We have small band of four people(vocals+guitar, bass, drums and trumpet). It is our hobby, if it matters. I am trumpeter and the most recent(half a year) member of a band. We rehearse every week and our typical rehearsal is: repeat 15 songs, that we already know, repeating several of them, it takes 70-90% percent of rehearsal, and work on 1-2 new songs in leftover. Recently we had an argument: is our way of doing rehearsals practical?

I stand on point that: repeating all our repertoire is not necessary, boring and not very productive. It means that we should play our old songs, warm up etc 30% of rehearsal. But then play raw, not-ready songs, write new songs or just improvise/jam. Because that is how we can discover something new and evolve as musicians.

All other members are in opposite camp: it should stay as it is now. Because the only way to be good musicians is to repeat. And also it helps to play as one whole team.

I understand the point of other members, but I think

  1. Repeating stuff does not make us better playing it, after it was learned and played. Of course it should be played time to time to remember, but it freezes on some level, which is level of each band member. So song will become better, not after 1000 repeat, but when one of us become better and come up with new idea.
  2. Repeating stuff does not make us better playing as whole team as efficiently as improvisation/creating new songs. Even basic improvisation implies imagination, understanding of each member role, whereas repeating songs does not.

Who is right in this case? What are other tips to improve rehearsals? Thank you.

5 Answers 5


This is not a question of whether the band is rehearsing the right way or the wrong way. Since the band has existed longer than you've been a member, and the other members are content with the situation, the band's current rehearsal seems to fit the goals of the other members. They might be more interested in playing comfortable material than pushing themselves to improve, but if they aren't trying to make a living at it, that's a perfectly good goal.

The problem is that your goals include pushing yourself and learning significant new material, and this group isn't a good place for that. Rather than try to change the existing group as a new member, you might be better off finding a different group, or starting your own where the band's goals and your own match up more closely.

The fact that you are the most recent member, and everyone else is happy as it stands means that changing things will be a frustrating, uphill battle, and may never succeed.


As I see it, only you and your bandmates can answer this, because it depends on what you want to do.

First off, if you're not gigging... what exactly are you rehearsing for? Someone needs to step up and book gigs, or else I don't see why there's a band in the first place.

Assuming you have gigs at some schedule, then I see rehearsal potentially doing three things:

  1. Song inspiration
  2. Song writing and refining
  3. Gig preparation

Jamming is good for the first two. Completely free-form jamming helps with 1., while repetition of a new song with inspired changes helps a lot with 2. To me, the best gig preparation (3.) is actually repetition. In my bands, we have made our setlists in advance and then rehearsed (and in some cases timed carefully) our setlist in order with no breaks straight through, even twice for some rehearsals. I suppose some may find it boring (I love playing anything, any time so it's never boring to me), but it does make the gig run really smoothly and even helps one deal with the unexpected.

My favorite band schedule for the song phases above is actually more like what your bandmates like, with one change: I want a separate songwriting night, and that night is only for song writing. I also like song writing to be more intimate, not a band practice environment but just acoustic instruments in a living room or something. I like having portable recorders and pen and paper nearby and the lyricist would have their journals and lyric books available, etc.

Then a full band practice starts with a jam to loosen up and warm up. Then, yes, running down our weakest songs to make them stronger, and then jamming out/running down on the new song ideas from the last writing session. The last phase of that kind of rehearsal usually involves lots of stopping, working out transitions, trying different sounds, etc.

When a gig is imminent, my bands have often doubled up rehearsals, halted all new song work, and just focused on running down the set list once or twice at each practice, possibly repeating sections or songs that are not clicking quite right.

To look at it from the other side, striving for perfection isn't bad, IMHO. If your band is somehow playing even one the your songs perfectly, well... frankly I'd wonder what things aren't quite right that you're not even aware of. Because it's never possible to literally play something 100% perfectly. There's always room to rehearse it one more time.

That said, if you're not gigging then you're not getting paid, which means you're hopefully doing it for fun. Keeping band practice fun is very important, IMHO, since you want gigs to be fun so the audience has fun and you don't feel bad that you're only taking home $20 at the end of the night.

Jamming, writing, and repeating all have value, and you'll have to find that balance for your band. Not only should your bandmates recognize the value of jamming and writing, you should also be open to the value of repetition. I highly doubt that repeating songs you've "already learned" isn't helping you play them better. I've never achieved or seen 100% perfection on a song, so if you're somehow 100% perfect in your band then you should really book gigs because I want to go see that.

On further reflection, I feel like your bandmates are more objectively right than you are. You mention that you "already know" the songs you are rehearsing, but knowing a song isn't the point of rehearsal any more than merely playing songs you know is the point of a gig.

Unless we wrote a number less than two weeks ago, I expect myself and my band mates to know every song we are going to rehearse before practice. We're playing the songs we already know in order to explore deeper nuances in the songs, foster our communication with each other through the songs, and enhance our communication with the listeners through the song.

