One of the tunes I use when warming up prior to rehearsal or practice is this one. Only the intro, but it gets the fingers and hands moving well I think. The sound is unmistakably The Stranglers, and is a really dirty, grungy tone which I love. I’ve written before about how much I like JJ Burnel’s playing, and this is one of the classic examples that illustrate why. The first few notes are enough to give me goosebumps. I hope you enjoy it too!
I guess it was fairly inevitable that this should end up on here at some point this year. It’s a massive rock classic, an iconic track. The bass intro alone (you can ignore Slash doing his guitar stuff, the true melody is in that bass line – but maybe I’m biased!) makes it worthy of inclusion.
The reason I’ve shared it this week is quite fun I think. The band I’m in were auditioning a new singer this week, and she’d prepared some songs, which we played and all was good. We then started talking about other numbers and she mentioned that she liked singing this one, so we said “OK, let’s give it a go”.
What I hadn’t appreciated was that it’s been around 2 years since the band last played it. What the band hadn’t appreciated was it’s probably twice that since I played it last. I’ve only ever played it twice in gigs, about 5 years apart, and only rehearsed it with any band a handful of times.
To cut a long story short, I skipped the intro because I couldn’t remember it, but what ensued was a fantastic jam. We all got really into it, played it pretty well considering, and our potential new recruit did it real justice as its not an easy song to sing well.
Since I started this blog I’ve written about playing in a band a number of times, but it occurred to me today that I’ve never really talked about what goes on at rehearsals. And not many other people have either. So I thought I’d provide a bit of an insight into the world of preparing to gig and getting songs to come together.
I’ve been fortunate over the last 10-12 years since I’ve been learning to play to have been a member of several different bands, all with their own personalities, both as the band itself and with the people in them.
I’ve played in bands where:
- the other members spoke a different language to me, who loved a music genre I didn’t, who didn’t drink – but who were the most friendly and genuine people you could hope to meet
- the singer and drummer would or would not turn up for rehearsals, without telling the rest of us, and if they did the singer would spend the whole time facing away from us and not making eye contact. In the same band we’d agree two or three new songs to learn for next week, only to arrive and find either the homework hadn’t been done or the guitarist had decided he’d rather learn something else
- we didn’t rehearse often because we were gigging so much we didn’t really need to
- we rehearsed every week for over a year, never tried to get a gig, but we had a blast
- it would take over an hour for the drummer to set up, but we’d then rehearse for 5 or 6 hours at a time with occasional coffee breaks
- set up took 10 minutes but during the 2 hour time slot we had there would have to be a cigarette break half way through
- we rehearsed every week for 3 hours, then all repaired to the pub for a beer and a chat afterwards
- any and all suggestions I made for songs to cover were ignored / turned down
- they wanted to pull the plug on a potential gig 2 months in advance because “we weren’t ready” and it “would be career suicide” (we were a pub band playing for fun ffs)
- we’ve had 2 weeks to learn something new and potentially tricky (Sweet Child of Mine for example – check out the bass line in the intro) and have just got on with it and carried it off
- I stepped in with 5 hours notice due to illness, and had to play a gig where I’d never played any of the songs before that day
One band I was in tried to bend me to be like them, uptight and stuck in their ways. They had six months to work out new vocal arrangements but didn’t then tried to blame the new boy – me – for them not being “ready” to gig. I tend to be much more easy going, and don’t sweat the small stuff.
You can see that there’s a wide variety of bands, and none are the same in terms of their approach to rehearsal, to agreeing set lists, to how we socialised with each other when not playing.
I’ve learned a great deal from these experiences. Here are some (but by no means all) of the key points.
- Turn up on time, and make sure you’ve prepared any new tracks you’d agreed with the rest of the band
- Set up, tune up, then wait for the others to be ready: don’t endlessly play stuff while others are setting up
- Guitarists and drummers noodle and make a lot of noise, particularly when other band members are trying to talk
- Some people take themselves way too seriously. Unless you’re very lucky you’re not going to “make it” as a professional musician, so you should remember that playing should be fun. By all means, be serious about your music, what you play and how you sound, but it’s not life or death so chill out and enjoy yourself
- Don’t treat the band like a business – see 3 above – because you’re there to entertain others and enjoy yourself
- Being able to get along with the other band members is crucial – possibly more so than being able to play well
- All the practice in the world doesn’t help when you play live, for real. It helps you cover up and / or recover from mistakes, but for some reason it feels different
- Practice any dance moves or poses during rehearsals: trying to do them for the first time at a gig will almost always end badly
- A little give and take goes a long way. Just because you don’t like a particular song doesn’t mean the band should drop it – unless you all hate it. You may find that some you really enjoy playing are not favourites of your band mates
- Be flexible i.e. go with the flow.
I find that being professional in terms of getting set up quickly, then sitting down and waiting quietly before a gig or rehearsal works best: you don’t annoy anyone if you do that. When you’ve finished, pack everything away quickly and then you can relax. Go with the flow, and don’t get uptight about anything – it’s all meant to be fun, right? New songs? All part of the learning experience. Embrace change, embrace the challenge, and step out of your comfort zone. Most of all, enjoy making music: it’s why you’ve practiced alone for so long. If it’s not fun, if you’;re not enjoying it – you need to find a new band.
I was up at 0530 this morning to head in to London to go to work. I left the office early (for me) and travelled home, got changed then drove for 45 minutes for a band rehearsal, starting at 2000. The finished at 2200, and after packing up, paying for the studio etc, I headed for home at about 2220. All was going well till I joined the motorway then I saw this:
Cue extra long detour through unfamiliar towns and along unknown roads. What should have taken (at that time of night) about 35 minutes has just taken me over an hour. I’ve been up for 18 hours and have to be up in less than 6 again. I’m sure I’ll sleep well tomorrow night – bad time to think about giving up caffeine for a month though! :o)