Five Ways to Make the Most of Your Band Practice

A few simple rules to follow.

Ultimate Guitar
The other day, I was reading a garden variety "how to make it in music" book that I picked up in a thrift store. Most of the advice featured was solid, if not revelatory, until I got to the section on band practice.

For bands serious about making it, the book recommended scheduling eight-hour practice sessions. Anything less, it stated, was insufficient time for writing and rehearsing.

You can sort of understand the logic. Eight hours is the length of a standard working day. If you're considering professional musician as a full-time career, then it makes sense to put full-time hours into it, right?

Wrong. I've been in bands where eight-hour practice sessions were the norm. And, in my experience at least, they were some of the least productive times I've spent writing and rehearsing music. Meandering and unfocused, we'd come out of the rehearsal room having accomplished little more than when we went in. Even worse, we'd be exhausted by the end of it, barely motivated to make it to the next marathon session.

These days, I'm a firm believer that rehearsals shouldn't be the length of a "Lord of the Rings" marathon. Actually, I've found that you can achieve more in a well planned three-hour session than you can in an unstructured eight-hour slog.

To get the most out of your shorter session, though, there are a few simple rules that you need to follow.

Record Ideas Before Rehearsals, Send Them to Your Bandmates

It's a familiar scenario. You show up to band practice with a killer new idea, only to spend the next two hours teaching the riffs and structure to the rest of your bandmates. By the end of the session, you're knackered and haven't made nearly as much progress as you'd have liked.

Time spent teaching riffs to your bandmates is time wasted. And, in the age of easy digital filesharing, there's no need for it. Buy yourselves digital recorders (if you're on a budget, you can use your cell phone or webcam) and document your ideas. Then, set up a cloud based shared folder and upload said ideas for the rest of your band to hear.

That way, everyone shows up to practice already au fait with everyone else's material. You don't have to faff around teaching parts and can get straight to the nitty gritty of turning that idea into a song.

Decide What You're Working on Before You Show Up

You've arrived at the rehearsal room. You're gear's set up, you're in tune and you're warmed up and ready to go... so now what?

Cue an hour of aimless jamming, run-throughs of half remembered cover songs or idle chatting before somebody finally suggests a vague plan of action. You've already used up a big chunk of rehearsal time and you've got nothing to show for it.

If you want to make the most of your band practice, you need to decide what you're working on before you get there. This means doing something that rock musicians are intrinsically afraid of: scheduling.

How you schedule your time will depend on what your larger objectives are. If you've got a gig coming up, you'll probably want to devote a good chunk of your session to running through your set. If you've got riffs piling up in your shared folder (see point one), you'll want to set aside some time to work on those ideas.

By deciding what you're working on before you turn up, you can get straight down to business and minimize idle time in the rehearsal room.

Record Your Rehearsal

There's nothing worse than spending a three hour session working on a killer new track, then coming back into the room a week later to find that you've forgotten it.

Back in the day, this was an inescapable part of the rehearsal process. Fortunately, we live in an age where recording sound is easy and sharing said sounds amongst a group of people is even easier.

Invest in a good quality digital recorder (again, use your phone if you're on a budget, though you'll get a lot of clipping if you're playing with a drummer) and capture your rehearsals. Designate a band member to upload those recordings to your shared folder and make sure that everyone listens to them before the next session. That way, you forego the process of re-learning that often takes up valuable rehearsal time.

Work on Ideas Outside of Band Practice

There's no fun in standing around idly while a guitarist tries to come up with a solo or a singer is struggling with lyric ideas. Some people see this as a necessary part of the writing process. Actually, it's a waste of your time.

It's true that most aspects of song writing require a full band presence. But there are a number of things that can be worked on outside of the rehearsal studio and don't require all of you being there.

I'm guessing that vocal harmonies, lyrics and guitar solos aren't usually a joint effort in your band. At most, there will be one or two people who handle those aspects of song writing. So let the people responsible for those parts work on them away from the rehearsal and spend the time you have together sorting out the things that require everybody's presence.

That way, no-one has to stand around like a lemon and your song writing is more efficient.

Schedule Breaks Into Your Session

You know what's a sure fire creativity killer? Burnout.

Sometimes, bands think that making the most of their rehearsal session means several hours of non-stop, balls-to-the-wall playing. Those bands often walk out of rehearsals looking like they've gone 10 rounds with Mike Tyson with little to show for their efforts.

