The Golden Rules on How To Rehearse or Lead A Band
Here are a few golden rules you need to remember when you begin to work with bands, as a vocalist/songwriter.
Rule #1: The lead performer of a song is controlling the direction the band is going in, as far as count-offs, feels, dynamics and endings (it's not the band who controls the performer!)
In many cases I have seen singers trying to follow the band for cues; such as count-offs, endings and general feels. Sometimes a singer waits until someone cues them to come in again after the solos are over. Sometimes a singer even waits for the band to end the tune; leaving the band members mostly clueless, with their arms flailing in the breeze! It is a big mistake to lose control over a song if it is you who are delivering the message.
All this being said, however; it is a good idea for a lead performer to have a co-leader in the band, such as a keyboardist or guitarist who shares information as the song is going by and can help you cue the band if players are getting lost and not watching the lead player.
My easy way to remember all of this is simply to think of yourself as a painter when delivering a tune. The song is the painting and the players are the paints.
Rule #2: Establish eye contact with the entire band (but especially the drummer and bassist) on count-offs and endings.
Sub rules to Rule #2:
- Always give the name and feel of a tune before the count-off.
- Always count-off a tune by feeling the hook. Use your whole body in some subtle way on the count-off, so the band can really get a feel for what the song is gonna be like to play.
- For count-offs on up-tempo tunes give 2 bars out. For count-offs on slow tunes, give one subdivided bar (one, and, two, and three, and four, and....)
- Make sure the band knows to watch you on dynamics and when you are getting ready to end the tune. Even the most experienced of players need to occasionally be reminded (in a nice way) to watch a lead performer's cues; especially on the ends of the tunes.
- In a first time situation I will only say this to the band once; after handing out my books. I usually say it like: "Great to play with you! We're gonna have fun. Just to let you know, some of my cues are a little weird, so you're probably gonna have to watch me; especially on the end of my tunes!"
Rule #3: Though there are exceptions to this rule; the lead performer (whether it is an instrumentalist or a vocalist) is the one who usually picks the tune.
That is because the band plays to enhance the lead performer's strengths. However, whenever POSSIBLE, it is best to try to pick a tune that the band feels falls into a certain level of comfort for them.
Rule #4: Melody and/or lyrics are important for both band and audience to hear. In most cases if the drummer or guitarist cannot hear the lead instrumentalist or vocalist they are playing too loud.
Often this means the vocalist ends up yelling, instead of singing (very painful!) in order to hear themselves. There are consequences attached to this. If a vocalist is having problems hearing their own voice, they need to make sure they have try yelling instead of singing the song. Yelling damages the delicate vocal folds - it can give one nodes, polyps and other things that permanently damage the throat. Besides, a singer NEVER sounds better yelling than singing.
This being said, there are very few ways to tell band members to turn down without sounding offensive to the person being told to turn down. Best to have the person at the sound board do this (the engineer) so as not to create bad vibes in the band. Make sure with the engineer that the sound levels are all right in the audience. Often it is the lead singer's voice in the monitors that will be turned up, rather than the guitarist, bassist (etc.) being told to turn down. This can increase the overall stage volume by a significant amount! For this reason, many singers in rock bands elect to use ear noise filters, so as to preserve their hearing capabilities. Also, make sure the monitor is placed directly in front of you on the floor and away enough from the mic so as not to create feedback issues.
Rule #5: Never point a microphone at a speaker (Ouch; feedback!)
Rule #6: Introduce tune names before, not after they are played (set up the tune for the audience every once in a while by telling a story while the band is vamping on chords!)
Rule #7: Record your rehearsals.
Rule #8: (Related to #7). You can cut through band rehearsal time way quicker and with much less hassle if your band members have recorded versions of each tune with easy to read charts (keep the charts down to 1 or 2 pages - not more), IN ADVANCE to the rehearsal.
Rule #9: If the band starts to lose their energy at a rehearsal by talking about unrelated non-musical stuff, stick a new chart in front of 'em and count it off!
Rule #10: Every band needs a regular rehearsal schedule - same time(s) each week. This should be done at the end of the first or second rehearsal.
Rule #11: If you like the way a player sounds TELL THEM, and in front of the other players! They will respect you for this, and it can even serve to raise the playing level for the whole band. Never put a player down in front of others!
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About Cheryl Hodge
Cheryl Hodge has been in the music and songwriting business for well over 30 years; recording on several labels; among them Atco Records (Raindogs, 1990), and has released 4 CDs of her own; on her own label: Jazzboulevard.com Records.
She has performed her music for the last 10 years with noted jazz guitarist John Stowell (amongst many others), and they are about to release a CD of co-written originals. She has been private instructor to many; including the gifted Paula Cole. She is also the author of "A Singer's Guide to the Well-Trained and Powerful Voice", and is a published vocal arranger.
Cheryl is currently the head of the vocal dept. at Nelson, BC's: Selkirk College Music Program. There, she teaches Songwriting and Advanced Songwriting, Business of Music, Arranging and Vocals.
She continues to write and produce her original materials, and has just released "Cheryl Hodge: Original Article" - a compilation of her favourites.
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