You should know your part backwards and forwards before practice. During practice, you should be listening to everyone else and the band as a whole with an ear towards moving as one and getting the right feeling.

You want to listen as a band member and really learn how your fellow bandmates are playing and feeling. If you can tell who had a bad day or a long week of work or who is in a really good mood or who is distracted while you are playing a song from the way they play, then you're in the right track. If the drummer or the bass player can change one note in the second chorus as a little joke and it actually makes you laugh while you're playing because you both hear it and get the joke, then you're doing something right. You should be listening to every sound that everyone is making and not only working to make sure your part is fitting in and enhancing the song, but also making mental notes on what others are playing to either compliment them or suggest changes. Band practice is much more about listening than playing.

You also want to listen like an audience member. Do you just like your own songs? They should be some combination of fun to play and/or fun to listen to. If not, what could you change about them to make them better? Would you want to buy your own CD and go to your own gigs? Could you insert a musical joke that your die-hard fans would get? How is the balance of the instruments? Are you too quiet? Too loud? Should you actually drop out in the second verse because the singer is hard to hear then? All these things. Again, it's about listening, not knowing or playing.

And ideally you would not merely know the songs, you would transcend them. You want the whole playing or the song as a band to be so automatic, organic, natural, and easy that you're not even thinking about the playing, instead you're participating in a collective emotional experience for which mere words would not suffice. And you want to be able to include audience members who aren't even musicians in that experience. Merely knowing the music is only the first little step in making that happen. It takes a lot of hard work, and yes, repetition.

  • A more methodical approach than my rant! I'm always aware that a gig may be 30 mins/2 hrs/4 hrs, whatever, but must be balanced against rehearsal time. Personally, I won't want to do say, 4 x 4 hr rehearsals for a 1 hr gig. It's disproportional. Interesting that you have a setlist seemingly set in stone. Generally, I find those don't work (for the dance type gigs I do, as the audience will often (unknowingly) dictate a change of running order), so merely a list of potential numbers works for that.
    – Tim
    Apr 14, 2016 at 12:40
  • @Tim The set list isn't set in stone for most gigs but the fact that plans often have to change is actually an argument in favor of planning, not against it. Apr 14, 2016 at 13:09
  • Sorry, don't understand that! If plans change, then the original plans have to change too. Having a list of songs may then be better than a setlist which almost inevitably will be changed anyhow.
    – Tim
    Apr 14, 2016 at 13:17
  • @Tim A set list is a list of songs. They just happen to be in an original order. That order can be changed or the songs can be changed but it's much harder to discuss and remember changes without no set list at all. I've played gigs where we had to be on stage at a certain time and play for as close to exactly 25 minutes as possible, so we even practiced and timed our banter. I've also played gigs where the running order of bands was changed at the last minute and we had to pretty much re order our songs and drop some of them. The set list (and rehearsals) was valuable in both cases. Apr 14, 2016 at 13:33
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    @DoctorMoisha At some point you have to move on, and at the same time, every time playing a song is a new experience, IMHO. The real question is what are you practicing for and have you acheived that goal? And do you have the right goals and are your personal goals aligned with the goals of the other band members? Apr 14, 2016 at 14:43

One question that this spawns is Has the band played many gigs - in the 6 mths you've been with them? I suspect the answer is no. Too much time spent (wasted) in rehearsals to have a playlist of enough numbers. Sounds harsh. But I've been (for short times, I hasten to add!) in bands like this. I call them 'rehearsal bands' as this is all they do! Some do it instead of going to the pub an evening a week, etc., but the format is about as you say. If an individual wants to go over the same ground time after time - probably playing it exactly the same each time - then give him a recording that he can play along with in his own time.

Rant over. Maybe. If the band is gigging, there's the opportunity to play the songs in their entirety. If not, then once a month ought to be enough for each song. If a member has forgotten his part - then he hasn't learned it well enough, so should do more practice, but not at the expense of the others' time. Yes, new stuff needs to be at the forefront of rehearsals, but only when each member has worked on their part privately. Things like finding a key should be the vocalist's job, unless there's harmony, which is done during rehearsal time. Arrangements the same. Working out if another middle eight could fit, if wanted during a gig! the same. Take a chord chart, and just jam. Rehearsals should be about honing the numbers and getting used to playing together, but often they're the only chance the drummer has behind his kit, so it's a chance for him to practise playing drums. Wrong! It's a chance for him to play with the other band members.

Seasoned musos can get together and play a gig at the drop of a hat. O.k., they've put in the practice time earier in their career, but still don't need that inordinate amount of time spent that your band seems to do.

Sounds like you need either them to change to a FAR more productive rehearsal regime, or find others who can be far more efficient.And - you're probably paying for this priviledge, in time if not also money. Harsh? Yes, but from my experience, this lot won't go far quickly.

