How to Practice Before a Worship Rehearsal (Part 1)

woodshed-verb, to abandon all other responsibilities and personal pursuits in order to practice one’s instrument.
On our music team, we have the luxury of providing downloadable sheet music for the members in advance of their weekly rehearsal. This gives them the opportunity to practice their part before the rehearsal. If you have never practiced before (I hadn’t really ever practiced until I became a music major in college) then you might need some direction about what to do to prepare for a rehearsal.
I will start with the Instrumentalists:
1. Review the form.
How does it start/end? Where are the repeats, DS, Coda? What is the chorus/verse/bridge/vamp?
2. Review the chord vocabulary.
Are there any chords that you have never or rarely played? Circle the difficult chords to reference later.
3. If it is available, listen to the recording.
This can be helpful most of the time. First listen for the big picture: the feel, tempo, mood, texture, etc. Then listen to the details: what is my specific instrument doing on this recording? But don’t beat yourself up for not being as good as the recording; most people who are listening to the worship have never even heard the recording.
4. Play every song in the set to a metronome.
Slow tempos and fast tempos are very difficult to master even for experienced professionals. If a song is really slow, set the metronome to click 8th notes or twice as fast. It is temping to practice a slow song faster than it is performed in order to save time, but you will always gravitate toward the tempo that you practiced it. It’s ok to practice a fast song slowly at first to learn the chords; however, make sure that you can play it at the correct tempo, too.
5. Determine what special needs or settings are required for the song.
What guitar effects? What keyboard sounds? Brushes or mallets?
6. Focus on the trouble spots.
After you have played through the whole set, go back and hit the trouble spots. Get repetitive! If there is one measure that you always mess up, then just practice that one measure. Set the metronome at the performance tempo and then play the phrase and rest, play the phrase, rest, play the phrase, rest, etc. If you can’t play it at the performance tempo, set the metronome at the speed at which you can play it flawlessly and then slowly increase the tempo until you reach the goal. Another technique to getting a fast phrase is to set the tempo at the performance tempo and then play just the first note of the phrase until you play that perfectly. Once you have mastered that one note, add the second, and then the third until you can play the whole phrase. Some say this is actually better than the previous technique because you are more likely to create bad habits when practicing at a slower tempo.
7. Overall, prepare to play simple.
Pianists and guitarists will often practice songs in such a way that when they get to the rehearsal, they can’t play with anyone else. While they are practicing, they want to hear the whole groove fleshed out, and so they end up playing too much and step all over everyone else. So, when you practice, try to imagine how you will fit into a band sound. This takes a lot of intuitive thought, and will take a long time to cultivate. But even if you can’t hear it all in your head, just focusing on simplicity will go a long way.
I think that I will save the vocal practicing for next week, stay tuned…

  1. #1 by Heidi Vincent on August 16, 2006 - 3:49 pm

    This is really great! I can’t wait for the vocal pointers! Yipppee to learning good breath support!

  2. #2 by Dan Finegan on August 18, 2006 - 11:36 am

    Kirk, if I told you that the majority of our worship ministry musicians don’t read music other than chord charts and are very very loathe to practice, what suggestions would you make?

  3. #3 by kirk on August 18, 2006 - 12:38 pm

    Most of all, love the musicians who are in your church. I can sometimes get down about the lack of professionalism in the church, but hey, they’re not pros so why should expect them to act like it? Don’t let the vision you have a leader for what the music could sound like keep you from shepherding their hearts into using their gifts for service.
    Most of the musicians in our team do not read music either and most do not practice before rehearsal. Still, I avoid “chord charts” which are just chords and lyrics. I use lead sheets that have chords symbols over one staff of melody. I believe that the garage rockers who don’t know an 8th note from a hole in the ground are learning little bits about how to use the lead sheet every time they play from one. I also believe the leadsheet is the common ground between the “chord chart” musicians and the classically trained musicians (usually piano players).
    As far as practicing goes, I set the bar high in rehearsals in such a way that the musicians feel compelled to practice in order to meet the goal. For about a year after taking my job, a lot of folks squirmed about the difficulty of the music we were doing. Now, at the begining of my third year, they have mastered that music and are hungry for more challenges. Set the level of difficulty to push your musicians out of their comfort zones but not past the point where they would get discouraged and want to quit.
    However, I am still shocked when any musician on our team goes through the effort of practicing before the rehearsal.

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