Practice makes……..what?

Festival season - the time of year when practice really pays off. Well, at least sometimes, it does.

by: Ran Bush

This is the “high season” for Bluegrass bands. There are festivals somewhere nearly every weekend, and the great weather means many other venues will feature live music in the warm night air, enticing patrons to sip cool drinks and listen to music in corner cafes and coffee shops all over the place. For a ham like me, this is what I live for. Like a ballplayer at mid-season, I get in a real comfortable place, playing music frequently.

This is the time of year when practice really pays off. Well, at least sometimes, it does. Practice and rehearsals can be pretty capricious when it comes to ROI (Return on Investment). I have heard of a phenomenon called “over rehearsing”, but I’ll be darned if I can spot it before it happens. Under-rehearsing is pretty easy to spot, and can be embarrassing – theoretically everyone in the band should know their parts before hitting the stage, right? But have you ever known something, really known something, only to have it mysteriously disappear the very next day?

I went to a band workshop at Wintergrass, hosted by certified Bluegrass Star, and somebody asked her about rehearsals. Turns out her bandmates live hundreds of miles apart, and they learn songs by trading CDs through the mail, and then get together for a few weeks of intensive rehearsals just before going out on tour. That’s what talent will do for you – less time spinning wheels, more time focusing the talent into an act that never misses a cue or hits a wrong note. For ordinary folks like me, I need rehearsal to burn the songs, and my parts, into my muscle memory and my brain to make performing them second nature, which frees me up to apply effort to the finer points that really make the ensemble effort work. If I can get to a place where I have zero doubt what’s coming next, and my throat knows my notes, and my fingers know where to go, then I can pay more attention to the nuances and the dynamics, and when it all works, it elevates the performance to the Real Deal.

When gigs are scarce, all we have is rehearsals, and sometimes you get a diminishing return. If once a week is good, is twice a week better? It’s a good way to turn over a tired repertoire, to be sure, but you can polish the charm out of material, too. But festival season, the routine is more focused and interesting. There are gigs on the weekends, and rehearsals to hone the festival setlists. Then, on show days, when you’ve already got adrenaline in your system (you woke up with it!), a quick run-through an hour before the show locks everything in place. Practice and rehearsal are vital to making a show worth hearing and seeing, but without that show as the final reward, it would tedious. I have friends, very fine musicians, who prefer jamming over rehearsal anytime. But I don’t seem to have the raw talent to be impressive in a spontaneous setting. I get more thrills out of reaping the rewards of putting work into the ensemble process. So, I love summer! Play ball!