15 Essential Tips to Plan Your Productive Band Practice

15 Essential Tips to Plan Your Productive Band Practice

Do your band practices feel aimless? Are you not progressing quickly enough? Do you find yourself feeling like you've wasted your time on the journey home?

No matter whether you're a new band trying to get your first set of songs up to scratch before your onstage debut, or an experienced band trying to get the track listing of your new EP note-perfect before you hit the studio, you still might find your practice sessions are leaving a lot to be desired.

Fortunately, there's a simple solution that comes down to one word: plan!

Follow these 15 tips to get the most out of your band practice, and you'll notice your progress in no time:

1. Appoint a band leader

One of the first questions your band members need to ask each other is: Who will be responsible for organising all of you? You need to nominate one member to be the de facto leader to handle the logistical side of being in a band, such as scheduling rehearsals, planning set lists, and ultimately booking gigs.

A band leader needs to be a good communicator with strong organisational skills who can keep track of things like dates, who still owes money, and anything else that most musicians might consider boring. A good band leader also needs to be comfortable making decisions that may be unpopular with some of the other band members, such as casting the deciding vote on which songs you drop from the set list - if their decision is met with resistance or even criticism, your band leader needs to be able to take it on the chin and remind everyone that it was for the good of the band!

2. Start a group chat

In the digital age, it's easier than ever to keep in touch wherever you may be and whatever you may be doing - and one of the easiest ways to instantly contact every member in your band is via a group chat.

Whether you prefer using WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or another instant messaging service, a group chat is the perfect place to share information, updates and ideas with the rest of your bandmates. You can share links to song suggestions that you might like to learn together, footage and photos from a recent practice or gig, or even join a group video call for some face-to-face time.

3. Set a goal for your practice

At a glance, you might think that the goal of any practice is to simply 'practice the songs', and to a certain extent, you would be right. However, it's fair to say you would approach your practice differently if you were, for example, getting ready to play a show as opposed to rehearsing new material or practicing for a recording session.

If you're practicing for a gig, then you need to treat your rehearsal as if it's show night. This means playing through the entire set list as written and paced to fit within your allotted time slot (so minimum time wasted between songs). As such, you'll likely only go through each song once, with perhaps some time at the end to go over anything that you agree needs further work.

On the other hand, if you're trying to get some new material up to scratch so you can lay down a new demo, then pacing is less important than the precision with which you play. The song, not the set, comes first at this kind of practice, and if it needs work, you're free to work on it for as long as it takes.

4. Plan your setlist

Before you even set foot in a practice space together, your band needs to know what you're going to play. That's not to say that you should expect to be perfectly in sync the very first time you all play through a song thanks to some kind of telepathic link, but as long as you're all on the same page, you can prepare your own parts individually and have a structured list of songs to work through.

Remember: a set list needs to be maintained in the same way you'd care for a houseplant - if a song becomes old and dull, it needs to be pruned like a dying leaf to make way for fresh material. Therefore, you must not get too attached to your set list, even if you've been honing the same 20 songs for months on end, because even a small change could be the best thing to happen to your band.

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5. Learn your parts alone

Commit the lyrics, guitar parts, drum patterns and anything else you're responsible for to memory before, not at, your rehearsal. This will not only save time during your practice but will also encourage your bandmates that progress is being made.

Don't be too disheartened, however, if you have to make any changes to the part you've already put your time and effort into learning; it's entirely possible that, when you all play a particular song together in person, some alterations will be necessary in order to suit your band's style and range. If you need to change the key, speed or structure of the song, don't worry that you've wasted your time - this will be a helpful step towards getting your sound right. You'll also gain intimate knowledge of the song by studying it yourself.

6. Save the date - don't be late

Keeping a watchful eye on your calendar is good practice for anybody, but it's essential for a performer and even more so for an ensemble. Everyone in your band needs to know their schedules inside and out, and as soon as you've agreed upon a date on which you're all free to practice, you all need to make a note of it in your diaries (and not book anything else that clashes with it!).

You will also all need to stick to the agreed arrival time because every minute your band wastes waiting for your less punctual members to arrive is a minute you could've spent on developing your collective chemistry. This is a personal and musical chemistry, so if you don't show that you value each other's time, that chemistry risks becoming imbalanced.

7. Check your equipment list (twice)

There's nothing worse than turning up to your practice session, raring to crank out some absolute bangers that you've been working on all week, only to find that you've left an essential piece of equipment at home. Not only is this frustrating (and probably even a little embarrassing) for you, but this will also delay the band practice for everyone else while you run off to collect the offending item or, if you don't have time to pick it up, make do with an incomplete set up, meaning you won't get the most out of your practice time.

To avoid this, write yourself an equipment checklist (and suggest that you all do the same!) and look over it before you set off. While you're at it, give all your gear a test to make sure it's all working (crackly cables are among the most common pieces of equipment to be overlooked). It's easy to fall into the habit of just leaving your equipment packed up from your previous practice, but it's always better to be safe than sorry - so take the extra few minutes to check it!

8. Structure your rehearsal

It might take a few attempts to get into a rhythm that works for you, but planning the structure of your band practice in advance will save you from wasting any time on wondering what to do next. Try not to give yourselves too many unnecessary breaks - it's important to not overdo it, and breaks are a good opportunity to review what you've achieved so far, but getting yourselves used to playing for longer stretches will stand you in good stead for a gig or a lengthy recording session (plus, if you're paying for your practice space, you'll be getting your money's worth).

