Whether your band rehearses on a weekday evening, or on a Sunday morning a few hours before the church service, rehearsal time must be stewarded well so that your band is confident with their music and prepared to lead worship. Here are ten tips for leading an effective band rehearsal.
1. Prepare yourself.
As the worship leader, you must be the most prepared member of the band. Memorize the chords and lyrics of the songs. Spend extra time practicing the parts of songs that are most difficult for you. Know what everyone else should be playing at any given time. You are the musical director of the band. Be prepared so you can hear mistakes and give them specific direction on song style and dynamics.
2. Prepare your band.
Before your band arrives at rehearsal, makes sure you have resourced them with everything they need to practice at home on their own. Use Planning Center to share with them the service order, chord charts, and MP3 files. Transpose chord charts and MP3 files to the proper key. Send them reminder emails throughout the week, so they know they are scheduled to play, and they should be practicing at home on their own. Rehearsal for them should happen long before Thursday night or Sunday morning.
3. Arrive at rehearsal early and set the stage.
Arrive at church 45 to 60 minutes to complete the following tasks. Turn on the sound, lighting, and video systems to ensure everything is running properly. If not, you’ll have some time to troubleshoot. Next, inspect each member of the band’s spot on the stage. Make sure they have all of the necessary gear like DI boxes and cables to plug into the system upon arrival. If your band uses music, make sure they have accurate copies of music arranged in order on their music stands. It also helps to include a copy of the service plan. Treat your band members like rock stars. Make sure their environment is 100% functional and reduce the amount of time it takes for them to get ready to play.
4. Begin rehearsal with a prayer.
At the beginning of rehearsal, I like to remind myself and the band why we are there by starting with a prayer. Sometimes the beginning of rehearsal can be stressful as you troubleshoot tech issues and other unforeseen problems. I like taking a moment to pray before we start the rehearsing the first song. I’ll pray something like this. “God we thank you for the opportunity to lead your people in worship this morning. We pray that your hand will be upon this rehearsal time. We pray that we recall all we have practiced, and we are unified musically and spiritually as a band and tech team. We pray against any glitches in technology or service flow so there are no distractions and people can focus on you. We pray for transformed lives this morning. Amen.” Simple prayers like this can help your team focus on why they are there, and they invite God to be a part of the rehearsal process as well as the service.
5. Give your band a quick game plan.
After I pray, I like to give the band a game plan for the rehearsal time. I’ll tell them we will play all the songs once, allowing us to warm up and find trouble spots. If I hear a minor mistake, I’ll assume they hear it as well and will fix it. Then we will play through a second time, and I’ll be much pickier about spots that need attention. If there is a new song, we will play through it at least 3 or 4 times. Every rehearsal looks a bit different depending on the familiarity of the music. I like to give them a quick game plan, so they know what to expect.
6. Warm up and sound check with the first song.
The first song we rehearse I treat as a warm up and a sound check. Therefore I’m not expecting it to sound perfect. I want my band to dial in their monitors and warm up playing together. If there are any major tech issues, we address them immediately. After playing the first song once through, everyone should be set to go for the remainder of rehearsal, and they should start to cohere as a band.
7. Rehearse all songs at least two times.
Try to rehearse each song at least two times. If the song is familiar, one time may suffice. New songs may require three or four times. As I already mentioned, during the first run through I give my band members a chance to self-correct their mistakes, unless if it sounds like they are completely unaware of missed chord changes or sloppy tempo. In that case, I will correct them. The second run through allows them to nail their part with confidence.
8. Practice transitions at least two times.
Transitions between songs can make or break a smooth flow to a worship set. Practice your transitions between songs at least two times. Often I will have the band start at the last chorus of a song to practice transitioning into the next song. If I say a prayer in between songs or lead the congregation in a liturgical reading, I practice those prayers and readings and the keyboard player practices playing underneath me.
9. Be picky, but not too picky.
As the worship leader and music director, you want to help your team pursue excellence without being an overbearing dictator. Hopefully, you have set the expectation for your band members to show up prepared to rehearsal. Your guidance during rehearsal should consist of minor corrections and creative suggestions. Allow your band to have musical freedom within the appropriate style of the song. You want them to enjoy the rehearsal process.
10. Encourage your team.
When a band member nails his or her part, encourage them. Smile at them during rehearsal. If you look like you are having fun, they will have a good time as well. The last thing they want at band practice is to feel like their leader is a grumpy middle school music teacher. Always show gratitude for your team’s hard work and be their biggest cheerleader.
I hope these ten tips give you ideas and inspiration for how to increase the effectiveness of your worship band rehearsals and help you grow as a leader. Well-run rehearsals set your team up for leading powerful worship experiences. They worry less about nailing their parts and can focus more on worshipping God with their instrument or voice. What else would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments.