After a number of years of being in bands and preparing for gigs, I finally have a prep process down that seems to work for me. I’m going to share it here with you in case you’re struggling to find a process.
As soon as I get a set-list for an upcoming gig, I will sit down and in a session that usually lasts an hour or more, pull up all of the charts and all of the audio files. Sometimes audio files aren’t provided, and in that case I’ll pull up a YouTube video.
For this step, I have to make sure that if I’m pulling up the YouTube video, that it’s the right one for the song that we’re doing. There are variations of original songs, there are live versions, and there are often covers. So part of my step one is confirming with the band leader that the YouTube video that I’m going to be working from is actually the version that he or she has in mind to do. It sucks to prepare for a song, show up at a rehearsal, and discover that I have been practicing with the wrong version.
After I have pulled up the charts and gotten all of the audio files in one place, then I start listening to the music. I create a folder with all of the audio files and YouTube videos so that I can listen through the playlist sequentially and without stopping. I’ll usually listen through the playlist once unless there are brand-new songs, in which case I’ll listen to those a couple of times.
My third step is to listen carefully for my particular part in the music. So if you are a keyboard player, then you would isolate your part in the recording. You would figure out at that point if you’re going to be playing pads in a certain section, or piano, or if you’ll be filling in with some other line—like a cello line or something that would require you to have that patch on your keyboard.
Or if you’re a guitar player, you’d listen for which guitar part you are responsible for.
So step three is that I listen to the recordings and isolate my part.
I listen again with my part in mind while I’m looking at my chord chart. I will make notations on the chord chart so that I know what I’m playing where. At this point also if I have a riff that I’m responsible for, I’ll start learning that riff. If I have to write it out, that is the point where I will also sit down with my instrument and my notation platform, and actually commit the riff to paper or to a digital file. Then I will start practicing the riff.
Step five is to sit down with the recording and the chord chart that I have already made my notes on and play through the song, including the riffs, to the best of my ability. I will play through several times then walk away and leave the practice session.
I will come back and try to remember my parts without listening to the recording. In other words, I will play through the chart with no recording running in the background and I will include my riffs and all parts that I’m responsible for as I’m playing through it.
I will play again with the recording to confirm that I have everything correct and that I have the timing right and the riffs right, the entries right, and the kicks and stops and breaks all correct. I also will confirm that I have the structure of the song written down correctly and that I know exactly where I’m going in the song and when.
I do that process until it’s time for rehearsal and then I go to rehearsal feeling prepared.
Hope that helps!