First off, let’s define these two terms: Practicing is what individuals do; rehearsing is what groups do. Individuals should always practice in between their group rehearsals.
Nobody gets better at playing their particular instrument without practice. No one. Even prodigies must practice. Following are a few pointers that may help you practice more successfully.
- Eliminate distractions: Find a quiet place without anything to take your mind away from practicing. A good practice space should not be disturbed by outside noise or people. Don’t practice in front of an audience, as it will inevitably morph into a performance, which is not the same thing as practicing. Try to keep pets out of your practice space while practicing.
- Get into a routine: Designate a specific time of day and amount of time for your practice sessions. Stick to it; creating a routine will make practicing a consistent, steady part of your day. This applies to group rehearsals as well.
- Set realistic goals: Go into your practice sessions with a specific endgame in mind – learning a particular song or two, deciphering a difficult passage of music, etc. Don’t bite off more than you can chew; if you set the bar too high, you may not meet your own expectations and could become unnecessarily frustrated. That said, don’t set the bar so low that you won’t challenge yourself.
- Follow the leader: If you are taking lessons, do what your instructor tells you so that you’ll be prepared for the subsequent lesson. If you have trouble getting through your assigned work, talk to your instructor about what challenges you.
- Be a team player: If you play in a band, always practice in between group rehearsals.
- Audience: Never rehearse in front of an audience. No girlfriends, boyfriends, wives, husbands, parents, kids, or friends. Nobody. Except for your sound guy and crew (if you have them), no outsiders at rehearsal. Period. The presence of outsiders will inevitably turn any rehearsal into a performance, which is in no way the same thing. Band members need to be able to stop and start a song when needed and to be able to communicate with each other freely, without comment or distractions from outsiders. Having an audience inhibits all of this.
- On time: Be polite to your bandmates and show up on time for rehearsal. Not only is it simple common courtesy, but it allows you to, potentially at least, get more accomplished. Also, use your own time to ensure that your gear is in working order – your bandmates aren’t interested in watching you change strings, change batteries, or monkey around with faulty pedals, amps, or other equipment.
- Practice: Do your homework in between rehearsals and learn your parts. Nothing is more annoying and discourteous than someone who consistently shows up unprepared for rehearsal when everyone else is ready to go.
- Set realistic goals: As with practicing, be realistic in what you can accomplish in the time available to you. Learn new songs, work out arrangements and vocal parts, and discuss band business. Stick to a reasonable time frame for rehearsal – two to three hours per week is likely enough to get things done while not dragging things out so that people get tired and lose interest.
In sum, use your practice and rehearsal time wisely. Staying focused and organized will enable you and your fellow musicians to make the most of your time to improve your playing and performance, both individually and collectively.
[Photo by Dave Walton; photo is of the Tumbleweed Jones Band during rehearsal, circa 2013. Notice that the room has plenty of space, there is no audience, and that the band members are arranged in a circle so that they may easily see and hear each other.]