It can be difficult to come to terms with what to practice in a group setting. This is the reason why orchestras, big bands and ensembles typically have a director or conductor associated with them. With a mature set of forward thinking musicians, the need for is overshadowed by groupthink, and healthy conversation about things that need to be tightened up.
Without the difficulty associated with telling your buddy they need to practice individually aside, how do groups go about tightening up loose ends and cleaning parts so that your performance is always squeaky clean. How much should you practice with your group before you can get up on stage with new material, head to the studio to record your demo or make play through videos to share with the world.
It’s all about the scheduling. A band needs to give theirselves enough time to really know the material as a whole. There is no cheating this, an audience member who regularly comes to shows is going to know when you fudge parts. And while its part of the experience to change things on the fly, especially if you can come back to the groove and continue playing, it can be a source of embarrassment if things fall apart during the show. Especially false starts, if everyone loses track of the count before starting the song, it makes it look like you don’t care as much for the music or even the audience for which you play, because you came underprepared. It will happen. But hopefully not too much.
A technique you might use to pick the spots you need to polish is to take turns leading the band through practice. Sitting on parts until you feel comfortable. If there are 4 members practicing, and you practice four times a week for a couple hours at a time, switch roles each practice. The benefits of this will become apparent quickly:
- the band members are going to get more comfortable with one another’s criticisms in a professional capacity
- valuable experience for everyone in learning the leadership skills associated with critical listening (being able to pick apart the material) and direction
- everyone’s voice will be heard, improving camaraderie and building group trust
Another method that you might try would be to play the material everyone agrees was lacking at the last show. While this can be beneficial, be mindful of the time spent on single parts. If you were planning on working five songs in the two hours, and you spend have of the time on a single part, the problem is not with the group. The problem is an individual who needs to spend more time practicing the material they certainly know. Instead of running out of time playing few parts, effort the rest of the planned material in concentrated bursts. Enough time to solidify the groove, clean up the notes, or change the part if it outside of your ability.
Be both consistent and come to practice prepared, large numbers of high-school and college level groups meet once or twice a week. They are spending more focused time with repertoire both individually and as a group. Effectively practicing the group to a capacity that is acceptable for performance is easy if you keep regular with the scheduling.
One thing that is counter productive is over practicing. This can lead to burn out if you have relatively few songs to play, and hours can drag if things just don’t seem to click. So if you feel the need to hammer your set for six hours at a time, then make sure to give appropriate time for goofing off at regular intervals. This will keep things light and can help ease the tension of working tirelessly on parts. The same thing goes for practicing a lot before a show. To keep chops fresh have a light run through the night before or day of the show, but don’t attempt to gruel and toil right before performance. You will thank yourself later that you gave yourself time away from the material.
Keep in mind, a full band practicing should be about putting parts together in a cohesive manner, not about learning a line, or finding a chord. Rhythmic study is however approved.
Leave us a comment about what you practice and how you go about it below!