10 Tips On Improving Your Worship Band Rehearsal

I have spent many days and evenings at rehearsals. It is the price you pay if you want to do music at a good musical level. It is the price you pay if you want to get past the music and be able to worship God freely.

I have had rehearsals with orchestra’s, choirs, marching bands, studio sessions, vocal sections, brass & string sections and worship bands in Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa, the Caribbean and North America. Along the way I have picked up a few ideas on how to have a good rehearsal. Here is what I have learned so far:


1. Rehearsal Space

Preparation for a rehearsal starts long before the actual rehearsal. First you need to get a good rehearsal space. Depending on the size of the group, that could be your house, a recording or rehearsal studio, a church or a hall auditorium. Things to consider include good lighting, ventilation, acoustics and musical and sound equipment. The best place to practise is usually the place you lead worship. 

I always show up early and make sure the space is organized, clean and ready to go. I also do my own personal set-up ahead of time. I don’t want anything to slow us down or distract us from our rehearsal.

2. Musicians

Next, you need to organize the people you need to come to the rehearsal. That usually happens weeks ahead through email, texts and phone calls. You should also check out PlanningCenterOnline.com, this service has become a great tool to help in scheduling.

People are busy. Make sure you give all involved the necessary lead time for them to be there. With my church worship team and tech people, I usually book them 4-8 weeks in advance.

I also have a rule that I stick to. If a musician is not available to rehearse midweek, then they don’t play Sunday. This rule gets the best results in the long run.

3. Songs

Picking great songs is a crucial step in the process. Questions that you should ask yourself include: What does God want? Are these the best worship songs for this situation? Will these songs works for my congregation? Can the band and singers successfully perform this style? Is this the best key for this song? What is the best tempo and metronome marking for this song?

For more ideas on picking great worship songs, see my blog: “12 Keys To Picking Great Songs For Worship”

4. Charts

Next you need to prepare the charts. Different band operate with different charts. In my early years, we didn’t have charts. We played everything by ear. Someone lead a song and we just picked it up by listening. Later on someone wrote out the music and we followed along. Today many worship bands use words topped with the chords.

I personally prefer a full vocal chart with notes, words, form and chords. The more time you spend working on a great chart and arrangement, the less time you need to work on explaining those details to the band in your rehearsal. Great charts make for a much more efficient rehearsal. (Worship Charts: 7 Keys To A Great Rehearsal)

Personally, I rarely use other people’s charts. Most charts have mistakes. I almost always make my own charts and tailor them to how I want the music to go. I also make special capo parts for acoustic guitar players.

5. Distributing Charts

Once the charts are written. I put the charts online in Planning Center OnlineDropbox, or in a pdf form and send the  band links to download them. Then I send notes to the players about which areas will probably need their attention. I also photocopy all the charts and bring them with me to rehearsal.

Lately, the band has been bringing their own copies or downloading their charts to their iPads so photocopies haven’t been needed. If your band is making the transition to using their iPad’s, check out my blog on ‘How To Use An iPad For Live Music’.

6. Pre-Rehearsal

The sooner the band gets the charts and links to the music (i.e. MP3’s and/or Youtube) the more chance they have to rehearse. My habit has been to send out the list and music for Sunday on the Monday or Friday before. My midweek rehearsals have usually been on Thursday, so that gives the musicians and singers four to six days to prepare. Some people send out the lists weeks in advance. But I personally find that most people don’t rehearse until a day or two before the rehearsal.

I also send out notes to the different musicians who might need to work on a specific part. This helps them zone in on specific challenging sections and parts.

7. Leader’s Preparation

The next most important step is the personal preparation of the leader. After the leader has spent time with God then their next responsibility is to know the music inside and out. I take time to know what the drummer’s groove should be, the basic bass patterns, what each vocalist should be singing and the form of the song; including the intro, ending and exact tempo.

Other areas to know would be the lead lines for the keys and the lead guitar and the basic strumming and playing patterns you want each player to play. The more you know the music and what you need from each player and singer, the better results you will get. Here’s an extensive list to help you with all the details: Worship Rehearsal Checklist.

8. The Rehearsal

The next step is the actual rehearsal. Start and end on time! If the start time is 7 PM then start right at 7 PM. Be highly organized and keep the rehearsal moving. Make sure everyone tunes their instruments ahead of time. Learn the new material near the beginning of the rehearsal when the energy level is higher. Know the potential problem areas of the music before you get there.

My order for the rehearsal is usually: Greeting the team members as they arrive, do a quick sound check, pray, run the most familiar song to double-check the mix, learn the new song, go through the rest of the song list in order, do one final run-through of the new song, prayer, thanks & goodnight. Lately, I have also been doing a short ‘vocals only’ rehearsal after I dismiss the band to tighten up the harmonies and blend. 

