Okay, so your band can play—but do you know how to practice? Learn how to improve your live shows with these band rehearsal and practice tips.
Okay, so your band can play—but do you know how to practice? Practicing for a show, just like learning an instrument, takes a bit of, well, practice.
Between deciding what gear to bring, what songs to learn and when to show up, there’s a lot to know before you even get to the rehearsal space.
Whether you’re a grizzled old road dog or a newbie playing your first concert, you’re only as good as your last practice, so it’s time to buckle down and practice practicing. Improve your live shows with these band practice tips.
Obvious, right? It sounds simple enough on paper, but we should clarify something before continuing: “band practice” means a lot of different things to people. So it’s important to practice with a purpose—and let the band know ahead of time. Are you writing new songs? Just jamming? Recording pre-production demos? Are you rehearsing for a show? What’s the setlist?
Your goals and the overall vibe will vary depending on what you’re practicing for, so it’s helpful to communicate why you’re getting together and what you hope to achieve by the end of rehearsal. A relaxed songwriting session is the perfect time to experiment with new gear, composition methods and playing techniques. The last rehearsal before a two-week tour? Not so much.
That goes double if you’re playing with in-ear monitors. Unless it’s specified in the rider and contract that the venue is providing all the required gear—and even then you’re taking a risk—it’s on you to carry what you need for your IEM setup. And practice using it.
For a lot of bands, a fully-equipped practice spot with the microphones, mixer and monitor engineer needed for a full-band IEM rehearsal is hard to come by. Luckily, affordable digital consoles like the Midas M32 offer monitor mixing apps that give performers the ability to tweak their own monitor mix without affecting the sound engineer’s settings.
Or, if your budget and schedule allow, you could contact local venues to rent the room and hire a sound engineer for a full-production rehearsal to really get those IEM mixes dialed in.
Either way, it’s a good idea to research the venues you’ll be playing, find out what mixer(s) they have and download the appropriate monitor mixing apps. If you’re an overachiever, you can watch YouTube tutorials and browse pro audio forums to get familiar with the digital consoles you’ll encounter, as well as their various quirks, workarounds and limitations.
Not sure what to bring when you’re gigging with IEMs? Check out our article to learn what gear to pack and how to advance a show when you’re touring with in-ear monitors.
Arrangement is Everything
Sad but true: a good mix can’t fix a bad song. But a strong arrangement can turn a good song into a hit.
A song’s arrangement is its harmonic and rhythmic structure. The melody, chords, bassline, harmony, tempo, structure, time and key signature of a song are all part of its arrangement.
If you’re at rehearsal and something sounds off or you can’t hear yourself, chances are it’s not your pedalboard and it isn’t the monitor engineer. It’s the arrangement. Before you start turning knobs, think about the part you’re playing. Does it respect the other instruments’ “personal space?”
Live bands that sound muddy or indistinct often have too many instruments playing in the same frequency range. EQ can fix this, but sometimes a better (and easier) solution is to play your part up or down an octave. A guitarist, for instance, might play their original part up an octave to give the bass player some room—or down an octave to make space for a soprano vocalist.
Here’s a few more arrangement tricks for your next band practice:
- Rest on the first measure of a four-bar phrase to vary the rhythm with a dynamic and exciting entrance.
- Omit the root note of a chord for extra harmonic possibilities.
- Simplify. Try to play your part with the fewest possible notes. Now take the notes you left out and use them to write variations of your part to use as fills or in a solo.
Now that you’ve worked out your parts, it’s time to check your levels. But don’t touch that volume knob just yet.
It’s tempting for guitarists to dial-in extra low-end thump that sounds great solo but turns to mush in a mix. Maybe the bass overdrive has too much 1.2kHz and it’s taking all the sizzle out of the guitar. Or possibly the synth lead delay is the wrong tempo and that’s what makes us drag coming out of the bridge?
Record your rehearsals and then get together with your bandmates and afterwards and listen for moments when your tone clashes with or covers up what another player is doing. Some things to listen for are:
- The relationship between the low end of the guitar and the midrange of the bass. Is the bass note clearly defined? Could be competition at 400Hz. Do the bass and guitar interfere with the kick and snare when they play together?
- In many styles, bass and guitar play in unison, so it’s important to make sure their tones blend well together without masking the drums. Try using an EQ to cut offending frequencies before boosting.
- The singer or soloist.
- For example, a piano sound with too much 200Hz will overpower a baritone vocalist’s lower register, so it’s always a good idea to consider the vocalist or lead instrumentalist’s register, style and tone when dialing in your own sound.
- Ornery effects pedals.
- Pedalboards are tons of fun, but things go haywire in a hurry if they’re not set up properly. Check your tonal palette with the rest of the band to know for sure that your sound(s) serve the song. Nothing spoils a guitar riff faster than an accidental chorus pedal setting that makes the entire band sound out of tune.
Turn Up Only if You Have To
If you’re turning up after soundcheck, the sound engineer is probably turning you right back down again. Naturally there are situations where it can’t be helped, but here’s something to try if you play an electric instrument— set your amplifier to be slightly brighter than normal and roll back your tone knob to taste. When you find yourself struggling to hear in the mix, bring up the tone on your instrument to give your sound some extra treble edge to cut through—without cranking the volume.
Do Your Homework
Learning your part at rehearsal is like missing the deadline for a group project—frowned upon. It’s up to each band member to practice their parts independently so group rehearsal time can be spent on finer details like perfecting tempos, transitions between songs, choreography or other production elements.
Practice Like You Play
Your band is only as good as your last rehearsal. And the gig starts the second you load the van.
Before the show, run through your complete set in order and with all the gear and other production elements you intend to use when you perform. In packed clubs with 15-minute changeovers between acts, there’s little time to goof around, so it’s important that you have a plan to set up and tear down as quickly and efficiently as possible.
If you’re carrying special gear, like wireless mics, IEMs or a lighting setup, practice playing with them and make sure you bring extra cables and adapters with you to interface with the venue’s equipment.