We all know the ups and downs of diving into live rehearsals. Some days might seem mystically well-rounded, others completely off. Oftentimes there seems to be a multitude of outside factors influencing the vibe and overall productivity of a given setting. And yet these factors aren’t completely nebulous, on the contrary. They can be handled, if you apply the right strategies.
This article is aimed at giving you some hands-on knowledge on how to positively shape the workflow and outcome of a rehearsal session. This can be applied to a broad range of settings and constellations: Be it as a small formation, whole band setting, as a bandleader or maybe even producer / performing artist. Wether you’re working in a duo or have to apply a workflow to a bunch of people – certain universal rules of attention and project management always apply.
So let’s start with a game-plan.
Predefine & communicate agenda
There’s a paradoxical issue about many live rehearsal situations: While a free, unpredictable flow of things can bring out the best of all creative juices, it can also dry up pretty fast. And leave a room buzzing, but also aimless like a headless chicken.
Even though you might diverge from the plan, you should try to always predefine the agenda. Either digitally, in a form of rehearsal task list, or right before hitting the first note.
It’s a common misconception that everyone is working “on the same page”. Reality being, every musician is playing and working on an own page, working an individual angle. Sometimes even divergent angles. So, predefine your agenda, and communicate it in a structured manner. Even though it might seem like a creativity-killer at first – it’s not. Its a compass, defining the direction of creative output.
Make sure that there’s a culture of pre-rehearsal gear-prep. If your gear is defective, you’re holding up the entire show.
Your fellow musicians should understand that instrumental functionality is absolutely within the accountability of each individual. Of course one could argue that guitar strings are more likely to tear than drumsticks, but to each instrument its own time-consuming disadvantage. The drummer has to program the backing tracks. Or set up the samples. Imagine him or her doing that in rehearsal, it would probably swallow a good chunk of time.
Cultivate a mindset of accountability in terms of gear-prep.
Check-In / Check-Out
Here’s a little measure that might help out a great deal. Especially if there’s little or no time to converse prior to rehearsal, Check-Ins are a great way of landing on the same page. What this means, is literally “checking-in”: Have a round where everyone, in a short, precise speech, illustrates what’s going on today, privately. As far as each individual wants to dig. This can be things like being tired, having some distracting thing on your mind, completely banal things that can influence the character of a session.
We’re not talking about a psychoanalysis here. What we’re aiming at is limiting the potential of misunderstanding. If you know that a fellow musician had a sleepless night due to partying neighborhoods – you’ll cut him or her some slack when the concentration drops early in the set.
Also Check-Outs – try doing a similar round, just with a Check-Out. Everybody takes a very short moment to recapitulate how things in rehearsal went, where tensions arose, where things went exceptionally well or could be improved. This keeps delicate topics from boiling up, because everything is articulated early and prior to heated discussion.
Depending on the music set-up, you will have smaller units of musicians working on certain issues: A guitar player and a pianist checking out voicings, a drummer setting something straight with the base-player (Yes, what a cliché, but it’s just exemplary), a vocalist giving the pianist some info or vice versa.
While this communication is inevitably and absolutely important, you can influence the way it is played out. Again, talking about accountability here. If the guitar player and pianist have some quarrel over voicings, let them play out all variations – but give them some space and time.
Create a fixed timeframe where these sub-units work on issues. Things, where the other musicians are basically not needed. Where other musicians can leave the room, take a break. This will greatly optimize your rehearsal workflow.
At the core of this last pointer is a simple, yet vital request: No surprises!
Again, this means getting everyone the same page time wise. It’s easy to joke around, spending more time on the vibe of a situation than the material at hand.
As a bandleader, you should always know and communicate the schedule. If an individual musician has to leave early, everyone in the room should be aware of this. This means creating a common feeling for time, and also calling out nonsensical, time-consuming deflections if needed.
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