A lot of worship teams aren’t reaching their full potential simply because they don’t know how to rehearse.
Now I know that the title used the word “practice”, but before we get started I want to start off by saying: practice is something everyone should do before they show up. Rehearsal is what happens when everyone comes together, knowing their parts that we’ve previously practiced, and putting those parts together.
In no way am I saying that to be a vocab snob! You can honestly use whatever words you want. The point I’m making is: we want to ensure we’re coming to rehearsals knowing what we’re supposed to play so that we aren’t wasting time doing in front of the whole band what we should have done at home before rehearsal.
Learning parts can be tricky & that’s why our entire company exists: to help you and/or your team members show up prepared, knowing the parts they’re supposed to play. On our site, we have 450+ worship songs with in-depth tutorials for vocals and every instrument for all your practicing needs. If you or people on your team are constantly showing up unprepared, getting equipped with a resource that helps people learn their parts is definitely where you need to start.
Click here to start a completely free trial of Worship Online and get instant access to our full library of over 450 worship songs!
So How do I Host a Great Rehearsal?
A great rehearsal consists of more than just playing through each song from start to finish.
The point of rehearsal isn’t just to make sure that we can survive playing through a song without a crash and burn. It’s to ensure that everyone has everything they need to play the set to the best of their ABILITY & can focus on engaging in worship.
I emphasize the word ability because I think church musicians and vocalists are often performing under what they’re capable of. They just need someone to create an environment that causes them to grow. If your rehearsals are you rushing through each song and moving on, you’re not creating space for your musicians to grow.
There are a few things that when done intentionally will cause your team collectively and individually to grow.
That’s what a great and effective rehearsal does, it causes growth in our team both as a band and as individual members. That might seem like a bold claim, but I’m telling you an effective rehearsal doesn’t only result in a great performance, but also growth. You just need to make sure that you’re doing it right. So here are a few things that I’ve found enables growth.
before we move on, for the vocab snobs reading this that have an issue with the word “performance” please a) get over yourself 🤪 & b) we’re using it here as an umbrella term to simply mean executing your role. whether that be playing an instrument or singing. that’s it. love you. 🙃
1. Make Sure the Songs are Up Early Enough for Your Team to Adequately Prepare
We mentioned this in our “5 Things Worship Pastors Do that Annoy Volunteers” blog and it is so true!
Too often leaders are frustrated with how their rehearsals are trainwrecks or people are coming unprepared, but the reason their team is showing up unprepared is actually their fault. It’s delusional for us to expect our team members to come fully prepared and ready to go when leaders are posting the songs anywhere from 2 days prior all the way up to just before rehearsal starts.
Also just because you’ve done a song 1000 times and can play it in your sleep does not mean that everyone on your team is capable of that too.
Some people need more time to prepare than others and very few things discourage people to continue serving like being ill-equipped and set up for failure.
2. Come Prepared Knowing the Songs & with a Vision for the Set
Before you even get to rehearsal, you as the leader need to know the songs, be familiar enough with everyone’s parts that you can recognize if they are performing them correctly & what they should be playing/singing/sound like, have an idea of how you want the set to flow, and how you foresee the transitions to take place.
This allows you to give clear direction to the team for how everyone should approach the songs and their parts.
We need to ensure that we are honoring our team’s time as much as possible. I’ve attended way too many rehearsals that could have been done in half the time if time wasn’t wasted by the leader trying to figure out what they wanted to do (and the leader keeping everyone on track, but we’ll talk about that another time).
Also unforeseeable things, like someone showing up not fully knowing their part or a technical issue arising, happen. A good worship leader does whatever they can to ensure they’re coming in as prepared as possible so that when the unforeseeable things take place, there’s space to fully engage with whatever the need may be.
Sidenote: A lot of leaders think that they have to know how to play an instrument in order to help someone nail their part on that instrument. Obviously, it helps a lot, but simply knowing that what they’re doing isn’t correct and then creating space for them to figure it out & nail it down is often enough. You just need to have time for that space.
3. Don’t Waste Time
There’s no need to put a lot of time into unpacking this statement. Seriously, just be intentional about time. Start rehearsal on time and don’t mess around or wait around for no good reason. If rehearsal’s slated to start at 7 and every week you end up starting around 7:15 or 7:20, that’s 15-20 minutes of time that could be way better used. Literally could have run through a song a few times by then. It’s really easy to get caught up in talking or jamming with the band or sitting idly. Pay attention to that and ensure you aren’t wasting time.
4. Talk Through Each Section of the Set
Communicate the game plan and touch on every detail. If there’s a song that you’re going to do differently than you normally do, walk the team through what that looks like. Talk through the transitions. Talk through who’s going to play and what’s going to be played when the set is over. Taking care of all these little details on the front end not only saves so much time but unifies everyone from the get-go around the vision of the set. That’s a powerful way to start!
5. Catch the Noodlers
Another short and sweet point. Create a culture where people aren’t messing around and playing their favorite licks while you’re talking. It’s pretty difficult to try and communicate something to the team when someone is playing. Also, there’s no way that person heard what you had to say. So you’re wasting your breath speaking and then going to have to restate your point to that person when they stop playing. All of that eating up time and taking the entire team out of the momentum of rehearsal.
6. Start/Stop Method
Instead of playing through a song entirely and then going back to correct problem areas after you finish the song, stop the moment the problem arises, run that section until it’s solid, and then keep moving through the song.
For example: As the majority of you already know, the first 5 words in the chorus of the song Waymaker (Waymaker, Miracle Worker, Promise Keeper) are punchy and cutoff before you begin singing the next part. I was once in a rehearsal where one of the vocalists was slurring together all of those words, making the whole thing very legato and strange.