One valuable piece of advice we can offer is: time how long each part of your practice takes. This will help you figure out your own practice structure to stick to, show you if anything is taking too long or needs more time, and also give you an idea of how long your band will set up for a gig.

Here's an idea of how you can split up a 2 ½ hour practice to maximise productivity:

  • 15 mins setting up
  • 10 mins checking levels and warming up
  • 45 mins rehearsal
  • 10 mins break and review/discussion
  • 45 mins rehearsal
  • 10 mins break and review/discussion
  • 15 mins pack down

9. Remove all distractions

There are 2 main distractions that will detract from your productive band practice: phones and people.

While phones can be incredibly useful when it comes to taking photos and videos of your practice - which you can then use to review how you look and sound, and, if the footage is up to snuff, post on social media to promote your band - you don't need to check your texts between songs, or risk a song being interrupted by a phone call. If you're not using your phone for recording purposes, we recommend leaving it in airplane mode (or even switching it off, if the temptation is too great).

As far as friends and family go, it's wonderful when they want to cheer you on and show you support - but ask them to save it for your gig! Not only will you be tempted to shoot them a smile or chat with them instead of with your bandmates, but it'll also be incredibly dull for them whenever you have to work on one specific part of a song over and over again. Trust us when we say it's best for everyone if you enforce a strict 'band members only' policy at your practice.

10. Position yourselves to suit your goals

Communication is paramount when working on new material or preparing for a recording session. Set yourselves up in a circle so everyone can see each other, as you may need to communicate non-verbally to remind each other, for example, when the chorus is coming up.

It's also essential to get the levels right - for this kind of practice, you don't want the drums and guitars to be too loud. Playing at a lower volume will mean that your vocalist(s) won't have to strain their voice to be heard above the other instruments, and it will also be easier for you to hear any potential mistakes that need to be worked on. Make sure you can hear each other speak over the music too, in case you need to stop and start over - it might be worth equipping each band member, rather than just the vocalist(s), with a microphone at this stage.

If, however, you're rehearsing for a gig, then you need to treat your band practice like a live show. By this stage, you should have already worked out any kinks, so you won't need the same level of communication between bandmates - arrange yourselves as if you're onstage, and imagine you're facing your audience.

You can also afford to crank up the volume at this stage - you need to prepare yourself for how loud you'll be playing on gig night!

11. Set your levels before you play

Speaking of levels, ensure everyone's set at the right volume before you get stuck into practicing any songs. That way, you won't have to worry about them for the rest of your practice. As we mentioned above, the ideal level of your band will depend on the purpose of your practice, but as a general rule, try not to play too loud. Setting your levels at the start will also help to reduce the temptation to keep turning yourselves up as you go.

Many bands begin by setting the level of the bass to the drums, then building the guitars, keyboards, vocals, etc., on top. It's useful to run as many of your band's instruments through a mixing desk as possible, as you'll have more control over each instrument's level from a single point.

If any of you are using effects pedals, give these a check as well before you start playing. A dial or two might have got knocked in transit - you don't want your guitar solo to be ruined by being twice - or half - as loud as you wanted, so give all your boxes a test stomp.

Pro tip - take a photo of all the amp, pedal, and desk settings once you've got them right. Then, at your next rehearsal, you'll be able to refer to your photo and get the levels correct straight away.

12. Repeat tricky parts until you get them right

Although we hinted that this might be boring to an outsider listening in, this is an essential learning technique when you're faced with a particularly tricky part of a song. Key changes, tempo changes, time signature changes and the like will affect the whole band, so you must make sure you're all singing from the same hymn sheet.

If you anticipate a particular section presenting you with a problem, flag this with your band so you can attempt it a few times at your practice before taking on the entire song. Alternatively, you might not realise how tricky that passage is until you arrive at it while playing the whole song.

Either way, isolate that passage and work on playing only that section until you're all confident you're playing it right, then add it back into the song. This is a much better use of your time than simply repeating the song and hoping for the best.

13. Respect your bandmates

As a band, you are greater than the sum of your parts, so each band member deserves to get what they need out of your practice. Aside from making sure you all turn up fully prepared for every practice, you also need to respect your bandmates during the practice itself.

One rule you should all follow to ensure mutual respect is shown is: no noodling! Try to resist playing around on your instrument between songs - especially if you're interrupting a group discussion.

Also - if you haven't already, make sure all guitarists and bassists in your band have invested in a tuner pedal. There are few more irritating sounds than a guitar being tuned loudly!

14. Record and review your practice

As we touched upon earlier, phones can come in handy when it comes to taking photos, videos, and audio recordings of your practice. Make sure there's at least one phone with sufficient battery life and storage space to record your entire practice - this way, you can listen back together and identify any areas for improvement.

This goes hand in hand with identifying signs of progress - always try to end on a high note and encourage each other when you're sounding particularly tight, or have finally mastered an especially hard song. Even if things didn't go as well as you'd hoped, give constructive feedback and help each other plan how to get to the next step.

15. Plan future rehearsals

Now you've successfully planned one productive band practice, it's time for the next stage: keeping at it! Elect at least one evening a week when you're all available, and build that into your weekly routine - before you know it, you'll all be used to this commitment and will quickly start to feel the benefits.

Book yourself a regular slot at your chosen rehearsal space - this will both ensure that you all know where and when you need to show up, and stop any other bands taking your place. Then, just make sure you all remember to follow steps 1-14, and watch your band get better each week!