How To Run An Effective Band Practice

If you’re a worship musician, you’ve probably survived many band practices.  Everyone knows band practices are essential, but many people have never been taught how to lead them well.  We’ve got some tips to share with you - some we’ve learned the hard way… 

When I was in high school I was part of a music ministry team at my local parish.  The rehearsals were usually OK, but one Sunday was a total flop. As the practice went on, it became clear to me that there was no real designated leader in the band.  There was a lot of awkward silence and tension among us. Since I was the youngest and I was asked to join by older young adults, I was shy to take control even though I wanted to.  I felt exhausted because we had to decide so many things together - which songs to play for Mass, how each song should go, and even what the melody and chord progression should be to accompany the Responsorial Psalm.  I just wanted someone to take charge and tell me what to play.  I got so discouraged at one point, and I put my guitar down and just sat on the floor.  

Don’t let your rehearsals flop.  Here are some tips to help you succeed during your worship team practice so that your congregation can enter more deeply into the “throne room” of God’s presence. 

  1. Prep the week before.  Choose songs in advance and send out a playlist to your band mates ahead of time.  Many leaders wait until the last minute to get ready and then the musicians show up totally unprepared.  When your musicians prepare their parts well beforehand, your band practice will skyrocket and blow you away.  Also, think about the arrangement of each song and where you want the song to go.  
  2. Connect & Elevate.  Start the rehearsal right.  Begin with a relational and friendly connection.  Put your people before the music and ask them how they’re doing.  I usually share in 30 seconds or less how I’m doing and any exciting news in my personal life, and then invite everyone else to do the same.  It breaks the ice and shows you care. Then “elevate” your hearts to God and open the rehearsal in prayer. 
  3. Go on a “Harmonic Excursion”.  I don’t always do this one, but it can be helpful especially as a worship team is just coming together.  Give your musicians a beat and a simple chord progression and then jam it out on loop. Let your musicians have fun with it and express their creativity within the framework of the tempo and chord structure.  Lead them through a build and then into a louder dynamic. Guide them back down to a volume that feels like a verse. Challenge them to listen to each other and blend.  
  4. Review the recording.  We always try to base our version of the song off the recording provided by the artist.  Why reinvent the wheel when the pros have already figured out the best arrangement? Before rehearsing a song, I will often play the recording for everyone to remind us of our parts.  
  5. Use a metronome.  If you want your band to get the next level and sound tight, use a metronome.  Either play it for everyone through the loudspeaker or have your drummer listen to it while everyone else conforms to his beat.  This can be tricky at first. If you hit a hard part of the song, slow the metronome down and loop that part until you get it. Then slowly increase the tempo back up to speed.  (There are a lot of free metronome apps.  I use Tempo ($3.99) which also allows you to create setlists.)
  6. Affirm, Share, Correct. After you finish a song, give a word of encouragement to your group.  Make it authentic by pointing out specific parts to individual musicians.  Invite the group to share their thoughts on how they can improve. If they haven’t already said it, share your corrections to make the song sound even better.  I can often get impatient with others and come down too hard on someone because of a mistake. I need to remind myself to grow in patience, lovingly give a correction and then let it go, trusting them to work on it later.  People don’t perform very well when they’re being given a death stare by their leader. 

Your congregation encountering God is the whole point.  Whether you are leading faithful Catholics deeper into the mystery of the Liturgy or trying to win over teens who are showing up at youth group for the first time, music is a powerful tool - so practice well and make it good.  While God is the one who does the work of conversion in human hearts, He often builds upon our humble musical gifts.  Just as He uses simple bread and wine and makes it His Body and Blood, so he wants to use your ordinary worship team and make it sound like Heaven to those blessed enough to hear it. 

Which tip will you apply in your next band practice?  Let us know!

Cameron Turner, Discipleship Ministry Coordinator