Leaky Buckets

I had the privilege this week to do some more training with our sound team. We had already done some training focussing on the technical side (how to switch things on, how to plug things in, where everything goes etc), but this was a very different session. I wanted to concentrate on the actual sound which was being achieved through the system; having invested so much time with our band on arrangements and dynamics, I wanted to make sure this was actually being heard through the PA.

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Training our sound team is something we do at least twice a year. Rehearsing and training with the worship team happens pretty much weekly. And annually we remind all our volunteers why and how we do what we do. Vision leaks. People have short memories. We often slip back into old habits, or positions of comfort…it’s a completely natural reaction. Which is why we need to regularly remind all of our staff and volunteers of our ethos.

Leaky Bucket Syndrome

It’s just like a leaky bucket…you fill it up with water, and it will hold the liquid…but slowly the holes allow it to drain away…sometimes gradually, sometimes quickly! So it needs topping up to keep it full. We are exactly the same. If we are regularly serving in areas like the band or tech team, we should keep ourselves “topped up” both spiritually and mentally. But still, the longer between training sessions, rehearsals and seminars, the more our vision leaks, and the more we revert to our old habits and what we are comfortable with.

So a regular top up for whatever team you are serving under keeps everyone focused, reminds everyone of the how and why, and should mean all are serving the same purpose. We as a team are reminded regularly of the ethos behind our worship and who we are there to serve. We use written training materials, I send email reminders, we’ve been to seminars and held training days. Everyone on the team has access to this, and to the notes which serve as reminders. And when we train the sound team, we make sure it is done in conjunction with the band to reinforce the team ethos and mentality. This has to be a practical event…the notes are great for reminding and helping with knowledge, but nothing beats the doing to help remember. When we held the sound training on Tuesday, I could have talked theory for hours, but it only makes sense when we actually start EQing the band, adjusting the volume levels and hearing the effect the adjustments made.

Keep Topping Up

Back to your bucket. You’ll never patch all of the holes. Your bucket will always leak…sometimes slowly, sometimes fast. But regular refilling and occasional top ups will keep your bucket full and working to capacity.

How do you fill your leaky bucket?

Getting to Know You/Rehearsing with a New Band

This past Sunday I had the privilege to co-lead at one of local churches as we held a joint event. The service went fantastically well, we had a great mix of our congregations and followed it all up with a huge barbecue and piles of puddings! And to top it all the weather was perfect. Great day!

Over the past few weeks I’ve been looking at rehearsals on this blog, both in terms of frequency and structure. This Sunday I was able to put it into practice with a new band, something I rarely have the opportunity to do.

We had begun the planning for this some time back, mainly in terms of basic orders and themes. I met with Rachel, my co-leader, to put together a band and to choose songs. We both had different sets of music that we use on a regular basis, including different arrangements and chart formats. But as we have a relatively small song list (around 60), it was relatively simple to cut down all commonly known songs according to this, and then devise some sort of a set list. We agreed on quite a large selection of 8 songs, and then booked in some dates for rehearsal.

Frequency

It was difficult to fit extra time in as we were all still maintaining our weekly service schedules and associated rehearsals. But we made the decision to have a few rehearsals, as this would be the first time that we would be playing together. And while I was confident that we were all competent and capable of making a joyful noise together, I still wanted to meet more than once, as our first get together would be less of a rehearsal and more, as in the eternal words from The King and I, a “Getting to Know You” evening. There was also the added bonus that we were using the other church’s hall, so we had to get accustomed to their set up which also included In Ear Monitoring. So we met, we plugged in, we tweaked and twiddled and then concentrated on playing through the songs.

Rehearsal

As we had already agreed the songs, I printed off several sets of the music that we use at EBC so that we had something to start with, and it also meant that we were (literally) all singing from the same (hymn) sheet…so to speak. And I had also loosely worked out arrangements, repeats and transitions between the songs.

The first rehearsal went very well, we all got along well and started to get to know each other, and worked on being accustomed to the IEM system and everyone’s playing style. I am sure we would have made a good noise if it had been the only rehearsal we’d had, but we had agreed to more, so…

Our second rehearsal we were much more familiar with each other and new what to expect of each other, and the equipment. So we were then able to start honing what we had…developing the arrangements, sharing out parts, working out intro and endings, transitions and leads, harmonies and lots more. By the end of this evening we had a very tidy sounding set and a plan as to how we were going to lead on the Sunday.

Getting to Know You

Now clearly some of this may be obvious, and maybe you do this every week. But as I’ve outlined in my previous posts, meeting frequently and arriving prepared will go a long way to making you the best that you can be come your service. We met more than once, we started with a shared set of music and a rough plan, and together we polished it into something that, come the Sunday, was extremely special. And it went so well that we’re already planning to follow it up on a regular basis.

How do you approach rehearsing with new people?

Rehearsing your Rehearsals

Greetings band members and leaders! Last week we looked at the frequency of your rehearsal schedule, which you can catch up on here if you missed it. This week, I’m looking at rehearsing your rehearsals before you rehearse them. And yes, I did just manage to get the word “rehearsal” into that sentence three times.

