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So, I've been playing in bands for a while now, sometimes with people who have PhDs in music performance, sometimes with people who only play by ear.

Regardless of the level of professionalism, I have noticed that there's always a tendency to get songs to the 'good enough' state, and move on. But I'm a bit of a perfectionist. Good enough doesn't cut it for me. If we're playing originals, I want it to sound unique. And if we're playing covers, I want it to sound just like it does in the radio.

I'd like to collect suggestions on how to make the best of band rehearsal time to get to the point where everyone in the band shares this passion.

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I think this is too subjective, and more about psychology than anything else. – Matthew Read Jun 1 '11 at 19:02
This seems too subjective as written, but I think a question specifically about ways to get a group from "good enough" to "great" would be appropriate. – Monica Cellio Jun 1 '11 at 19:36
@Matthew Read - I disagree that he question is subjective. Rehearsing for maximum effect is very much a skill that can be evaluated objectively. – Faza Jun 1 '11 at 23:25
I don't understand the relation between the topic and the question. The question seems to be "how do I get my bandmates to rehearse a song more", completely different from maximizing the rehearsal time in general, which seems to be to be more about being efficient. – Lennart Regebro Jun 2 '11 at 10:37
@Faza The results of rehearsing can absolutely not be evaluated objectively. Some things can, like staying in time, but most can't. The overall sound is completely subjective. "Good enough" and "great" are completely subjective. If the asker was only concerned with objective qualities I would agree with you, but he is explicitly not. (Your answer is good though!) – Matthew Read Jun 2 '11 at 14:41
up vote 10 down vote accepted

In order to rehearse for maximum effect, we need to first identify the purpose of rehearsal and the objectives we seek to achieve.

Here are the key things that group rehearsals should address:

  • Collective practice up to a point where a piece can be performed as a group,

  • Perfection of performance nuances, especially those that involve more than one performer,

  • Perfection of the group sound,

  • Repetition of prepared repertoire in order to facilitate playing from memory,

  • Preparation of an anticipated performance in terms of the repertoire to be played, set order, transitions, endings etc.

Furthermore, rehearsals may be used creatively for:

  • Group composition, where songs are created collectively in rehearsal, or

  • Group improvisation, where musical ideas are explored ad lib by the group.

Most often, rehearsal is seen mostly in terms of practicing a new song until everyone can play it and adding it to a list of "ready" material that is played through every now and again to make sure everyone remembers it. Occasionally, the group may also jam on some new ideas as well.

As we can see from the above list, this only covers part of the goals that should be strived for in rehearsal and getting a group to sound "great" requires focus on the other issues.

Unless the piece to be played has a specific written arrangement, it's likely that the individual parts will have been prepared individually by the musicians, based on their conception of what "fits". This can produce acceptable results, assuming the musicians are competent. However, such an arrangement will probably lack a true group feel, given how it is a collection of individual takes on the piece, rather than an overarching vision.

In the absence of a pre-written arrangement, rehearsals should be used to work out the details of each part so as to achieve the most effective group result. We should be focusing on issues such as:

  • Rhythmic interplay between instruments - the placement of unison accents, complementary accents between different instruments or groups of instruments, possible counter-rhythms etc.

  • The melodic and harmonic functions of each instrument - insufficient discipline on the part of musicians preparing their parts individually can lead to an overly dense collective sound, with possible "train-wrecks" as the worst case scenario. Even if this is avoided, it's possible that the resulting arrangement will not be as effective as it could be, unless the parts are evaluated in the context of a group performance.

  • Instrumentation and sound - there is a temptation to have all instruments playing all the time, which rarely produces the optimal result. Changing instrumentation at different points in the piece is an effective way of introducing variety and highlighting its key elements, but again it requires critical evaluation of the sound of the group as a whole. Moreover, the tones and techniques utilised by the individual musicians should also be evaluated in terms of how they contribute to or detract from the group sound.

  • Tempo and dynamics - depending on the requirements of the piece, there will be a need to ensure that tempo is kept constant or changed accordingly by everyone in the group. Since the musicians are listening to one another, it is possible for one musician's off performance to drag the rest of the group with it. Thus, care must be taken to ensure that everyone is working towards maintaining the desired tempo or its changes. The same applies to the issue of group dynamics.

The evaluation of the above issues requires someone to undertake the role of a musical director, listening to the group performance critically and identifying any items in need of correction. Once the details of each part have been worked out, extra time will be needed to practice the key spots and ensure they are played perfectly.

Preparing for a performance will involve several additional considerations. A set list should be prepared in advance and evaluated in terms of the appeal of the performance as a whole. Technical considerations, such as changing instruments, should be accounted for. Performance considerations, like the ability to play physically demanding pieces without rest, will need to be addressed. Any show-specific issues - beginning and ending various pieces (including potential count-offs), transitions, possible audience participation fragments - will need to be worked out. If at all possible, the entire set should be played through several times - in a dress-rehearsal fashion - in order to make sure that any potential difficulties have been accounted for.

Ultimately, making the most of rehearsal time requires a vision of the desired sound and attention to detail. Priorities will differ depending on context (perhaps you have a show coming up and need to focus on that), but the overarching objective is to make the group sound the best it possibly can.

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Wow, what a great answer! Thank you Faza! – Gustavo Mori Jun 2 '11 at 0:50

To echo what Faza wrote, it depends on the conductor, as I saw a lecture of Benjamin Zander "it is the conductor which brings out the best of the players".

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