Five Common Rehearsal Killers

1I am a big believer in short, effective, enjoyable rehearsals. They should be short because you want to honor your volunteers’ time. They should be effective so that you actually accomplish something. And they should be enjoyable so that your musicians (and tech crew) look forward to them and want to come back.

In my experience, there are some common mistakes I’ve made, that I suspect other worship leaders make as well, that kill rehearsals. here they are:

1. Rehearse every song in full
There are certain songs your musicians know well enough to play in their sleep. If you’re confident in their confidence, you are well within your rights to say “do we all know this song? Yes? OK, great. Let’s skip it.” They will thank you, and you will have just saved five minutes.

2. Get bogged down in the mud of opinions
You want to make sure to encourage creative participation and the open sharing of ideas, particularly by not shooting down every idea that comes your way, or by never asking for input. But don’t hesitate to go against a strongly-shared idea, or even a consensus from your team, if you feel strongly otherwise. Make a joke, make sure you smile, give firm direction, and move on.

3. Don’t have songs picked or music ready in advance
Your song list should be finished at least (!) 2 or 3 days before rehearsal. Your chord charts/sheet music/etc. should be in the correct key, readable, in the order you’ll be singing them, and available to your team to have in advance. Every ounce of preparation you put into rehearsals, especially to help your musicians prepare at home, will yield great fruit later on.

4. Let the clock get away from you
There is no reason why 60 minutes isn’t enough time to have a complete worship team rehearsal.
– 7:30pm: Set-up, tune, get situated
– 7:05pm: Sound check/monitor check/etc.
– 7:10pm: Pray and start first song

See how rehearsal is starting 10 minutes after the hour? Yours should too. The more you allow set-up/sound check to drag on, the less effective rehearsal you’ll have. Even if your musicians are running late, just start without them.

– 7:10 – 7:50pm: 40 minutes to talk through each song, work on rough parts, smooth transitions, do three or four songs all the way through, etc.
– 7:50 – 8:00pm: 10 final minutes to review particularly tricky parts and emphasize what needs to be paid attention to, before a final prayer.

Look at that! A worship team rehearsal in 60 minutes. If it needs to go longer, it can, but give people a 10 minute break after an hour. Keep it fun and stay light-hearted, but keep the train moving.

5. Lose traction in between songs
Don’t let the space in between songs become chit-chat time, improvise time, or random question time. Keep it moving. When you finish one song, move on to the next song and they’ll follow you.

If people are fiddling around on their instruments while you’re trying to talk, here’s a tip: just start playing and singing the next song. That will quiet them up and keep things from stalling.

Never stop refining the craft of running short, effective, enjoyable rehearsals. Long, ineffective, unenjoyable rehearsals can create such a heavy drag on your team and ministry than can be hard to overcome. Take control, keep it moving, make sure you’re prepared, stay light-hearted, and keep your eye on the clock.

8 thoughts on “Five Common Rehearsal Killers

  1. Daniel Park September 17, 2019 / 2:56 pm

    Thanks for the practical advice on how to run a good rehearsal! Couple of questions: How many songs do you do in a typical service? Also, what does your pre-service rehearsal/run-thru look like?

    • Jamie Brown September 17, 2019 / 5:30 pm

      Our services follow an Anglican communion liturgy, and our congregation loves to sing, so we sing 9 or 10 songs per service (call to worship, opening hymn, Gloria, another song of praise sometimes, a song after the first Scripture reading, an offertory, three communion songs, and a closing hymn). Plus we sing 3 or 4 of the liturgical responses around communion. We don’t rehearse those, since they’re usually the same from Sunday to Sunday. And we don’t usually rehearse the opening and closing hymn, since our organist drives those, and I trust him! So that leaves 6 or 7 songs that need to be rehearsed.

      We don’t have a midweek band rehearsal (though the choir rehearses on Thursday nights). The band rehearses in the Sanctuary from 7:30am – 8:10am on Sunday mornings, before a quick break so a few of us can go down to the choir room and get choir rehearsal started. Then at 8:35am the choir and band will run the offertory together in the Sanctuary (assuming it’s a band/choir piece, which it is about 50% of the time).

      We’re able to get away with this kind of system because (a) our instrumentalists are quite talented (many of them are professionals), (b) I get the songs to them in advance by Thursday afternoon at the latest, (c) we’re not doing new music all the time, (d) our sound engineer does a really good job making sure the system is ready and our monitors sound good by 7:30am, and (e) I’m not a perfectionist. I’m OK with saying a song is “good enough”, because I have a high amount of confidence that once we get to the service and we have a few hundred people singing along, it will click.

  2. Jenny September 17, 2019 / 7:30 pm

    Hi, Jamie! I’m a college English professor, and your leadership tips are so valuable to me. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. This particular post is important to me because I’ve noticed my students’ attention spans decrease over the past couple years. Thinking about your tips will really help me make sure I’m being direct and not allowing side talk but keeping the focus on the material for the day. Thank you so much!! God bless you and your helpful and inspirational blog.

  3. Donna September 24, 2019 / 6:14 pm

    We are a small praise team, just one guitar. I am the keyboard player and lead the group. My guitar player insists on jamming or vamping or picking on her guitar between songs when we are trying to talk or discuss things. How do I kindly get her to stop and pay attention? Not only is it rude but people can’t hear what’s being said.

    • Jamie Brown September 24, 2019 / 7:03 pm

      Such a great question – and such a common problem. I would avoid correcting her publicly, since it could embarrass her. Either before or after rehearsal sometime it would need to be addressed in a very casual way, like “Hey, one quick thing that I’ve been meaning to ask you: would you be able to not vamp on your guitar in between songs? I lose my train of thought and I could use your help keeping me focussed…” Or something like that. Make it casual, friendly, low-urgency, and just between the two of you.

      Two “ifs”:

      1. If she continues to do it even after you ask her not to do, then you have the right to ask her to stop doing it during rehearsal. Just a “hey, I’m sorry, but could you hold on for a moment…” or something. I

      2. If this really upsets her, well, too bad. She needs to stop doing this, and you have the right to ask her to stop. I know it’s a small team, so it would stink to lose your one guitar, but she needs to be team player, no matter the size of the team.

      • Donna September 24, 2019 / 7:19 pm

        All wonderful advice….thanks so much!!!! Wish you were here!!!!!

  4. coolmusings November 1, 2019 / 8:07 am

    Regarding #3: for many in the band, releasing the song list 2 or 3 days prior to rehearsal is adequate but if a particular instrument is expected to pull off what might be called “signature licks,” I think a week is more appropriate. We rehearse on Thursdays and it would be hard for me to imagine practicing without those “bits,” thinking that the instrumentalist ( often electric guitar) is just going to perfect them between Thursday and Sunday.
    Our Worship Leader has finally decided to disconnect sermon topic from songs chosen so he can get the set list out earlier. ( sermon topic is typically not decided upon until the week of rehearsal )

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