Writing and rehearsing can be an intensive process that requires all of your concentration. By making sure you have a break in your schedule, you keep yourself fresh and keep the ideas flowing.

It might seem counterintuitive, especially if you're paying for your rehearsal space by the hour. But a well-timed 15-minute breather can save you hours of time wasted due to flagging energy levels.

By Alec Plowman

20 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Absolutely agree with the breaks part. We have a 4 hour practice / writing session each week, and we'll take a good half hour or more in the middle to stop, grab food and chill then back at it. By then our energy has spiked back up.
    Really depends on who you're working with though. Some people just lose momentum if they stop for a while, I'd rather have 1 more hour of practice at 50% productivity than take a break and come back to nothing.
    It's nice to have documentation like this but at the same time it kind of makes every to structured, although to be fair I've stumbled across riffs I wrote on scrap paper and can't remember the timing from them at all.
    Im going to try a bit of this on my band. Technically Im the drummer but I suck on drums... I also play guitar most of the time... We are just lacking a good drummer. Our previous one was really good - but only when he was sober he actually never was...
    who the fuck actually stays sober at a band practice?!
    You could favor the Persian approach. Persian philosophers and politicians made 2 sessions for the same propositions - one drunk, one sober; and only followed up on the ideas that sounded good on both sessions. Bands could benefit from practicing one sober and one drunk - separates good ideas from bad, and makes the band practice for stage -and- for pubs.
    I am curious what we should do at rehearsals in the case of a band such as mine, where only a few os us compose most of the music and this happens at home. We deliver fully recorded songs to the members before telling them to practice them, and if we don't have that, send Guitar Pro tabs (as I write everything on Guitar Pro). But sometimes, in 3 hour rehearsals, we remain out of ideas of what to do and how to improve. And we know there is much to improve, we don't really know what.
    Hey there, I have kind of an opposite problem, I am in a 4 member band and we have too many ideas, often not finishing our songs and then starting new ones (well, we still have them stashed for later). What I'd do on your place - encourage rest of the band to contribute more and to open up... not everyone has an ability to compose music, but anyone can have good ideas. Also, and this was also an important part of our songwriting, we encouraged our whole band to listen to many different kind of music, not only rock and metal (we play something like heavy metal punk I guess ). The main point of that was to focus on some fun ways to diversify music, it becomes less boring and more fun, and when you create in one genre, but take inspiration from others, not only metal (for example) it's really hard to run out of ideas.
    We tried composing at rehearsals but all we get are very generic songs. Maybe they're not bad, but what I usually do is more complex. I always encourage my band members to come with ideas. However, most of it's still made at home, with many different instruments working together (well, it's towards the more 'symphonic' type of metal).
    Don't be afraid to pull riffs out of songs and just jam on them for a while, I find it's the best way to come up with little details and variations on the riffs to make them more interesting. Instead of getting everything together completely first maybe just give the other members a few riffs that go together and see what they can add to it when you practice. Take the simpler songs you come up with at practice and work on them at home, it's not to hard to come up with interesting riffs when working from a simple chord progression.
    This may or may not work then (because of symphonic metal thing), but maybe try not to get more complex... When you look on how people used to make music it was very simple, working around one chord and getting as much out of it as possible. Try to get more sound out of playing together, rather than making each instrument play more complex riffs. Also, when writing a song try to concentrate on what kind of "vibe" you want people to get... should they be scared, anxious, intrigued - then you can change the whole song while adding just a few plays here and there. I hope that some things I've written will be helpful, I'm not a pro or anything, but we got a lot of positive feedback from people who've heard us, and well... we have fun playing what we play. Best of luck!
    Quick question; what would you recommend for the shared folder? I've been trying to get one going with my band, but haven't found one that the others would be willing to try without knowing it works
    Dropbox and Mega are pretty good. You also have Google Drive as a backup.
    A facebook group and guitar pro is how I've always done it with my bands. Works.
    Same here, we tried using Slack, but it's really not that useful for small groups, at least we didn't find it more efficient than just FB+Dropbox. It's also a good idea to have a separate folder for each song, with lyrics, gp file/recording and text file with suggestions or ideas regarding the song. Saves a lot of nerves compared to just having one parent folder with all the tabs (in our case about 70 different shitty riff ideas or alternate versions).
    We use onedrive, students get 30GB, which is more than enough in most cases. Otherwise you will need to buy cloud storage.