  • Answer is no. We had two 'acoustic' gigs, which are not our thing. They sound boring and unbalanced in soud because trumpet kills all instruments. Problem is - I learned material very long. Do I understand right, that you suggest prefer gig over rehearsal, if we cannot do both? Apr 14, 2016 at 12:01
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    Every time. If the rest want to play through all the numbers fully, why waste them in a studio? Get out and play them at a gig, whether it's a proper gig, or maybe an open mic session, but certainly with an audience - a situation which is very different for playing, and sorts the men from the boys.
    – Tim
    Apr 14, 2016 at 12:05
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    @DoctorMoisha practice should be to prepare for gig. Knowing you have a gig coming up provides more motivation for practice and makes it more intentional. The best practice is actually playing a gig. That's when you really determine which songs you have got down and which ones you need to work some things out on at the next practice. Don't be afraid to try a new song out at a gig if you have a receptive audience. You can announce - "we have never played this one live before so you folks get to hear it first". Apr 14, 2016 at 14:31

When I first started out, I took rehearsals very seriously. I thought you just couldn't go out and perform until things were solid. It was a different time when people took professionalism very seriously, both the performers and the audiences.

Then reality set in. I saw several bands who obviously did not spend a lot of time going over material. Their mistakes were obvious. Yet these bands got a lot of gigs. Money also started meaning something.

Repeatedly, I would get calls to be in other bands. I would take the calls and haul my gear. Yet it was very frustrating to meet with band after band, rehearsal after rehearsal and get nowhere.

I've changed my policy to rehearse with gigging bands only. I will only take a chance on a new band if I know the band members and that they are serious and competent. If I don't know the people, I will have a talk with them to see their musical goals and if they mesh with mine.

If a band leader tells me we have to absolutely rehearse a lot until we get better, that's a clue that that is not the band for me. It is for other people, and we all have to start somewhere, so to each his own.

My ideal rehearsal situation and I tell this to bands up front is this: give me a list of the songs you want, give me the date of the gig, and I'll tell you whether or not I can deliver with that deadline. Many times, I state I much prefer going over the complicated numbers only. (It's also great when a band leader decides certain songs are worth preparing lead sheets for, though I many times like to make my own charts anyway to internalize the material. Little things band leaders do speaks a lot.)

Yes, I realize this thread started by saying it is a hobby. However, the sooner you make the transition from hobby to professional, the sooner you'll become a better musician. And getting paid for being better at your field is not a crime nor does it diminish your creativity.

(NOTE: I've been using rehearsals in the sense that rehearsals are what people do when they get together. Practice to me is refining your own instrument on your own time and getting your part down. I absolutely detest coming to a rehearsal and seeing somebody didn't learn their part in advance. There's a difference between going over challenging sections and having to teach a band member the song because he was too lazy.)

One other thing since this was about improvisation -- many times our improvisations come from things in the moment. These include the audience, the room, the name of the club, an incident with someone good or bad there. I remember this one time where an ugly name towards someone during a break led to the thought of cleaning up that foul language by silently renaming her as "Big Female Dog." To me, her initials became BFD. I decided to start a riff with the notes B, F and D in her honor. That couldn't have happened, necessarily, at a low-stakes room like a rehearsal space. Instead, being live has a certain tension that makes us want to deliver.

Oddly enough, at one point to be great at improv we need to stop caring so much as the Kenny Werner book points out. Maybe this group is stuck in that stage, and you aren't. Good luck!

  • Thank you! It is important for me to see, that there are people thinking the same way, and it is not stupid. Dec 6, 2016 at 9:38

I agree with @Karen. The problem appears to be that you have a different goal orientation from your other bandmates. You have a Learning goal orientation and your band members have a Performance goal orientation. Despite the name, Performance goal orientation is not necessarily the best orientation for actual musical performance.

From Which Should You Have? Performance Goals versus Learning Goals:

Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck once made a great distinction between performance goals versus learning goals.

Performance goals are about “winning positive judgments of your competence and avoiding negative ones. In other words, when students pursue performance goals they’re concerned with their level of intelligence: They want to look smart (to themselves or others) and avoid looking dumb.” A person usually does this by playing it safe.

Learning goals are ones that are about increasing your competence. “It reflects a desire to learn new skills, master new tasks, or understand new things—a desire to get smarter.”

Both goals she noted are common and can fuel achievement. So there’s nothing wrong with either one. “In fact,” she says, “in the best of all possible worlds, students could achieve both goals at the same time.” Unfortunately, we don’t live in the best of all possible worlds. One is usually pitted against the other. “The tasks that are best for learning are often challenging ones that involve displaying ignorance and risking periods of confusion and errors. The tasks that are best for looking smart are often ones that students are already good at and won’t really learn as much from doing.”

I personally have a Learning orientation and I have found that conflicts in goal orientation in groups are usually irreconcilable unless I can find a way to feed my goal orientation by carving out a role where I can continue to learn while my colleagues stick with material they feel comfortable in continuing to polish.

Perhaps in your case this may mean that you take a role in taking extended solos in the songs that your bandmates want to stick with. Perhaps it may mean that you start another band or side-project with other musicians who share your goal orientation.

Good luck!

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