How many times has this happened to you? You take the stage at a local hotspot, ready to tear everyone in the room a new one with your kick ass set. You get a few measures into the first song and the band experiences a train wreck that would make Amtrack blush. What happened? Could it be that your band just sucks, and has no future in the music business? Probably, but it is also possible that you guys are just in need of some real rehearsal time. As with many other important parts of the music business, knowing how to run a rehearsal is a critical step in making your band a real contender. Additionally, anyone who has been in the studio will recognize that being able to get tracks laid down quickly and cleanly will save you or your record company money. Properly rehearsing the material before cutting basic tracks is one of the best ways to cut recording costs. Why bother? I have two words for you, "Take Twenty".
If I have learned anything in the many bands that I have been in, it is that when it comes to rehearsals, someone has to be in charge. I am not saying you have to be a tyrannical dictator, but ships always run better with a captain. So if you haven't got a band leader, pick one soon.
Also, remember that music is a business like any other, and having a degree of professionalism is greatly appreciated by bandmates, and audiences alike. All members should show up on time and prepared to play all the songs in the set. If you have a bandmate who is drunk more often than Lindsay Lohan, it is probably time to replace them. I know it sounds harsh, but the music industry is hard enough under the best of conditions, and you need everyone to pull their own weight. If someone has continuously let the band down, or made you appear unprofessional at a club gig or recording session, show them the door.
Now with everyone in place, and doing what they should be doing, it is time to rehearse. Try to stick to a fairly regimented schedule, blocking out extra time to work on songs that have tricky parts that need to be tightened up. If you have band members who have the attention span of a Nat on a triple espresso (I'm looking at you drummers), it is especially important to move efficiently from one song to the next following your set list. Whoever is elected band leader should make sure everyone knows the set in advance, and has printed copies for the actual rehearsal.
Another important, but overlooked detail is to use the same equipment in rehearsal that will be used at the gig or session. This gives you a chance to work out the effects changes that you need in different songs, and to troubleshoot any potential problems while they can be fixed, and not on stage. Nothing says, "Never book me again", like major equipment breakdowns in your gear that you can't quickly resolve.
Resist the temptation to spend too much time socializing, or jamming on random things. There is plenty of time to socialize as you are loading in and out of the rehearsal space. Once you begin practicing, it is time to get into the zone and make every minute count. Great bands do not spring fully formed from the head of Zeus, they are molded in rehearsal spaces. So unless you really like that part time gig at Starbucks, take being in a band seriously if you want to make it.
I know that I'm not making it sound like all that much fun, but you know what else isn't much fun, eating it in front of a packed club. Remember that music is a competitive business, once you have an audience in front of you, it is extremely important to win them over. Just like when meeting your girlfriend's parents, you rarely get a second chance to make a good first impression.
The single best thing you can do to improve your playing right now is get into a regular practice routine. I would suggest, for the serious player, no less than an hour a day, every day. But it is not enough to put in time; you have to make the best use of that time. Five minutes of practicing technique, and fifty five minutes of jamming on old Van Halen tunes is not practicing. You can do that ten hours a day, and still not get anywhere. Believe it or not, an hour is not very long. At the height of my practicing, right after I graduated from G.I.T, I practiced 14 hours a day, for months. Right now I only practice around 2 hours a day. I play for 10 hours a day, but only 2 hours of that is what I would call practice, the rest is teaching, recording, performing, rehearsing, etc. Any solid practice schedule should include these five categories: Lead Guitar, Rhythm Guitar, Songs, Reading, and Review.
Lead Guitar should include: Pentatonic Scales, Pentatonic licks and sequences, Diatonic Scales, Sequences, Modes, Arpeggios, Sweep Picking, Doublestops, Legato, Tapping, Advanced Scales such as: Harmonic Minor, Melodic Minor, and their respective modes, as well as, symmetrical scales like the Diminished and Whole tone scales.
Rhythm Guitar should include: Chords, Rhythms, Syncopated Rhythms, Key Centers, Modal Chord Progressions, Chord Theory, Finger picking, Hybrid Picking, Ear Training, and Odd Time playing.
Songs. Believe it or not, songs that you had down a year ago, you probably can't play today if you haven't practiced them since. It is important to cycle through your "song inventory" to keep up on tunes you haven't done in a while. When I was getting ready to start rehearsals for the shows that would follow the release of my record, I was shocked to find that I had forgotten large sections of many tunes, and I wrote those songs.
Reading. This is the most controversial of the practice subjects, because, come on man, when am I ever going to use that? Well, you would be surprised how often reading comes up as a professional guitarist. If you are going to teach, play sessions, sit in with pro bands, or play jazz or classical, reading is a must. If you are going to just be jamming with Jimmy Joe down the street who knows even less than you do, then you're right, it probably won't come up. But keep in mind that if you just put in the time to learn those little black dots, then not knowing how to read won't be an issue for you, will it?
Review. This is your chance to go back and work on any of the above topics that you have problems with. It is crucial that you don't fluff your ego with thoughts like: "No, I think I'm pretty good with sweeping", or "No, I've got that sequence down good enough". Look, I know you know when you suck at something. And believe me, if you know, so will the audience when you eat crap trying to do that lick on stage that you "had" in the practice room. Rule #1: It is always better to screw up in the practice room than on stage in front of a crowd people. Your cat won't tell anyone how much you suck at Diminished scales, but that prick in the front row will. And if you're really lucky, a reporter for the local music magazine will be there to share your "special moment" with everyone.
Well, that about does it for me. If you find yourself staring at the practice section of this article saying, "Oh man, what the hell is a Mode or a Diminished scale"? Don't worry, I will be back to cover those topics in such excruciating, and torturous detail that you'll swear you must have woken up to find yourself at GITMO facing down a CIA interrogator with cold hands.
Scott Allen is a 1996 graduate of the Musician's Institute, G.I.T. He currently teaches guitar to 65 to 70 students weekly at Northridge Music Center.
His latest CD is entitled "III", featuring his impressively fluid playing, with a style marked by an incendiary sense of phrasing.
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