Band Practice Strategies

“Deep and Wide” Rehearsal

“Deep and Wide” Rehearsal is an excellent practice strategy when a group of musicians has a lot of music to rehearse and little time to accomplish rehearsal.

“Wide” aspect:

  1. The group begins by listing the proposed “song list;” or specific songs they need to run through at the time.
  2. Along with their respective instruments, each musician brings a writing device (pen or paper,) and a sheet of paper or a notepad.
  3. The band plays straight through the first song without interruption.
  4. After the song is played through, all band members stop playing music and each individual member writes down the most important question about the song he or she just played. For example, “What is the chord progression in that chorus?”
  5. After each member is done writing down his or her question, the entire group continues to the next song on the list and plays that song straight through without interruption. Each member, once again, takes note of the most important question about that song that he or she can think of.
  6. The process continues until all members who have questions have written down questions for each song on the specified song list.
  7. After the “Wide” aspect of this practice session is complete, the entire group can move on to the “Deep” aspect of the practice session.

“Deep” aspect:

  1. The group goes back to the first song they rehearsed during the “Wide” aspect of the practice session, and each member of the group asks his or her most important question about the song. This process should be orderly until each member is satisfied with the answer provided to his or her question. Make sure each member takes note of the answer he or she receives!
  2. The entire group plays through the first song on the song list again.
  3. After the song is played through a second time, each member asks his or her second most important question about the song that was just played.
  4. Answers are provided as they were the first time, written down, and the song is rehearsed a third time.
  5. This process is continued until everyone is satisfied with the song’s outcome. Then the group can move to the next song on the list. The approach is exact same for each song on the list.

Time-frame: The time frame for this type of practice session depends entirely on the number of songs on the song list. Figure roughly 7 minutes for each song on the list.=

Contingencies: Always keep your eye on the 45-50-minute mark! If members start losing concentration or start dabbling unnecessarily at 45-50 minutes in, that means they are tired! Give them a break! Tell them to drink some water, use the bathroom, etc. for about 5 minutes, or until everyone is ready to go again.

Contingencies continued: Break time can be supplemented with random jamming or songwriting, because it uses the opposite side of the brain utilized in rehearsal; but keep in mind that members may get carried away and jam or write for up to 15 minutes or more. It depends solely on the group’s intention. This is where I advise to be “careful” in how you react or respond to individual band members. Remember that they are tired! If the group wants to jam, let them jam. If they want to write, let them write. In this way, something else productive can take place during break time. If members are just tired, advise them to take a break.

Full Set Rehearsal

Full Set Rehearsal is an excellent way to “time the set.” It is utilized as the final group rehearsal before a given performance. At this point, members should stop trying to improve on the songs in the set and just enjoy what they have worked on.

  1. There should be no unplanned interruptions.
  2. Everything that is going to be included in the set—songs, speaking, jams, etc.—should be written down on the Full Set Rehearsal sheet. That sheet should be duplicated like a setlist and handed to each individual band member before rehearsal begins.
  3. Everyone in the group should bring a writing device and a piece of paper; and he or she should be given 5 minutes of uninterrupted time to look over the proposed set and write down any questions he or she may have.
  4. During this time of writing down questions, water should be supplied to all members as well—just like in the performance. This is because members will not have that break at the 45-50-minute window like they normally should. They will get tired, and water can help with focus.
  5. Any questions about the proposed set should be addressed and written down (if necessary) before rehearsal begins!
  6. Once everyone has been supplied water, has had their questions answered, has been given the opportunity to go to the bathroom, and is ready to perform, a recording device, or devices—if there is a camera involved—should be started; and thus, rehearsal begins.
  7. Supplementary questions can be asked after the set is run through entirely, but questions should be kept to a “minimum” at this point.

Time-frame: The time frame of this type of rehearsal is entirely contingent on the length of the set to be performed. Generally speaking, this is 1-2 hours.

Contingencies: Contingencies in this type of set (screw-ups, broken strings, accidents, etc.) should be played through as if the actual set is being performed. The exception is, of course, accidents which lead to bodily injury or hospitalization.

Jam Sessions

Jam Sessions are good ice breakers, stress relievers, and a decent way to brainstorm new musical ideas. For our intentions and purposes, I am going to separate the “Jam Sessions” practice strategy into two major sub-strategies: “Group Jam Sessions,” and “Public Jam Sessions.”

