Whenever I see a first-rate, top drawer performance, I don’t think, “Oh, how gifted they are.” Instead, I think, “They really know how to rehearse.” Why? Because perfect rehearsal is the key to great performances, and most bands and artists simply do not know how to rehearse, perfectly. And they usually form their bad rehearsal habits at a very early age, and never change them.
How often do you hear about the right and wrong way to practice? How many managers or producers attend rehearsals, and “train or coach” their artists? Do you think George Martin or Brian Epstein trained and coached the Beatles? Of course they did. And with respect to George Martin, as he was an enormous influence on them musically as well. Both Lennon and McCartney have credited George Martin’s massive creative contributions to the Beatles’ phenomenal years of success and musical growth. Do you think the Beatles grew from being a mediocre-playing rock band (“I Want To Hold Your Hand,” “Please, Please Me”) to a highly-sophisticated, classical, orchestral-oriented rock band (“Eleanor Rigby,” “HeyJude”) in four years all by themselves? I don’t think so.
“Train hard, fight easy.”
As I am writing this, the Lakers are in the closing seconds of winning the NBA finals, and the announcers are talking about MVP Kobe Bryant and his work (practice) ethic. They’re talking about how Kobe has an incredible practice mindset, which is so intense that, “he’s not talking to you (the press) when he practices. He’s all business.” Well, there it is. The NBA’s greatest player out-working everybody else. No surprise there.
One of the mistakes most groups and artists make when they begin to rehearse is not using their time wisely. And, by that, I mean they have far too many “non-essentials” and distractions in the room with them when they rehearse. This type of “practice” is a habit that usually begins in high school because the band wants to show off to their friends, family, girlfriends, potential girlfriends, soon to be boyfriends, whatever. But someone has to take charge, and make the decision that anyone without an instrument in their hand, not part of the band, management or the necessary supporting road crew or sound people, are non-essentials. And they should be asked to leave. Or better yet, not invited in the first place. There will be plenty of time to invite them in when the show is completely rehearsed and ready for the last phase, “dress rehearsals,” or full-out rundowns.
“Perfect practice makes for perfect performance.”
-Samm Brown III
Now, I’m talking about the perfect practice process after you’ve spent the time doing the hard practice alone. In the “by yourself” rehearsal/practice phase, you should be exactly that, by yourself. Only you know what you need to work on most to get your skills up to an optimum level. Then when you get together with the rest of the band members, everyone has spent a number of hours working alone, on individual performances.
As a drummer, I would practice up to 10 hours a day, when I could, in a drum booth alone; practicing my sticking, patterns, cross-overs—the basic stuff. And then I’d add the flashy stuff like stick twirling, tossing and flipping (without dropping the sticks or the beat), and then back to sight-reading, advanced drumming techniques and rudiments. If I couldn’t get behind the kit (because I was living in an apartment), I had a drum pad set-up in my bedroom, and I would never let a day go by without a minimum of 2-3 hours of “alone practice.” No one saw me, and that’s always the boring, but necessary, hard part for the serious individual. It’s part of the discipline.
Whether you are a musician, singer or an NBA basketball player, practicing alone for hours is going to be boring and hard work. It is what Geoff Colvin, (author of Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else), calls “deliberate practice.” I call it “perfect practice” but it is the same thing, and is very necessary.
If you’re in a band, no one likes to have to listen to the same player messing up the same part day in and day out because they didn’t do the alone “perfect or deliberate practice,” and wood shedding what they personally needed to. Unfortunately, too many think that because they rehearse with the band every day, that somehow those problem areas that they’ve not mastered alone will work themselves out. They won’t. Can you imagine any world-class concert violinist or pianist only rehearsing with the orchestra, and never spending hours and hours of “deliberate” or “perfect” practice alone? Think Kobe only practices with the Lakers?
To quote Colvin again, “The key is how you practice, how you analyze the results of your progress and learn from your mistakes. That enables you to achieve greatness.”
You have to do it individually and then collectively with the band or track. It’s the first thing great performers know that’s necessary to get them from the wanna B-list to the “making-the-big-bucks” A-list. It’s a lifetime of commitment to your audience, profession, career and yourself. There is no other way.
Samm Brown III is a former record industry executive, a 10-time Gold/Platinum RIAA award-winning hit record producer, a film/TV composer, artist’s manager, radio talk show host, and hit songwriter, arranger and conductor. He can be reached for songwriting/artist consultations or song evaluations at sbrownKPFK@aol.com, myspace.com/scores4cinema or (818) 985-2711 ext.452.