How To Have A Successful First Rehearsal With A New Band by Franz Vitulli… So you have been called by a band in your town, because they needed a bass player, and next week you have your first rehearsal with the guys. Cool, isn’t it?
The thing is that the ‘first rehearsal’ is extremely important to give a good impression of yourself, both musically and personally.
During my career I had, and I’m sure you did as well, dozens of ‘first rehearsals’. Not each single one of them went well, for the most diverse reasons, but a common ground, among all the positive first rehearsals, can be found.
Here is what I learnt over the years.
Before the rehearsal
To make things go smooth, a first rehearsal must be carefully planned out. There’s nothing to worry about, you just have to do your own homeworks.
First of all, google the band, search their videos on Youtube and their songs on Soundcloud, MySpace, etc. Try to get a rough idea of their sound, and what you would ideally need to sound well in their mix.
Request as many details about the band as possible to the person you have spoken to. It’s not enough to know that this is a project with good potential, you need to know if meeting them will be more likely a good thing rather than a waste of time.
The band might ask you to meet for a cup of tea some days before the first rehearsal. If you find the band interesting, go and meet them. They will tell you what their objectives are and how much they are committed, you will talk about your experiences as a musician, and if you are on the same wavelength you’re going to look forward to bring things to the next level.
The guys will presumably choose some songs to rehearse. They will probably send you the songs in mp3 format. Ask them if they have scores, isolated bass tracks, anything you may need. Your goal is to arrive at the studio and be able to perform the songs at your best level no matter what. Most of the time they will ask you to ‘personalise’ the bass line, so don’t waste your time trying to replicate all the nuances of their previous bass player recordings. Play a rough version of the song, don’t forget unisons and other melodies or rhythmic patterns that are somehow indispensable to the music, then add what you feel that must be added. If you are able to transcribe – if you are not, I sincerely suggest you to begin studying how to transcribe – do it.
Usually bands either have their own rehearsal room or go to a pay-per-hour rehearsal studio. Whatever the case is, you need to know what kind of gear is available. You have to bring – at a minimum – bass (with fresh strings!), strap, tuner, cables and spare strings. Pedals and picks if you need them. Don’t forget the scores. If they have their own studio ask if they have a bass amp or if you can plug into their PA (in this case bring your own DI box, preamp or head with a balanced output), otherwise you’re going to need your amp. Pay-per-hour rehearsal studios have bass amps for sure. In any case, ask what amp will be available (brand? combo or head/cab?) and if you are not familiar with it, google it – it doesn’t replace actual experience but it’s better than nothing. If they have a head/cab stack and you have one of those small heads such as Markbass Little Mark, I would consider to bring it with me anyway.
Unless you live at a walking distance from the rehearsal studio, you need to leave your home calculating what it takes to reach the studio plus at least 45 minutes (congestion problems, public transportation delays, etc.). Arriving late at the first rehearsal will be hardly forgiven.
In the rehearsal studio
Once you are in the studio, you have to take the bass off its bag, tune it, plug it into the amp, balance gain and master volume and find a decent eq (you’ll adjust it later). Don’t let others wait for you. Be quick
Point your amp towards your bandmates. Everyone – especially the drummer – should be able to hear your bass comfortably.
You’ll probably start the rehearsal session with a jam, or something like that.
Play in time and don’t stop if you hit a wrong note. There are many ways to rehearse a song, you can stop every time somebody makes a mistake (an approach I don’t prefer) or work first of all on the general groove, then on critical points, and eventually on the final touches (this is what happen most of the time). Let the guys stop the song if something is not working.
Look others’ faces. Nonverbal communication is essential while playing.
Talk with the guys. Don’t be shy. If somebody has something to say after having played a song, give your contribution to the discussion. Don’t ask “how did I play it?” after every song, you don’t want guys to think that you are insecure, do you?
Don’t play random riffs while the guys are talking. They are probably talking about the music you are playing, not to mention it’s quite rude.
Don’t show off your chops. They don’t know you so it’s totally understandable that you want to make a good impression, but usually musicians show a better appreciation towards those who play solidly, confidently and consistently with the genre. Go low-risk, play in your comfort zone.
Bands usually do a 5 minute break in the middle of the session. Don’t be the guy who calls it!
After the rehearsal
It’s time for feedback. Unless you have to go to catch the latest bus of the day, share your first impressions with the guys just outside the studio.
The ‘real’ feedback, in my opinion, comes via email at least the day after the rehearsal.
Don’t be afraid to give your honest opinion: most of the time, both negative and positive impressions are mutual, and if you guys don’t want to play together anymore I’m quite sure that no one will be disappointed after reading that there wasn’t the right chemistry. Most of the time, it was already evident in the studio.
And you? Do you have any tips about ‘first rehearsals’ you may want to share?