Group Jam Sessions:

Group Jam Sessions are when everyone in a given and established musical group just “plays around” with their instruments and tries to make harmonies. They are not organized, and they can last as briefly as 5 minutes, or as long as 1 hour, at a time. Group Jam Sessions are “collaborative creation sessions.” Their uses ensue:

  1. Warm ups! Group Jam Sessions are excellent for warming up the musicians in a group. They work to loosen the fingers, joints, and vocals of those involved.
  2. Ice breakers! By loosening up the structure and the applicable muscles involved in the performance of each respective instrument, Group Jam Sessions assist in “getting the bugs out.” Group Jam Sessions calm nerves and remind group members to “have fun!”
  3. Stress relief! Group Jam Sessions are great for that 45-50-minute attention-span break in the average adult. They help members “get away” from the stress of rehearsal or writer’s block.
  4. Songwriting! Group Jam Sessions often work to facilitate new musical ideas, guitar riffs, melodies, etc. However, this is not the most productive way to write, and should probably only be used if a group is experiencing writer’s block.

Public Jam Sessions:

Public Jam Sessions follow the characteristics of Group Jam Sessions, but with two major differences. First, Public Jam Sessions are open to musicians outside of the band. Secondly, they allow for research alongside just having “fun.” The uses of Public Jam Sessions are as follows:

  1. Collaboration! Jamming with outside musicians works to expand the musical vocabulary of the musicians involved in the jam session. This works because human beings are social creatures, and when an outside musician starts pulling out a new musical technicality on his or her instrument, it inspires the other musicians around him or her to “chime in.”
  2. Social Discomfort! Yes, you read that correctly! Being made socially uncomfortable with people you don’t know, or don’t know as well, is great for us as people, and as musicians. It allows us to question our own techniques and adopt new ones from those around us.
  3. In-group dilemma. This is like the previous point, but more far-reaching. Often, in the search for group identity, a given musical group will exile themselves from other musicians. This is not good practice. While it is good practice to write original music, groups which fall victim to in-group behavior often begin to distance themselves from their respective audiences. Those inside jokes, and that group culture which is developed and considered “socially normal” at practice, may not be so attractive to an outside audience. Public Jam Sessions force a group to meet other musicians; empowering them to grow as a group. So, invite your friends out to jam sessions from time to time as well!

Group Jam Sessions Time-frame: Group Jam Sessions will vary depending on the purpose of the jam session. If the given group just wants to have a “jam session,” then devote a whole practice session just to jamming. If, however, the purpose of the Group Jam Session is one of the four points mentioned above, keep it to about 15 minutes for productivity’s sake.

Contingencies: Just be aware of the amount of time spent jamming. Unorganized jamming can monopolize band time if it is not monitored. Therefore, if the group wants to just jam, give them the whole practice session to do so. In this way, you won’t be disappointed with how practice time was spent, and all group “needs” will be met in the process.

Public Jam Sessions Time-frame: Public Jam Sessions should take up an entire practice session. Keep in mind that outside musicians are coming in and devoting their time, travel, and abilities, to help your group grow. Also, having drinks or food around is a great idea for hospitality’s sake. Make outside friends welcome and invest time into them; it always pays off!

Group Songwriting

Group Songwriting is exactly what it sounds like, practice time devoted to new and original songwriting. Group Songwriting is exciting, but it is also very complex. There is a constant struggle between quality and quantity in musical groups; and there is also a power/pride struggle in Group Songwriting. To counteract some of the issues normally faced in songwriting by musical groups, I have written a separate paper entitled “Four Fundamental Elements to Successful Group Composition.” It is not completely revised yet, and so I plan on revising it and sending it out sometime next weekend. The paper is based on my personal observations as a band manager for 6 years, and it is in your best personal interest to become acquainted with it. Featured here is a brief synopsis of some of the points established in ““Four Fundamental Elements to Successful Group Composition:”

  1. There must be an assigned group visionary. This individual has the “master plan” of the band in mind, and it is his or her responsibility to continue to breathe new vision into the group on a regular basis (once a week, month, quarter, on a bi-annual, or annual basis). His or her “say” is final in the production and songwriting process. This individual’s role should be established in writing before the band begins performing and songwriting.
    1. The assigned group visionary’s number one task is to breathe a group vision into the group on some sort of regular basis (once a week, month, quarter, on a bi-annual, or annual basis). This vision must be willingly agreed upon—without force or threat—by all members of the group.
  2. An individual song vision for each song should be established for each individual song before the songwriting process begins. This song vision should be clearly communicated, well defined, written down, and broadly disseminated to all group members. This creates healthy bounds of creativity for all members.
  3. Each individual member should be contributing to the overall picture and sound of the band, and each member’s musical strengths, personality, musical influences, and group role should be expressed clearly as part of the cohesive group. Every member should shine in each song.

