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How to set up for band practice

I run a rehearsal studio where bands come in and practice their craft.

Playing with other musicians through a PA system is very different to playing in your bedroom and so I thought I’d share some tips and wisdom that I’ve picked up over the years which just might help you when you next get in a rehearsal room.

Let’s go through the setup for a fictional five piece band:

  • Vocals / Acoustic Guitar
  • Electric Guitar
  • Bass
  • Drums
  • Saxophone
Rehearsal room set up
Music rehearsal room set up

Drummer

Let’s get the ugly stuff out the way… park the drummer in a corner, ideally near an air-conditioner or a fan, these guys can get hot.

Unfortunately, you and all your bandmates are at the mercy of the oaf behind the kit… they set the volume level.

Lots of drummers (particularly new ones) only seem to play at one level – maximum. If you can persuade your sticksman to reign it in, or better still use Rods (much quieter practice sticks) then good work! Not only will you save yourself hearing damage, but you will be able to hear everything in the room much clearer.

Bass

Keep the bass player close to the drummer – these guys need to work together to keep things tight.

I always advise getting the bass amp off the floor with some sort of isolating pad. No matter how good your equipment is, you never know what the floor is going to be like where you are playing – a room or stage with a boomy resonant wooden floor can turn the whole place into a horrible sounding bass rig.

You can buy specialist specialist pads to place your amp on – here we use hefty slabs of MDF sitting on blocks of drum riser foam to keep the bass tight and punchy.

Electric Guitar

My number one guitarist tip for band practice is to get your amp up and facing you.

Guitar amps are very directional and if you have it on the floor by your feet pointing out, you are not going to hear it clearly at all. You turn up to hear it better, then the other guys turn up to hear themselves… the drummer gets louder and you end up in a noise war, where everything has turned to mush. Not cool.

Like with bass it is good to raise the amp off the floor to avoid weird resonances, and even better if you can tilt it up at yourself a few meters away. You will hear yourself clearly and everyone will remain friends.

Electric guitars and amp

Saxophone

Horn players are generally a different type of person to guitarists – do not be surprised if they are noodling all the time. Most of them want to be John Coltrane but most band leaders just want them to play long notes and the odd funky riff once a set.

They’ll just need a mic if they’re struggling to be heard acoustically, and don’t skimp on the reverb…. dry horns aint no fun for anyone.

Acoustic guitar and mix set up

Frontman 

First up, a DI box for the acoustic guitar. You can often plug your guitar straight into a mixing desk by jack into a hi-z input, but I much prefer just to use a DI box – it just seems to make the signal a bit more even and controllable.

Please have a pedal tuner – standing in a room with a full PA and an acoustic can sometimes lead to howling feedback , especially when you put your guitar down to visit the bathroom… Having a tuner to mute your signal (and keep you in tune) is doing everyone a favour.

It’s nice to give the lead singer a vocal monitor. You might be fine with the vocal level just going through the house speakers but if you have the option, treat the prima donna to a separate monitor. If there are other instruments (keys, horns etc) going through the PA this will especially help them hear their vocals clearly and stay in tune.

Some bands run full in-ear monitoring systems, but that is a topic for another day.

PA system

Ideally come gig time, there will be someone there to run the sound for you. Often when its practice time, you are doing it yourself.

Most rehearsal spaces have the same equipment – a mixing desk and some speakers.

If they are active speakers, they’ll each be plugged into a power source. If they are passive, then they will all be powered by a Power Amplifier which is probably alongside the mixer.

Mixers can look confusing, but they all work essentially the same. For each microphone or instrument, plug into one of the channel inputs and move down the column:

  • Set the gain level so that the input volume is strong but not maxing out at all.
  • Set any EQ adjustments.
  • Set the level to go to monitor.
  • Set the level of any effects (Reverb 99% of the time).
  • Set panning (left/right – leave in the middle to come out of both speakers).
  • Use the fader to set the channel volume

Then on the right, you have the controls which are not specific to individual channels:

  • Global EQ
  • Effects controls
  • Monitor controls
  • Headphone controls
  • Master output volume fader.
live music mixer

It’s worth spending 10 minutes at the start of your practice to soundcheck and make sure everyone can hear the things they need to… struggling through a bad-sounding rehearsal is so unproductive and depressing.

Don’t be afraid to ask someone to help you if you are having trouble – all musicians are not expected to know how every bit of equipment works!

Let me know if you have any questions or advice to share!

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