Also, expect and foster a Christian attitude among the band members. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Communicate clearly. Spend time worshipping God as you sense His Presence in your rehearsal. Remember, your actual goal is to worship God, not just do music well. What do the best worship bands do? They worship.

9. Listening

As a leader it is important to really listen. Don’t get so caught up in your own playing and singing that you don’t listen to the whole arrangement. Is something out of tune? Is someone playing the wrong chord or note? Is that the right tempo? Is someone dragging or rushing? Is the groove for that song correct? How is the vocal and band balance? Is someone too loud? Is the band too busy? 

Great music has ebbs and flows, learn the dynamics of the song. When should the different players be sitting out of a section of the music? Generally speaking, the band will only get to the level that you expect from them. Don’t be timid about talking to the band and singers if you hear something out-of-place. 

If you want to understand more about how much each player should be playing, check out this blog on ‘The Fraction Principle: How To Make Beautiful Music By Playing Less’.

Also.. an important part of listening is getting a sense of what the Spirit of God is doing in that service. Is the Presence of the Lord resting on a particular song? What do you sense God is doing?

10. Excellence

Don’t be afraid to challenge the singers and players to play to the best of their ability. People want to be part of something good. Learn to speak the truth in love. Challenge people to practice the music and memorize the music. Expect excellence!

Here are some final tests for your worship, music and rehearsal:

  • Is this song really working at a musical level?
  • Does this music minister to people and work for your congregation?
  • Is the band and singers just playing music or are they also worshipping God?
  • Does this music glorify God and do you sense God in this music?

Question: What can you add to this list? What is working in your rehearsals?

Check out my new book.. “Leading Worship ~ Notes from a Grand Adventure’ available in Kindle or Soft Cover Editions.  This is a great gift for the musician or worshipper in your life.

This blog is part of my vision to train over 100,000 worship leaders around the world. If you would like to support this vision, you can help by giving any amount via PayPal..

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20 Responses to 10 Tips On Improving Your Worship Band Rehearsal

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  4. Christin Roach says:

    To be honest, I had trouble reading this article… worship (in my opinion) is a prophetic act and should never be done from a clinical approach and a worship team is not a band or production…. But worshippers who come to express their love to the Father. Your approached seems calculated, structured, precise and clinical.

    I am a worship leader of a church and there are 7 people on my worship team (including myself) who are not paid to participate and carry full time jobs elsewhere or college. They know that because worship is a prophetic act and because they are His sheep, I expect them to hear the voice of God. We discuss what God has been speaking to them and pray before practicing anything. I also ask then if anyone is feeling like we are to do a specific song that I haven’t picked because I know God uses them.
    Your approach to practice/rehearsal seems to come from the perspective of a large church with an extreme amout of structure and organization. And while I see this is necessary for your ministry, some of your preparations seem to make this about what you want versus allowing your musicians to operate in their gifting and be the creative being they were made to be. I did not read anything about hearing them, tweaking the song/structure, knowing them, or even hearing God and prayer (even in the Leaders Preparation” section).
    I am not trying to be critical… As I said, it could be the difference between a large church or a small church… And maybe we are ‘flying by the seat of our pants’ too often, but in the end, all of large, small or any church in between should desire and make room for the Father to come and walk among us and to have HIS way in our (His) service.

    • Mark Cole says:

      Hi Christin.. I appreciate your perspective… Administration is a spiritual gift… When a person has that gift they tend to organize well… that’s what that post is about.. if you read my blog on picking songs for worship… http://markcole.ca/2014/07/02/what-ive-learned-about-picking-new-songs-for-worship/ … You will get the perspective about prayer and hearing God’s voice..
      You can be prophetic and organized at the same time…they are not mutually exclusive…..and if you read my other blogs.. they stress the importance of spending time with God daily in the Word and Prayer…. and actually this blog also mentions hearing from God, praying and worshipping… so I think you are being a bit harsh…
      As per the ‘hearing from the band members’.. that works better when you just have one band and they play together every week… it also depends on your leadership style and how strongly you have a vision of what the music should be like.. sometimes it works and sometimes it just causes a slow, cumbersome rehearsal…

      • Christin says:

        I hadn’t had an opportunity to see your response until just now, and if what I said came across as harsh, I do sincerely apologize. You have brought many blogs that have been instructional, informational and motivational. I think that is why I had a more difficult time with this one. Also, I do not always have time to go back and read all other blogs from people, so it is true that there is not always a complete picture in a blog, which makes it difficult for a “non-follower” to really know your heart/perspective, but again, if anything I said came across as harsh, I apologize.
        I can totally see how in a church with multiple worship teams, your approaches would work very well… for a small church/team, with not as much experience under their belt and resources to be utilized, not as much. My approach is really to help the team to hear the voice of God, press into His presence, KNOW Him, find Him and be able to lead other people there. I will not always be leading that team, so my heart is to lead them in a way that teaches them to do the same… Lead others.
        You are 100% correct in that Administration is a spiritual gift and that being prophetic and organized are not mutually exclusive. Even if you do not write all of your own charts and such, it is a lot of planning, preparation and organization that has to take place.