Time Frame: Group Songwriting should be extensive, and not contained to one practice session. If a musical group is songwriting, it is important that the measurable points mentioned above (i.e. group vision, song vision, etc.) are met successfully. Until this occurs, the song is not complete. Completion should be determined by the group visionary. It is important to note that songwriting should never be rushed!

Contingencies: When songs become tiresome, or when a group experiences writer’s block, the group should move on to something new; whether it be another song, a jam session, or something else.

Strings Positions Sessions

Strings Positions Sessions are designed to assess a group’s acoustics and equalization. This does not imply that Strings Positions Sessions are designed for acoustic guitars—although they can be utilized in the process—but rather that everyone in the group is taking up a separate space (or “register”) on the mixing board. In this way, every element of the song is heard when the listener hears the song:

  1. Select members who need to work on filling the “empty space” with their sound and sit them down with acoustic instruments if possible. Acoustic guitars are utilized here because electronic effects distort the group’s research.
  2. Start a recording device.
  3. Have all members perform the desired musical piece with acoustic instruments.
  4. After the part is over, listen to the recording. Can the listener hear every instrument in the recording? Do certain instrument pitches overlap each other and flood the recording?
    1. If not, and everyone likes the parts, move on to another desired musical piece.
    2. If so, begin by answering the question, “does anyone’s instrument flood the lead vocals?” Lead vocals must be heard in live performance.
      1. If so, determine which instrument, or instruments, are flooding the vocals and move their respective positions while performing the part—either up or down in pitch depending on the instrument and the original position utilized. Re-record these positions and reevaluate.
      2. If not, determine which parts are overlapping and change one of the positions (if two members are overlapping), two of the positions (if three members are overlapping), and so forth.
    3. Re-record and reevaluate until all instruments can be heard distinctively in the recording. Once this is achieved, have everyone who made changes to their parts take note of the changes, and move to the next desired musical piece. The cool aspect of measuring equalization in acoustics is “whatever works in acoustics will work with electronic settings, guaranteed!”

Time-frame: Allot one practice session to this type of practice (1-2 hours). Strings Positions Sessions require intense study, thought, execution, and time; but they pay dividends!

Contingencies: Sometimes the sound challenge a band is facing has more to do with equipment than acoustics. A Strings Positions Session will allow a band to assess whether the sound challenge being assessed is a “composition” challenge, or an “equipment” challenge.

Group Hangouts

Group members need to get to know each other—it’s part of the band experience. Many countless hours will be spent in someone’s garage or basement working out “all the bugs.” Occasionally, the group needs something new, outside, and “fresh” to do. This is where Group Hangouts come into play. Group Hangouts assist a group in several ways:

  1. Thwarting in-group behavior. That’s right! Getting people into public places, outside of their comfort zones, and in front of other groups of people helps bring out the truth in each individual member. It is always a good idea to get some fresh air!
  2. Strengthening team values. Team values will reveal themselves in public places. Is the team shy? Afraid? Joyous? Angry? It will show, and be reinforced, in Group Hangouts.
  3. Enforcing team identity. Doing things together makes a bunch of random strangers a “team.” This creates further group cohesion for the future.
  4. Relieving stress. Group composition and music rehearsal can get stressful at times. Don’t let this be the case; have some fun every once in a while!

Time-frame: The time frame for Group Hangouts is completely dependent on what the group intends to do; (i.e. how far they intend to travel, whether they choose to carpool, etc.). Most Group Hangouts will last somewhere between 3 and 6 hours.

Contingencies: Never force anyone to do anything; but be certain not to force a Group Hangout! Hangouts should come together naturally; and be fun! If members want to jam, write, or rehearse, let them do so without hindrance.



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