Tuesday, October 6, 2015

How to Ruin Your Wednesday Night

Allow me to describe the worst worship band rehearsal I have ever experienced.

Everything actually started pretty well. Everyone was more or less on time, in a good mood, plugged in and ready to go.  The band leader, not me on this occasion, called out the first song. The drummer counted us in. Then something terrible happened. The resulting 30 seconds of sound, I can't call it music, may have been right at home on one of the ghost catching "reality" TV shows, but it was sorely out of place in a church. An atonal un-masterpiece. Musicians playing different songs in different keys at different tempos.

Technically, we were all playing the same song, however about half of us were playing one arrangement and the other half was playing a completely different one. There were at least two different keys, but frankly, it was hard to decipher.

That was just the beginning.

What happened next was, um, uncomfortable. The band leader decided to forge ahead. "Let's hear the correct version through the PA, please." New charts were coordinated and printed. Musicians listened to the song over the PA and tried to relearn this correct, new-to-them version on the spot. No pressure there.

The next 45-60 minutes was spent fumbling, stumbling, and hacking through song number one of the night. Not to mention half the scheduled rehearsal time was burned. People were frustrated. And by people, I mean me.  Especially because I was not in the role of band leader. I felt the best way for me to handle things was to support the band leader, do what he asked and keep my mouth shut. It wasn't easy.

Rehearsal went long and beside my own emotional struggle with the evening, I don't think it's a stretch to say I wasn't the only one looking forward to getting home and having a glass of wine when we were done.

I learned a few lessons that night that I found to be helpful for leading a band rehearsal.

1. Start with the easiest or most familiar song. This can get tricky as band members will be at different talent levels, experience, etc. But there is usually one song in your set that's kind of obvious. If in doubt, let the singer decide. Seriously.

2. If you get into a situation where the song is a train wreck, bail on it. Either cut it completely, or at least put it off until the weekend with a stipulation that if it doesn't come together quickly at the next rehearsal, it will be cut. No pointing fingers, no pressure. If it works, cool. If not, cool.

3. Stay organized. The reason that song derailed that night was because of sloppy organization of song assets in the software used to coordinate with the band.  Multiple files where there should have been one. MP3s and documents not labeled clearly. It could have been avoided.

4. Communicate. Especially if there is any doubt about which song/arrangement/key a song is being done in. My preferred method is to email the band with notes on each song in the set. Something like:

I Am - Set opener. We are using the recording as a road map, however the recording starts with piano, but no keyboard player this week, so we will start with acoustic guitar instead. Watch the timing going in and out of each chorus. During the bridge breakdown, Ryan please come up with a simple electric guitar lead part to help fill. For backing vocals, Bill please sing unison on all the choruses, Jane please sing unison on chorus 1 and a harmony above on the rest. A harmony part on the second half of the bridge could be cool too.

5. Lower expectations. In the last few years, every rehearsal I have lead starts with me stating the purpose of the mid-week rehearsal. That purpose is to make sure we are all playing the same songs, in the same arrangement and the same key. We will not be practicing transitions or ironing out wrinkles. Any wrinkles identified should be worked on between after this rehearsal and before the next. My aim is to get through the rehearsal as efficiently as possible and be done as soon as that purpose has been fulfilled. I can't recall a single time where we got to the weekend set and I regretted not having a longer mid-week rehearsal to prepare. Not one. People became more relaxed at that first rehearsal and everyone knew I would not waste their time. On the rare occasion that I really felt we needed to hit something more than once, I think most of the team respectfully obliged and often were in agreement that we'd benefit from that effort.

This works for me.  Your mileage may vary.


  1. I literally am NOT a worship leader but do run media for weekend services. Any time the band leader is organized, listens to the band members and vocalists, is a great communicator - and keeps the rehearsal running smoothly (even though there's always glitches) - it affects the production team as well. Then when there is a pattern of rehearsals that are run well, it's almost like the media person and others in the booth can breathe easily and relax into the rehearsal without wondering what will happen next that might delay the rehearsal. Thanks for sharing how you plan for your mid-week rehearsals. Curious how other worship leaders plan theirs as well.

  2. That's an excellent point on how the rehearsal affects more than just the musicians on the stage. Thanks!