Everybody shows up at the rehearsal space. The band members set up the equipment, put the microphones on the stands, set the drum kit and plug in the guitars. Then, they all stand in a circle to see one another, make a quick soundcheck, and they're ready to go. The drummer will give a countdown to every song: 1,2,3,4. The bassist will peak at the guitarist's fingers to make sure he's got the correct chord changes, the singer looks at the keyboardist. They all nod to each other as they play through the various parts of each song: verse, chorus, bridge. It sounds good. As agreed previously, they spend the last hour of their rehearsal running through the show. Tomorrow, this band will perform on stage at a new local festival.
It's a pity, their performance will be at most correct. The music will sound great, but the show will be neither spectacular nor memorable. Why? Because rehearsing in a circle is a terrible habit. The good news is, anybody can fix this problem almost effortlessly.
Rehearsing in a circle when trying out new songs or exploring a new repertoire is normal. But once you know the songs by heart, this habit prevents you from preparing properly for a live performance.
Here are 4 reasons why it's best to rehearse as if you were on stage:
1 - To film yourself
By filming yourself, you get an idea of what you look like. Do the test. Write out a setlist, put a camera on a tripod, stand in front of it and run through the show. Even if the sound quality isn't optimal, listen and, most importantly, watch. Do you like what you see? If the answer is no, chances are the audience won’t like it either. You'd better find out by yourself before you hit the stage.
This small test will reveal many of your mistakes. You will see things like lack of fluidity between songs, guitar changes that last forever, clumsy interventions, a singer’s discomfort during a piano solo, a drummer’s awkward facial expressions, a microphone stand left at the middle of the stage, a guitarist who stares at his pedals, a bassist who has a heavy metal attitude while playing in a folk band, etc.
Once the shock of watching yourself perform is over, you can now make corrections.
2 -To better communicate between group members
When you rehearse in a circle, you exchange a lot of information through simple eye contact. This is especially true for groups that allow for improvisation in their performances as it is often the case in blues, jazz, rock, pop, etc. You don't have as much eye contact with your partners when you play live. So, you have to find other ways to communicate.
I played a few times with one of the best blues singers in Montreal. She is a true conductor who can tell you tempos, key signatures, song structures, punches, beginnings, endings, tags, codas with her hands, arms and legs. Her whole body becomes a complete score as she captivates the audience while conducting the band behind her back. It is very effective. We don't all have to get to that level, but it's beneficial to develop that kind of communication during rehearsals.
We'll come back to this in another blog post, but singers who are good at leading a band seem more confident and have more stage presence. Authority and charisma go hand in hand.
3 - To connect with the audience
Any artist who takes the stage should want to captivate the audience.
At first, it is somewhat destabilizing to sing in front of a wall. But you'd better be destabilized in the rehearsal room than on stage. Rehearsing as if you’re on stage will force the whole band to imagine what the actual performance will be like. Once the discomfort has passed, rehearsing this way will spontaneously help develop a clear vision for the show.
Rehearsing in a circle creates a false sense of cohesion and security in the band. One remains focused on one's own performance and on the other members of the group. The energy circulates in a vacuum. Then, when they get on stage, the band may remain hermetic and distant in front of the crowd.
Performing is a team effort. Rehearsing as if on stage creates a real sense of cohesion that will make all members of the band aware of their respective roles, as they share the common goal of connecting with the audience.
So, while filming, why not work on non-musical skills such as song presentation and eye contact with the crowd? (Yes, this can be done without an audience)
4 - To explore the space on stage
What could be more boring than a show where everyone stays in their place without moving? Visually, each song is a copy of the previous one and looks like the next one. Do the test. As you rehearse, film a complete run-through of your show. Then mute the sound, place the cursor anywhere and watch the video. What song are you playing? If you can't tell, it's because all your songs seem the same from a visual standpoint. Remember, no one is going to LISTEN to a show. They are going to SEE a show.
Rehearsing as if performing live allows you to explore the space on stage. I'm not talking about choreographing the show, but about figuring out how all band members can work as a team to:
● Highlight one another
● Communicate effectively with the audience
● Move on stage to create visually exciting moments
● To give a greater dynamic amplitude to the show
Sometimes changing one small habit quickly yields good results. People come to see you perform, they could be doing any number of other activities, but they chose you and your band to have a good time. They expect to be entertained, so playing your instruments and singing well is not enough. Live up to it.
The tips and thoughts listed here may seem theoretical, but all of these principles can be applied in action and instinctively. Try it, you'll see.
These tips apply to all types of shows and all styles of music. My main goal in this post is to provoke thought about the art of designing a show and to raise awareness of the audience's point of view.
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Photo by : Gaurang Alat