        Thank you for taking the time to respond to my comments and bring clarity. Your gifts and perspectives are much appreciated and a vital part to the Body of Christ at large. I pray that you are continually blessed with the flow of His presence.

    • Sean Lehman says:

      I have had similar conversations in the past. I do understand that worship is the all important thing here but, as I’ve told many people involved in leading worship, if you do not spend time to prepare then you can end up being distracted or distracting when the actual worship service comes around.

      Distracted meaning, if you are not prepared musically and know what is going on ahead of time then your attention will be focused on getting things correct rather than worshiping. Practice makes perfect and, although we are not perfect, we want to be at our best when we offer our worship to our Lord. Knowing the songs backwards and forwards helps the music to come 2nd hand so that our number 1 focus can be on worshiping during the actual service

      Distracting meaning, not just amoung the musicians or singers, but the congregation as well. If your worship group is not prepared ahead of time then being unprepared can cause mistakes that are noticeable not just to your worship group but to the congregation as well. This can take their focus off of worship.

      As a worship leader, you are just that. The role of the leader(s) is not just to worship but also to lead everyone in worship. And while I have found the Holy Spirit often steps in even when we have had a bad rehearsal, I take it seriously to be ready to lead the church in worship.

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  10. terryblee says:

    Mark… great article. I endorse and have used all of your suggestions. It’s maybe worth adding… depending on the personality and experience/skill of the worship team members involved, their response to structure and forward planning can be quite different …to my utter surprise, I generally found it to be the opposite to what I would have expected. I would have expected that lessor skilled, amateur musicians would want as much rehearsal time as possible, to craft their contributions into the whole of the team. However, more often I’ve had difficulty in getting full subscription from this category of team members …coming to rehearsal without having reviewed the charts, or listened to recordings of new songs, coming late, leaving early, etc. To my surprise, it’s been the highly skilled and experienced, sometimes professional or semi-pro musicians (followers of Jesus …all volunteers in my ministries …giving to the Lord their Saturday night or Sunday morning) who have pressured for the advance notice, of schedules, charts, rehearsal times and locations, etc. In part, they have developed the ear to hear things that lessor experienced musicians don’t hear. But primarily, they know that, if they are to bring their best offering of talent and skill to the Lord, as their gift of worship, they need time to prepare it. One really fine sax player crafted his own parts, and took several hours the week before he served to pray over the charts (he had a strong prophetic gift), transpose the charts for his instrument, and plan or even write out what he felt led to play. One of the finest guitar players I’ve ever served with needed to work preparation and rehearsal times around his busy schedule of studio work, pro gigs and teaching. He was committed to putting as much time and effort into his prep for a worship service as he did for any gig …it as a matter of being able to bring God his best. I loved playing with these servants, I had a deep respect for how they’d developed their musical skills, and I felt that it was my responsibility as their team leader and worship pastor to make it possible for them to bring their best offering of worship to the Lord and His people with joyful hearts.
    Maybe this will be helpful to someone.

  11. Charles Brant says:

    Good article! I can (and do) use most of what you have suggested. However, my situation dictates a little different rehearsal perspective. My group will be 5-6 rotating vocals, rhythm and 12 horns (WW & brass). We are blessed to have 6 local band directors in this group – for them, mid week rehearsals are an impossibility. If I required that of them, they would be nice but simply say, “I’m sorry, I just can’t do it.” So, we do a mid-week vocal/kybd (sometimes full rhythm) rehearsal. Prep (on my part) is crucial! Sunday AM – band at 9:30, vocals (final sound check) 10:00, worship downbeat at 10:30. Sometimes, it’s kinda like begin shot out of a cannon….haha! But these guys knock it out and rarely have any problems. Different place – different band – different needs. 😀

  12. Craig Anonsen says:

    What do you do when a long time band members performance begins to decline? A case where it seems to be a loss of passion not due to age or loss of ability.

  13. Bethel Utete says:

    I am a young and recently appointed worship leader. I want to say I need more of this good information. It was so helpful and just what I’ve been looking for. Thanks

  14. Ryan says:

    I for one agree with your article. I believe music is prophetic but anyone with a music degree will tell you that there is a “clinical side”

    If one of our singers wants a certain song or wants it to be done a certain way, I listen to them but if it does not fit theologically or musically I say no. Ultimately I am responsible. I am the paid musician that is on charge so it falls on my head if the music does not sound well.

    And organization is crucial. I don’t like wasting time or having my time wasted. Being prepared is good in every situation.

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