’ll need to clearly hear every other musician during a practice. Spend some time making sure the levels are correct before getting into the music. If you’re in a rock band, keep the volume as low as possible. It’ll help stop the sound muffling so you can hear what’s going on.
If your band has electric guitars, make sure that the treble isn’t too high in the mix, otherwise it can be really overwhelming.
Protect your hearing
Noise induced hearing loss is currently not reversible. If you keep exposing your ears to high sound levels, you’ll damage them. Once damaged, there’s no fix apart from perhaps a hearing aid.
It’s easy to protect your hearing. Musicians’ ear plugs are readily available. I personally use Alpine Music Safe Pro ear plugs. These are great at bringing the sound level down to a comfortable volume. They come with interchangeable filters so you can control how much the sound level is reduced by.
There’s many musicians’ earplugs available. They’re all designed to keep the sound balanced and clear. I’m sure most of them do a great job. Some are quite expensive however. Personally I don’t think it’s worth forking out huge amounts.
No playing whilst talking
Musicians have this constant urge to play with their instrument! Most of the time, this is not a problem but when a band is trying to sort through musical issues, discussions are sometimes needed. If musicians can't chat to each other because another band member won’t stop playing, it’s obviously not ideal.
I’ve been in a few bands that have agreed on the rule :-
When band members are discussing the music, stop playing.
Practise the difficult bits
If you’ve nailed all the material, running though all the music is a good way to stay sharp, especially before a gig.
If you’re still working on problems, there’s not much to be gained by going over the sections you can already play. Isolate the sections that are causing the problems and repeat until they are correct. It’s a similar idea to learning a song or practising an instrument. You’re going to be far more productive concentrating on fixing problem areas.
Make sure you can be seen
The drum kit generally takes up the largest amount of space, so arrange your band around the drums. When you’re practising, make sure that you can all make eye contact with each other so communication during the rehearsal is easy.
Don’t arrange your instruments as if you are playing to an audience. A band practice is about getting the music right, learning each other's styles and gelling as a musical unit.
Practise dynamics and tempo
Dynamics in music refers to the volume. A lot of bands seem to max it out from start to finish. You should be aiming to change the volume depending on what you feel the music is trying to communicate.
Angry sounding music would usually be played louder than a reflective or sad piece. As one song may sound angry and reflective at different times, make sure, as a band you change the volume to suit. This will add huge depth and variety to the music you’re playing.
Similarly, you can alter the tempo. People tend to think tempo has to be fixed for each song. This is not the case. It’s fine for the tempo to wander depending on what you’re trying to express through the music. If the music is portraying excitement, the tempo can increase a little.
Great musicians and bands will use all available tools to express themselves through their music. Don’t fall into the trap of playing a fixed volume and tempo. Use your rehearsals to practise mixing things up to create depth and add interest to your music.
Once you’ve ironed out all the mistakes, it’s worth taking an informal recording of your band. Your mobile phone is not really going to do you justice here. Fairly inexpensive USB microphones are available that you plug straight into a laptop. You can try software such as Audacity. It’s free and easy to use.
When listening back to a recording, you’ll probably notice areas that can be fine tuned. Some of these can be hard to notice whilst playing.
Use the right equipment
For practice sessions right before a gig, use the instruments and equipment you’ll gig with. You might use your best instruments and equipment for performances and lesser hardware for practising. It’s important to make sure everything is ready. What better way than to use it for your last few practice sessions.
No friends or alcohol
Having friends attend rehearsals might make other band members feel uncomfortable. This is band time not time to be socialising.
Alcohol will blunt your musical abilities, make it harder to remember what you’ve learnt and make it harder to concentrate on what you’re doing. Keep the beer in the fridge!
Take a break
Slogging through a long rehearsal is not the way to get the best out yourself or the band. Take a short break every hour or so. Get out of the rehearsal area and relax for 5-10 minutes.
When you come back you’ll feel refreshed and your concentration should be improved.
The more you play together, the better you’ll sound. Try to get together once or twice a week. You’ll soon notice how easily you start locking in together as a band.
If a couple of weeks pass between practice sessions, you lose some of the gains made waiting for your next session.