Playing in a band, small combo, or ensemble can provide valuable experience both on and offstage. You gain exposure during actual gigs and network with your bandmates to try to get more work outside of that musical experience, possibly even gaining more friends while doing this. On top of all of that, you can learn more about yourself as a musician, performer, and person. Having been a part of several small combos and ensembles over the years, I would like to offer some rehearsal tips on how to sing when in a band or large ensemble for anyone who wants to get their feet wet or for those who need a refresher.
1. Make sure to have your own copies of music for your band’s set. Whether it is on an iPad or printed out on regular sheets of paper. Personally, I prefer the latter so that I’m able to write notes down on the chart (changes in song form, corrections of notes or harmonies, addition of musical licks or lyrics, etc). This is also something to have for yourself during your own personal practice time and/or to go over with your vocal instructor.
2. Practice BEFORE rehearsal AND the gig. This one seems like a no-brainer and sometimes it’s hard to get in extra practice time between rehearsals and gigs. I’ve seen this happen time and time again with musicians in a group, singer or not. If you want the material that you’ve learned to stick, you need to practice. Rehearsal time should not be time for you to practice–this is time for everyone to run through the set list briefly and fix kinks that are happening collectively with the band.
3. Try not to sing full-out during a rehearsal. This is especially true of a rehearsal that happens right before a gig and when you have a large horn and/or percussion section in the group you are a part of. If other members in the group cannot hear you sing, turn up your mic slightly. You should not be yelling over a band. It is not worth the possibility of damaging your vocal chords just so that you can be heard for a rehearsal.
4. Practice good singing habits. Whether it is for a Rock group, chamber ensemble or Latin-Jazz combo, always practice things like proper breathing technique, posture, and vowel shaping. Just because you’re not singing full-out, doesn’t mean you start practicing bad singing habits. What you do in rehearsal will most likely be done in performance, so try to practice the proper way.
5. Have respect for the music and for the band. Try not to show up late or talk during times when other bandmates or the band director is trying to talk. Get to know your band members, how they work and what their limitations are so that everyone can plan accordingly and work towards improving together. Another aspect of this is knowing what the goal of the band or ensemble is: Does this band compete or is it just for fun? Is it an academic group or a professional band? Is the group serious about the music they are playing?
6. Try an idea out first before shooting it down. If you hear a melody that sounds weird to you or an unusual harmony that you’ve never sung before, try practicing singing it how it is written first before saying no. This will keep the band and band director (and possibly composer) in good spirits. However, if the song or melody is completely out of your vocal range, either hand it off to another singer or ask for the key to be changed. You don’t want to put strain on or damage your vocal chords for the sake of a band.
7. Bring a recording device. This is for your own practice time outside rehearsal so that you can remember what the band or ensemble specifically did for each song in the set. However, if you have a band director, make sure to ask them first before you start recording.
I hope that these tips help some of you to improve your experience rehearsing (and playing) in a band or ensemble. Having respect for yourself, the music, and other musicians are very important, but if you’re not enjoying yourself, all of these things will be very hard to keep in mind. Make sure to find music you enjoy and band members who are of a similar mindset to make it more fun for everyone.
If you have any additional tips or stories to share, feel free to leave a comment below!