5 steps to effective, productive rehearsals

5Nothing is more frustrating than having a rehearsal and not getting anything done. Over the years I’ve come to understand that there are some very common things that almost always quickly derail rehearsals. I’ve had the pleasure of spending just about all of my over 30 years in music ministry at one church, working with the same music ministry. We’ve tweaked our process over the years, and several of the suggestions I’ll offer here are things that God just showed me were the causes of our own struggles.

Every music department has it’s own challenges and it’s own unique circumstances, but there are some things you find in common in almost all ministries who are having trouble having productive rehearsals. Here are, I believe, the top 5 things every choir, praise team or other group should be doing to help insure they have effective, productive rehearsals.

1. Know in advance what songs you will be learning and/or going over at the next rehearsal

Make a list of those songs and insure all musicians, directors and song leaders involved have that list several days before rehearsal. Never come to rehearsal with no itinerary or goal, then simply brainstorm about what to go over once you get there. You will get NOWHERE.

2. Insure that all musicians, directors and lead vocalists have the material in advance and expect them to be prepared to play, sing, teach, or direct it by rehearsal time.

*In order to have productive rehearsals there must be studying, practicing and preparation made before the rehearsal for everyone involved with teaching it to the choir or group. The musicians should not come to rehearsal and begin learning the song then. The leader should not be hearing the song for the first time at rehearsal. The director/minister of music/parts instructor must be prepared in advance to teach or take the group over the material that will be covered.

3. Do NOT play recordings of the song(s) you’re going over or learning at your rehearsals.

This is something God had to reveal to me years ago. When we wanted to learn something new we would bring the tape and play it at the rehearsal. Then we’d spend the next hour arguing about every single little detail of the song and how we’re not doing it like they did it on the record. When we stopped listening to the original at rehearsal and instead started teaching the songs live with the musicians playing the material, we literally cut hours off the time by eliminating all the bickering and comparing everything to the record.

If you’re an organization that depends heavily on playing the cd at rehearsal to learn the song you might be wondering how you’re going to switch to not doing it. For the answer, re-read number 2. 🙂 Seriously, take this step and you won’t believe the difference it will make and the amount of time you’ll save.

4. Assign one person to be in charge of conducting rehearsals and make sure everyone understands and respects that person’s position and authority as such.

That means one person is in charge of taking the group over all familiar material and one person is in charge of teaching all new material. This is usually the same person but it doesn’t have to be. For example, our choir director takes us over old material that we already know. Even though I also direct, I’m more of a back-up or assistant in that capacity. My primary job is teaching new material or correcting harmony/parts on old material.

But when one of us is up, that person has the floor and everyone’s attention. If this is not currently the way things are set in your ministry that person may need to be assigned publicly by the choir president or pastor and given that authority in such a way that it is publicly understood.  But I will say this: Authority must be earned. When I get up to teach now, I have the full and absolute attention of whatever group I’m teaching at the time. There is no debating about what I’m teaching.

But I’ve earned that respect by coming into rehearsals fully prepared and ready for over 30 years now. In short, the members know when I get up that I’m ready and I know my stuff. It’s hard to see you as an authority if I feel like I know as much as you do. That will always be the case when you are consistently unprepared to teach or direct without a lot of fumbling or mistakes.

For that reason the person in charge needs to be prepared for every rehearsal, period. He or she needs to have that list of songs and know them well enough to take the group through them with certainty and authority. Yes, this means you must spend more of your personal time preparing for rehearsal. But believe me when I tell you, you will absolutely get that time back in the form of shorter, more productive rehearsals.

5. Whenever possible, avoid using lyric sheets.

I get a lot of push-back on this, honestly. It’s not a popular idea because people use lyric sheets as crutches and are very reluctant to give them up. But again, this is another concept I’m absolutely certain God revealed to me years ago, and yet another one that resulted in much more effective rehearsals once we implemented it. I cover this in great detail in my blog “why you should STOP using lyric sheets to learn songs asap“. But unless you’re learning 5 or 6 new songs in one night, lyric sheets will actually slow the song learning process, not speed it up. Again, read Why you should STOP using lyric sheets to learn songs asap for a detailed discussion about the subject.

So there it is! These are powerful changes we made at our choir rehearsals that really helped us go to another level. But I use the same approach with the praise team, the youth choir and any other group that will sing at church. I pray they’ll work for your ministry as well. Don’t forget to let me know how it goes!