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How to Get Better Rehearsal Sound - By John Vestman
Q) In our rehearsals, I can't hit the drums softer, but then they don't hear the guitars. Then they turn it louder, after which follows the bass. When we bring the microphones as loud as we can, feedback occurs. What can we do to hear ourselves better at rehearsal? - Andrei

A) The main part of a drum set that masks vocals is the cymbals. Put some thick sticky tape on them - forget how they sound in rehearsal. Play them just so you know where they happen in the music. Pad the drums slightly too, or perhaps put a blanket over the front of the set.

Have the guitar player aim his amp toward the wall, so it isn't directly aiming at the ears of the other musicians. This will make the vocals be more immediate sounding and easier to hear.

Have the bass player turn down the ultra low end of the bass. Low end can feel good, but save it for the show. Don't put the bass player in the corner of a room. Corners are like a low frequency "horn" that amplifies bass.

Don't put up too much carpet or deadening materials on the walls. Keep the room a little live, although carpeted floors is fine. A partition between, let's say, the guitarist's amp and the bass player's amp will help make the sound a little more "individual" within a room. Some simple bass trapping in corners can help too. This can be as simple as leaning a 2' wide x 8' high piece of 1/4" (3/8" or 1/2") plywood in the room corners (making a triangle shape if you were looking from up above the room).

I don't recommend using headphones in rehearsal (unless you need a click from prerecorded tracks, or unless you have really really separated each player from each other... like in a recording studio). You can't move as well, and part of the art of music is leaning how to listen to each other. The recording studio is a separate art, and is another part of listening too. Each way of listening helps the other way.

Instead of investing in a headphone setup, get either a graphic eq (at least 10 bands) or a feedback eliminating device (Behringer makes one). Set the eq flat (all sliders in the middle) and then bring down the one(s) that stop the feedback. When there is no feedback, push up each band a little to see which frequency makes feedback occur again most easily. When you play, be ready to bring down those sensitive frequencies first. With some practice, you'll get to know which sliders work the best. Also, make sure the mics are pointed away from the monitors.

Another cool trick is to use gates on the mics. Set each gate so that only the singer's direct voice turns on the mic (of course I assume that each singer is on *top* of their mic). Then when the backup vocalists aren't singing, there isn't additional monitor sound being picked up by all the mics at once.

The next idea to consider is the actual musical arrangement of each song. Are the musical parts covering up the vocals? Do the guitar parts bury the vocals, or do they leave some sonic space when the vocalist is singing? In many recordings you'll hear additional instruments drop out when the vocals come it. Are the accents and dynamic changes cooperative with the vocals instead of conflicting with the vocals? Space is an important factor in hearing detail in music.

How about the "frequency arrangement" of the sound? Do the guitars have a lot of mids and upper mid frequencies that make it harder to hear the voices? Are the chord voicings in the same register as the singers notes?

Key: The best way to have effective rehearsals is to have a good attitude. Investing in "us-we-all of us" instead of "I-me-my". Get the band together and simply decide to support each other more than ever before. If the whole benefits, the individuals benefit.

Make sure each person is happy with the sound, and be willing to compromise. Listen more carefully to each other, and use eye contact to strengthen your musical bond with each other. Rehearsal is a place to develop a win-win attitude. I win and you win - not I win and you lose. After each rehearsal, check in with each other to see if over all you are getting better results.

When having band discussions, listen carefully to what each person has to say. Don't plan your answer in your head while the other person is still talking. Make sure the other person has finished their sentence (or point). This is called "Listening Empty". Respect each other - say what you want, not what you don't want. Come to rehearsal with a reverence for everyone's time. Talk about what your dreams are, and be there to support each other's dreams, otherwise you're wasting their time and yours.

And remember, practice does not make perfect. Practice makes progress, and PERFECT practice makes perfect. If need be, start out taking new songs a little slower than they will ultimately be. When you rehearse, it's all about memorizing the insides of the music and the performance. When the basics are solid, the fun and showmanship will be all the better.

John Vestman is a veteran mastering engineer with over 26 years in the industry. His credits include: Hole (Courtney Love), Juice Newton, Ambrosia, Andre Crouch, The Wynans, Great White, Candyman, Billy Davis Jr./Marilyn McCoo and more. John Vestman Mastering is located in Orange County, California, and his web site offers over 40 pages of information about successful studio recording techniques and sound philosophy.

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