Rehearsing New Songs Live On Stage

If you work in a bar band, there are likely going to be times when the bar is essentially empty. Should you take advantage of this time to work on new songs that really aren’t ready for prime time?

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The answer is not a simple yes or no. The other people working in the club, the waitresses and the bartender, may welcome hearing something that they haven’t heard you play ad nauseam.

They are always the first to get tired of your material and sound, so it may be a welcome treat for them. Or not. If your unpracticed performance is particularly bad, you’ll likely hear about it later, or hear them tell the story to customers. Of course, it could also be the best you ever perform that song.

But the main thing to remember is that you are not performing for the help, you are performing for the paying customers. If a handful of loyal fans are present, they may feel privileged to hear how your songs progress from the early, rough, stages to the final polished versions.

However, there is one major danger in this. Just because the club is empty when you start playing doesn’t mean it will remain that way through the entire song.

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A brand new customer, a potential new fan, may enter right as the guitarist starts a solo that clashes with the chords the keyboard player is stumbling through and the lead singer is screeching an unfamiliar high note.

What a first impression. And that is what the coulda-been-a-fan will likely remember best. Unless you can quickly and gracefully end the unrehearsed fiasco and jump quickly into a sure-fire crowd pleaser, your reputation may have taken a fast nose-dive.

This brings me to one of the first lessons I learned from a fellow performer. If you play flawlessly and inspirationally all night, then do one clunker, that’s the one that the new audience members will remember (and talk about) the most.

Your loyal fans will probably cut you some slack, or light-heartedly rib you about the stinker, but you don’t have that relationship with everyone in your audience.

So what should you do? I still like to use the dead time to practice new material. There’s just something about playing a song on stage (audience or not) that is different from private rehearsal.

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Some problems will only crop up once you’re playing live. By trying things out when, hopefully, nobody is there, you can find the rough spots and polish them during later rehearsal.

The trick is to be at least “somewhat” prepared. Know the changes, the melody, the lyrics and the proper key. Use private, or offstage, rehearsal to run through the song until it is at least comfortable, if not fully polished. Then you can pull it out and try it when the opportunity arises.

Oh yeah, be ready with that killer song in case someone walks in.

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