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So hopefully you’ve chosen the songs for Sunday, you know who is in your band and rehearsal night is set. Do you now:

1. Turn up, hope for the best, race everyone to the end and then get home in time for Jools Holland and a mug of tea?

2. Plan your rehearsal, then do all of the above anyway?

3. Rehearse your rehearsal before you actually rehearse, so that it runs as structured and smoothly as it can?

I will be honest, I used to rehearse somewhere between 1 and 2 on the options above, picking a selection of favourite or new songs to practice that we would play through until we got to the end, and then moved onto the next one. Which was nice, generally quite fun, and we all went home feeling quite good…although possibly this was not the most constructive use of our time. But as our experience, understanding and team has grown, we have become much more structured in how we run our rehearsals, which starts before we even set foot into our rehearsal space. So:

Rehearse Your Rehearsal

  • Plan your songs and set in advance. Are you changing the arrangements, or keys? Give some thought as to how you might carry out the transitions between songs. We at EBC make sure that the songs are with the church office at least 10 days before the services, so there is plenty of advance notice for all involved.
  • Think about your band. We have a group of musicians so rarely have the same band playing together each week. We all have strengths and weaknesses, and different levels of ability, aside from the usual girl/boy singers. Have you thought about this aspect when putting your set list together?
  • Communicate this to the band in advance as well. I always make sure that they know the songs and the keys at the very least, and often how they are going to be put together so that we can start to put the transitions in place. Have you written this all down?!
  • Make sure to put aside an evening before the rehearsal to run through the songs. Play them as if you’re leading them on Sunday. Work through the transitions. Make sure that you are well practiced before you bring it to rehearsal. Remember, Practice is different to Rehearsal. Practice is personal, rehearsal is relational.

Running Your Rehearsal

  • At the rehearsal, make sure you have spare copies for everybody. We make sure that all of our team have their own personal music folders which are regularly updated, so that I can be sure that the team has up to date and complete copies of all of our current songs. But I still bring spares just in case… Before we’ve even started playing (and everyone is always itching to make some noise), go through the arrangements with the band so that they know how you are going to play the songs. Which leads us to:
  • Everyone should have a pencil! I bought a box of 50 that we keep in our music cupboard, to avoid everyone sharing the one blunt writing implement that we find on a stand. This is the time that the band makes notes so they are clear on repeats, texture, harmonies, introductions…
  • Then start to work through the songs. Don’t just play through them (as I used to do). Rehearse them with a view to honing them to be the best they can be. Practice the tricky bits. Work on the transitions. Make sure that everyone is on the same page, playing the same bar, keeping together. Don’t be afraid to keep repeating sections until they are right.
  • Before the end of the evening, aim to run the whole set of songs as if you were playing them on Sunday.

Sunday

When it comes to Sunday morning, you and your band should be in a position to just do a soundcheck and then a brief topping and tailing of the songs for Sunday. There should be no need to play through everything before the service, and if your church is like ours, this is a blessing as we don’t need to be there as early, and we have the energy and stamina to do two morning services.

Why?

If you turn up to run your rehearsal well prepared in all practical aspects; you know the songs well, you’ve practiced the arrangements and transitions, and you’re able to communicate this clearly to your team, then your team will be able to easily follow you and work with you. And the more you do this, the more the team will grow together, the more together the team is, the better the band will be, and the possibilities that this brings to the worship music are exponential.

We have been running rehearsals like this for a good few years now, and the response from the congregation, both in their worship and their feedback to us as a team has been nothing but positive.

How do you rehearse for your services?

Keeping Regular…

Sundays come around with amazing regularity…just about every week! But do your band rehearsals happen with the same frequency?

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I’ve been leading worship at EBC for a few years now, but we haven’t always had weekly rehearsals. In fact, it’s only been within the past couple of years that we’ve moved from a fortnightly to a weekly pattern of rehearsing. This was due in part to a change in circumstances with the set up and line up of our bands; we had been going through a process of bringing together our morning teams into one big ensemble. Whereas before our different morning teams met on separate nights of the week, now that we were all together for Sunday morning it was necessary to rehearse together on the same night so that we could learn the same songs, get used to playing together and build up a sense of team.

Resistance

There was also a resistance on my part to only rehearse songs for Sunday at rehearsal. Why did I think this way? Well, because I was keen to do different things in our rehearsals: learn new songs, practice improvisation, work on playing together better as a band. I didn’t want our rehearsals to be purely about rehearsing Sunday, and at the same time I didn’t want to take up extra evenings in the week when our volunteers were already giving up their time.


Now that we are rehearsing weekly in a co-ordinated and structured way, it has improved the quality and effectiveness of our Sunday services immensely. We get regular feedback from our leaders and congregation about the difference they are hearing, and seeing. And the band have more confidence in what they play and sing, as well as being encouraged in what they are serving on a Sunday.

On a practical level, we rota the bands a term at a time so that everyone knows their commitments for upcoming Sundays. Songs are chosen by the worship leader two weeks in advance, which gives the band a chance to practice them. Then we rehearse them the Tuesday before Sunday. This pattern did mean that we weren’t all able to play regularly together…so we soon introduced a second fortnightly rehearsal in a different room on the same night. This is open to all that aren’t playing that week, as well as being an opportunity for new musicians to come along and join the team. We take the opportunity to learn new songs, practice arrangements and concentrate on specific areas or sections…all of the areas that I was concerned about losing. And recently we have been able to use this additional meeting time to introduce our younger people to the worship team.

Today

We used to rehearse before the service on a Sunday; putting the time and preparation in during the week means that we are able to have a relatively concise soundcheck and top and tail on a Sunday morning. Where there used to be pressure before the service, we now have breathing room before a service to prepare and pray. And having a regular weekly rehearsal together has meant that we are much closer personally, spiritually and musically as a team.

How often do you rehearse as a band for your Sunday services?