Re: Hassle Rehearsal
the better way to get better
Do your practice sessions end in (a) bloodshed, (b) bankruptcy or, (c) brilliantly executed performances before an adoring crowd? Jon Lewin decides he likes (c) best, and shows the way.
Like all things that take place in private between consenting adults, the act of rehearsal is frequently shrouded in mystery. It's difficult to ask others for their advice for fear of embarrassment, as it is assumed that "rehearsal" is a natural human function which it is not necessary to learn; and if you can't do it, there must be something wrong with you.
Nonsense. In common with every other activity, the art of good and satisfying rehearsal can be learned: it is possible to benefit from the experience of others.
Rehearsal. Practice. Jam. Three names for essentially the same thing. Or are they? While I don't want to impose arbitrary definitions on anybody, it does make a difference how you think of your musical get-together. There are subtle distinctions between these three options, as they each require different preparations and different attitudes, and they give different results. They do have at least one thing in common — they are all time-consuming activities. Which makes it important for peace of mind (and a piece of your wallet) that you make the most of the time available to you.
There are particular ways of going about these matters — procedures and checks that can be sorted out beforehand with a minimum of effort and friction for all concerned. But before we look into those, it's helpful to look at why you are rehearsing/practising/jamming...
This can be anything from a post-pub boogie session, to the final juggling of verses and choruses that goes on before the new song is declared finished. Jams should be relaxed and informal, inebriated even — any atmosphere that could help stimulate the musician's creative lobes (brain rather than ear).
Jams are where the ideas get spread around, and the players have fun. After all, there's little point in writing and jamming around material you don't enjoy. You'll probably need all the members of the band to turn up for jam sessions. And it's helpful if one or two have some preconceived ideas about songs, riffs, rhythms, and tunes for you to play around with.
You won't necessarily need the whole group for practices. Practising is something that any number of musicians (from one upwards) can do together. Practice means trying to get it right, whether "it" is simply technique, a tricky middle-eight, a vocal harmony, whatever.
It's normally a more serious matter than jamming as it can involve hours of seemingly endless repetition of twiddly bits that can very rapidly cease to be as interesting as you first thought they were. But remember that it's not always necessary to subject the whole group to your abysmal lack of expertise. If the drummer and bassist have perfected their Wry & Slobbie impression, there is little to be gained making them run through over and over just for the singer's benefit. Send them down the pub, happy in the knowledge that a bored musician is much less use than a drunk one.
This is the culmination of endless hours of labour, the final step before you burst on to the stage and into the spotlight: this is where you get your act together. Man.
For rehearsals you will need the lot and all at the same time: all the musicians, singers, dancers, all the gear you're planning to use on stage, the best PA you can easily lay your hands on, the best acoustic environment you can find... everything you need to approximate what you will actually be doing on stage.
For rehearsals you will need songs; by this time, you ought to have a fairly clear idea of what you are playing (the answer should not be "guitar", dummy), and when you ought to be playing it. Rehearsals are the time to work out how you should play, not what. Can you do those Townshend leaps without your guitar falling off? Can you catch the sticks if you throw them up in the air? These are the quintessential questions involved in the act of rehearsal.
Enough of the theory: I mentioned the various procedures that can help your rehearsal/practice/jam go smoothly. Most of these are pure common sense, which means that they will not have occurred to most musicians. But they can help even the most practical of persons.
Firstly, do you have a suitable place in which to make noise? Flats and houses frequently suffer from neighbours, though it may be possible to find mutually acceptable times. Bribery might be worth attempting as rehearsing at home has big advantages, the main ones being expense (you have none) and the hassles of moving equipments. And you know where the nearest off-licence is.
If you can't rehearse at home, are there any municipal buildings in the neighbourhood with friendly caretakers? Schools, in the evening or out of term time, can be ideal and cheap, though you will have to provide your own PA gear.
If you go to a rehearsal studio, you will almost certainly be offered the option of hiring their PA, and often backline and drums too. It will work (it's not in their interests to mess you around), but do check whether they provide mikes and stands when you make your booking.
You find rehearsal studios through the back pages of Melody Maker, via local music shops, local papers, or by recommendation from fellow rehearsers. Facilities vary widely, from the scrottiest rat-infested cellars to plush studios with picture windows overlooking the Thames. Prices also vary, with the bottom line being around £1.50 per hour. Expect to pay about £3ph including PA.
When you've confirmed your booking, make sure all the group know where and when you are meeting; let one person take responsibility for this, as it avoids confusion. And it gives you a scapegoat if anything goes wrong. That things can go wrong has been proven by Madness, who missed their first-ever recording session because the drummer got lost on the way to the studio.
Think about your gear (instruments and amplifiers, you rude thing). Does it all work? Do you have the technology to rebuild it if it doesn't? This means basic screwdrivers (Woolies do a good pocket set), all those silly fuses that synthesisers need, spare strings for bass and guitar. Have you enough leads for that shiny, new echo unit/drum machine/etc?
Also important to remember is the matter of transport for said equipment — who's responsible for moving it to the studio? What gear have they forgotten? Are they sober? Has anybody not done their bit in helping to load the van? (This last point can be a source of much ill-feeling, so take care.)
If you are rehearsing/practising/jamming in the winter, make sure that your rehearsal room is warm enough. It is better to bring a heater with you than to try playing like E Van Halen while wearing gloves. If the weather is more seasonable, remember to provide sufficient liquid sustenance — drummers are particularly prone to dehydration (seriously).
Liquid sustenance, relaxants and stimulants of all kinds have their uses in rehearsal situations providing they're not taken to a point where they interfere with what other people are doing. Under those circumstances, they can lead to unpleasantness; and you are unlikely to be welcomed back to that snug little rehearsal studio if they have to clean your unpleasantness off the floor.
Rehearsal studios are usually adequately supplied with power points, and it is unlikely that they will not be 13 amp square pin. But you could always check, asking the man on the phone in a nonchalant, throwaway manner, just in case.
Do take into account how useful it is to have you own plugboards, at least one of which has a long lead. Check that the plugs in the wall actually work; evidence of scorch marks is a bad sign. I once spent 45 minutes valuable soundchecking time dismantling a dead bass amp until the club manager strolled over to tell me that the left-hand of those two sockets behind the stage didn't work.
The psychology of rehearsing is very important. Many a band has foundered on the rocky shores of stardom because they couldn't rehearse together without outbreaks of physical violence. Often it is much more productive not to bother, rather than force the singer to endure taunts of "talentless bozo" because they can't come up with a tune.
If the hammering out of new songs on the creative anvil of rehearsal is not throwing out the showers of sparks that you're expecting, stop. Go down the pub, play pool, pack up and go home, anything rather than depress yourselves by rubbing your noses in your temporary lack of creativity. It does happen that you just might not be in the mood for loud noise. Give it a rest in that case. High volumes can sap your energies — physical and mental — so don't expect too much from yourself. Bearing that in mind, it's evident that two stints of two hours playing is better than four hours consecutively, which can be very wearing indeed.
Ah — the joy of rehearsing! Those long hours spent in sweaty, smoky rehearsal rooms, shoulders stooped from the weight of the guitar, those half-hour jams that turned into three minute pop songs, the spontaneity, the excitement of it all — those epiphanic moments when time stood still, until the man knocked on the door demanding his money, and us out. Such bliss.
You too can experience that nirvana, simply by thinking about what you're doing beforehand, and by remembering why you're doing it. Forethought is good for play.
Feature by Jon Lewin
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