So we stopped the song, I showed that vocalist how she was singing it, and then showed her the correct way to sing it. Once she understood how the part was supposed to sound I had the drummer keep time on the high-hat and then had all the vocalists sing that chorus together until everyone was locked in on when to fall off the note.
This is applicable to every instrument at every part of a song, even if it’s just one little spot.
Still using the song Waymaker, let’s pretend that you wanted the band to match the singers and hit/play I-ii-iii-I-vi when the vocalists sing “that is who you are”. Say the bass player was hitting the wrong notes and messed up the rhythm. Like before with the vocalist, stop the song, show them how they were playing it, and then how they should be playing it.
Then I would run that section, starting 1-2 bars before that part happens. In this case, if you were to count it out it would look like this “1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 1 – 2 – Light in the darkness. My God, THAT IS WHO YOU ARE. – 2 – Light in the darkness. My God THAT IS WHO YOU ARE – 2 – Light in the..”. Starting on the V chord after singing “Light in the darkness. My God”, then playing the I-ii-iii-I-vi line along with “that is who you are”, followed by the vi chord, and then back to the V to loop that entire section again. Keep looping that section until everyone has it nailed down.
Finally, back up to the beginning of the chorus, play through that entire section, and then continue playing through the song until you reach another area that needs attention or complete the song.
Looping problem sections helps cement in people’s minds the right way they are supposed to perform a certain part.
Once you’ve nailed down every problem section, run through the song one last time and move onto the next one.
A Final Caveat…
When pointing out problem areas to a team member, do everything you can to approach them with love, grace, peace, & patience. Put a smile on that face and say something like, “Hey _____, I wanna run that spot of the song really quickly because I think there might be some confusion on the part. It sounded like you were playing it this way, but it’s supposed to be played this way. Can you run that with me?”
Why I’m making a huge point about this is because correction, especially in front of the entire band, can be tremendously vulnerable.
So, handle that with care. These are people and how we handle these moments can make or break their trust, sense of safety, and belonging. Even with the super-tough guys.
7. Run the Transitions
Transitions often get overlooked, but they are so important. A bad transition can kill the momentum of a set and completely take people out of the moment.
A great transition carries the momentum from one song straight into the next. I try to always ask the question when thinking about transitions:
Is there a way to move into the next song without completely ending the previous song?
There are so many different ways to go about creating a unique transition, especially if you’re working with two songs that are in the same key and similar tempos.
For example: At the end of Song A, immediately start playing Song B’s intro instead of repeating Song A’s outro. Or start singing the verse/chorus/bridge of Song B after the final section of Song A. You could even write a unique, building outro or just play the outro of Song A like it’s a build and immediately jump into verse 1 of Song B; or just build the last few measures of that outro. Since we’re on a roll here’s a final one, add 2 measures to the final section of Song A and then jump straight into the verse/chorus/bridge/etc. of Song B.
A great transition all depends on if it makes sense for the songs.
Some of these ideas will sound absolutely terrible, depending on the song. Some of these ideas in general are probably terrible, literally just firing from the hip right now. The point is, creating a unique transition isn’t all that difficult. It just requires some forethought about what make sense for the song.
Now I will say, your transitions don’t have to be crazy in-depth or intense. A simple fade-out and fade-in of a pad definitely works. Just whatever you decide to do, be intentional.
8. Run-through: There’s a difference between rehearsing a song and running through a set. You need both.
Now that you’ve figured out all your songs, it’s time to run all of them together. Obviously, you can’t always practice the spontaneous things that happen in a set, but a solid run-through ensures that your team has everything they need if/when the spontaneous moment happens.
Like looping problem sections of a song, a solid run-through cements the flow of a set into the minds of each team member.
It’s really easy to forget different things that are mentioned in rehearsal & a run-through helps seal it all into place. Plus, every rep you get causes your team to be more prepared and confident in what they’re supposed to play or sing.
Solid run-throughs keep 1st service from being a glorified dress rehearsal.
Also, this is super important, record your run-throughs for your team. Even if it’s just a voice memo recorded on a phone in the back of the room. This will help ensure your team shows up on service day remembering the specific things that you addressed at rehearsal.
9. Send Out Notes & the Run-Through Recording
This is so simple, but putting into writing the specific things that you covered in rehearsal helps keep those things at the forefront of your team’s minds. There’s a lot going on in our lives and remembering each and every little detail isn’t always easy to do. Like recording the run-through and sending it to your team, this helps you ensure your team has everything they need to succeed.
Great worship leaders are committed to whatever it takes to ensure their teams have everything they need to succeed.
That’s our entire goal as leaders! We want to ensure that our team has everything they need so that they can execute the set to the best of their ability and can fully focus on worshipping while on stage. Playing a set super well just for the sake of playing it well is pointless. It’s all about preparing so we can focus on worshiping.
This doesn’t only affect your team either. It affects your congregation too. Your congregation is looking to your team as thermostats; the people who are setting the tone for the experience.
Preparing our teams so that during the service they can focus on worshiping encourages the congregation up to do the same!
Sunday’s encounter is influenced by how you as a worship leader prepare for and execute your rehearsals.
This might seem like a bold statement, but it seriously is so true! It’s the little things that no one sees that have a massive impact on how things play out. How we prepare influences how we perform. We want to do everything we can to prepare in such a way that allows our teams to execute their role to the best of their ability. The result of that is creating environments of encounter that change people’s lives.
I’ve seen this take place first hand & I’m excited to see how it impacts your team too! Maybe there’s something that I left out that has helped your team prepare for a set. I’d love to hear about it! Leave us a comment below.
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