Tips for a Great Practice
When I think about “practice” in the context of a Worship Team, I think about what Worship Team members do (or should be doing) on their own time. One of the most practical ways to love one another is to honor one another’s time. It is not loving for the electric guitarist to work out his part while the rest of the Worship Team stands around watching. The electric guitarist is practically loving and honoring their fellow Worship Team members by practicing their parts on their own time, prior to rehearsal, and coming to the rehearsal prepared to musically blend their part in with what the rest of the Worship Team members have also been practicing on their own.
Be a loving Worship Team member! Practice! Still, I think that many Worship Team members do not know how to effectively practice prior to rehearsal. With that in mind, here are some tried and true tips for a great practice!
Practice does not make perfect! I’m sure you have heard the old adage, “Practice makes perfect.” It is a cute slogan, but it is not correct. The reality is that good practice makes better and bad practice actually makes worse! Simply playing the parts will not make you better. Practicing sloppy will train your muscles to perform sloppy. When you practice, do your best! Treat your practice as if someone is watching. The reality is that Someone is watching! God knows and sees everything! We can honor Him and worship Him just as much with our faithful effort during practice as we can with our heartfelt performance from the stage.
Use song sheets. Personal practice is the perfect time to work out all of the kinks. I like to physically print out the song sheets, making notes along the way as I practice the different parts. The notes will vary depending on what instrument I am playing, but they help me to eventually memorize my parts. The notes also help me to quickly remember parts later, if we end up playing that same song a couple of months down the road. Sometimes I will actually create my own song sheet, rather than use the one that the Worship Leader provided. This can be an especially helpful method for memorization, or for having the correct chords on the sheet so that I don’t have to constantly transpose the chords in my mind. As soon as possible, I want to move from depending on the song sheets to simply having them on hand as a reference.
A note about notes: For acoustic guitar, I write down notes about strumming patterns, and when I do or do not play during the song. For bass guitar, I write notes about when I do or do not play, the plucking pattern for each part, and where I play fills or notes up the octave. For drums, I make notes about when I do or do not play, the kick and snare pattern, and whether my power hand is using an open or closed hi-hat, ride, or crash. I also jot down notes about where specific fills belong. For electric guitar and keyboard, I write notes about when I do or do not play, the sound effects I am using, and where I am responsible for any signature song parts. I will often chart out the signature riff for quick reference. For backing vocals, I like to underline or highlight when I should be singing directly into the mic, and I plan to sing everything else away from the mic, allowing the lead vocals to be front and center.
Use a metronome. Practicing with a metronome helps me to get used to playing at the correct tempo. Remember that bad practice makes worse! Practicing at the wrong tempo can actually cause you to be less prepared for rehearsal. Practicing with a metronome also helps me to locate trouble-spots in the song. If I find a spot that I tend to speed up or slow down, I’ll be mindful of that during rehearsal, but I might also end up spending extra time practicing that particular part.
The mp3 is a liar. One common method of practice is to play along with the professional recording. While this can certainly be helpful to a point, always be mindful that the mp3 is a liar! It will make you sound better and more prepared than you really are. At some point (sooner rather than later), you need to take off your mp3 training wheels and practice the song without the polished and perfect background of the professional recording.
Recording is the ultimate truth teller. Rather than play along with the professional mp3, take a quick moment to pull out your phone and record yourself. If possible, record with a metronome clicking away, so that you can hear both. Listen back through and assess the honest truth of your performance. Take notes on what sounded good, and on what did not sound good. Try it again. Keep going until it sounds the way that you want it to.
20 minutes per day keeps the unprepared nerves away. Too often our practice consists of doing nothing, doing nothing, doing nothing, and then trying to quickly cram a 2 hour practice in right before rehearsal. I get it. We’re busy. But the truth is that our brains tend to shut down after roughly 20 minutes of intense concentration. Therefore, a 20 minute practice each day is actually far more beneficial than a single 2 hour practice.
Have fun. Don’t forget that music is actually fun! That’s probably why you started playing it to begin with. Along with that 20 minute practice each day, throw in 5-10 minutes of just playing around and discovering your instrument. Get creative. Have fun. There is a time for everything. When it is time to have fun, have fun! When it is time to really focus and practice, practice well.
Artwork provided by my good friend, Brooke Gehman, an authentic and wonderful man of God, devoted follower of Christ, and an amazing husband and father. Brooke is a gifted Worship Leader, an incredible artist, and a Potter by trade (check out his website).