How To Get Hired With Bands That Don’t Rehearse


We have all heard the saying “Practice makes perfect”. We have all participated in fun rehearsals,  hard/military type rehearsals, intense rehearsals, “Why am I here ?” rehearsals,  lets just jam rehearsals,  party rehearsals,  lets fight and argue about songs/keys,  rehearsals,  I wanna hear myself play/show off rehearsals, play all night rehearsals, and hopefully professional and timed rehearsals…the list goes on and on.  Which one of these rehearsal types is your band ?

Beginner bands and musicians typically love rehearsing. It’s their practice time as well as a band rehearsal. When musicians mature in their craft, they learn that PRACTICE is done at home.  Practice allows you improve your skills as well as recreate yourself as a musician. PRACTICE allows you to listen to your song list and learn the songs according to your instrument. You can rewind and work at your own pace.   I associate PRACTICE with HOMEWORK.  Learning the material before rehearsal will be more effective and the band will grow and improve time management.   If everyone does their homework, you can concentrate on flowing and working together as a unit.  Band chemistry can be challenging, but doing your homework will show your commitment.

Over the years I have found that learning the verses, hooks, bridges and the general structure of the song is a must.  Most of  “Improvisation” type bands will change the song while adding their own flavor,  but the structure is generally the same.    Downloading the original versions of songs and learning the patterns and structure will help.    Melodic type instruments should learn songs in the original key,  but practice in other keys as well.   It’s in added skill to be able to transpose to another key on demand.  You never know who’s gonna hit the stage and require a key change.

As a percussionist when learning the original songs, I find that the older songs have the old grooves and the feel is quite different over the years.  Drummers today play alot of pocket, linear type drum feels, depending on the genre of music.   When I’m learning Motown music, I understand that the Motown groove is important to that song.  I  always try to incorporate the original groove, with today’s feel.   I listen to the original drummer and then build on the original masterpiece.   Some bands may require that you play the song just like the record, but if you don’t overplay,  you can still incorporate your style without comprising the originality of the song.

Although I’m a pocket drummer,  if I play a rock or country song, I will generally mimic the original drummer.    Most well known rock songs are known for that rocking drummer beat.   Your audience will know if the groove is different, so its important to listen to the original version.   You can always build on it later with your players.  If they play it the original way,  and take the song to another level or groove, you’ll be ready.

When playing for agency bands you must know a variety of songs.    I played for a few agency bands in which I didn’t rehearse.   I was given a set list of the songs.   I needed repetition to learn songs effectively so  I would download songs and listen over and over.   After I’ve listened to the grooves,  I would learn the structure and write down key things on each song.   For example:

  • On bridge, the beat goes to half timing.  
  • Pay attention to hits on 2nd verse. 1,2,3,4, straight hits at end of measure.
  • Drummer brings in the band with a drum fill on the (2)

It’s not necessary to have written notes for all the bands, but if its a structured type set, with transitions and breaks, then I prefer to have notes.  Especially if I only have one rehearsal before a big stage  type show.    For you, it may not be necessary.    Whatever works for you,  but there is nothing worse than getting up on stage and forgetting  how the song starts or ends.   It’s happened to us all, but preparation is key.

If you want to play for bands that don’t rehearse.

  1. Ask for a set list
  2. Learn the original version.  If you are a singer, learn the words or have words readily available if needed.
  3. Learn the verses, chorus, bridges, and hooks of a song.   If your leader go back to the chorus, you understand the pattern, keys, transition to get you there.
  4. Be able to flow and transpose when necessary.  Practice playing the song with different beats or different feels.
  5. Be dependable and show up the gigs on time.
  6. If the band does not have a list, but the players just play and entertain…….just LISTEN !  Don’t overplay.    Musicians that listen to one another understand the art of improvisation.   Jazz musicians are examples of improvisation, but it can be done with  any genre.   Everyone understands the dynamics of a song and knows their place in making a cohesive unit.

If you are a beginner, you will need to rehearse in order to learn how to flow.   After band rehearsal is done, play one song and try going  outside of the box.     Start the song as a straight groove, and then try the same song with a latin or reggae groove without stopping.    Keyboard players can try modulating the song to another key.  Good communication with the band members will teach you how to be prepared for anything.   The drummer will learn dynamics, and learn how to break down the song (bringing down the volume) as well as building the song.   If you or someone makes a mistake, learn how to recover.   Although musicians in the audience will know if you messed up, most people in the audience won’t always know.    Don’t let everything show on your face.  Keep it moving and recover the song with communication.

Use wisdom on what songs are okay to make changes so that you don’t throw your audience off.   The leader will generally be able to read the audience to get a feel of what works or what is appropriate.

It can be uncomfortable if  the unrehearsed band calls out a song you don’t know.   As a drummer, I ask for the general rhythm of the song.  I will start the song with cymbals and hi hat feels, while figuring out the groove.    I have watched the bass player lay back for a minute while he establishes the key and structure.    Once he has it locked in, I come in strong with him to establish the “Lock” of the song.   Neither one of us knew the song, but by listening first,  we let the keyboard player take the roll in setting up the song.   The audience never knew that we didn’t know song.  We used the building method and effectively played the song without being rehearsed.

With everyone’s busy schedules, if you are a good listener with your combined skills, you can work with bands that don’t rehearse.   They will trust that you will get the job done as a team player.   They will know that you are able to think outside of the box, but you  are also  able to understand structures and patterns.   You’ll  have a great time being creative with great musicians.

SPECIAL NOTE :  I’m not insinuating that you do not need to rehearse,  or that you aren’t seasoned because you prefer to rehearse.   Rehearsal is definitely needed to establish structure or to make the band tighter.    This article is for those phone calls in which a rehearsal is impossible due to schedules or the type of gig.   The budget or musicians pay may not warrant an additional rehearsal.  The key is to prepare yourself at home whether a rehearsal is required or not.   Unrehearsed playing isn’t for everyone, but don’t be afraid to tread the waters…….

Rhythm Always…..

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