Author: Campbell, Bruce

Rehearsin' and Woodsheddin'

Before I can launch into this weekís essay, I need to offer a sincere apology to all you readers and to the CBAís amazing webmaster and Board Chairman emeritus, Rick Cornish. I missed last Wednesdayís deadline, and I didnít realize it until the next day. Wednesday just came and went without me even realizing it. I have no excuses - I was very busy, but Iíve been busy before. I screwed up and dishonored my commitment to Rick, the CBA and all of you to provide a weekly column. Being a regular contributor to this page is an honor and a privilege. I will do my very best to make sure that never happens again.

No excuses, but one of the things that had me kind of twisted up and bonkers last week was trying to quickly come up to speed in a new band. Well, two new bands, actually. I have been through this before - in 2003.

In 2003 I was invited to join the Alhambra Valley Band. It was an incredible challenge to step on board in a well-established band, and come up to speed quickly enough to maintain the quality for which the band was (and still is) known, and step in seamlessly in a number of rapidly approaching high profile gigs. Well, it didnít kill me, but I didnít miss any deadlines back then, either.

I learned a thing or two, along the way. One is, you can accomplish amazing things with smart rehearsals, and another is, intense individual practice between the rehearsals.

Smart rehearsing means staying focused and working towards a high quality result. A properly rehearsed band starts and stops the songs as a tight unit, but thereís much more. There has to be frank and open discussion (without rancor) as to who should sing what, the proper key, the best arrangement and what instrumental breaks serve the song the best. The rehearsal can still be fun, but stuff is always moving along and decisions are being agreed upon.

Never, EVER practice mistakes. Wrong notes or wrong chords never become better through repetition. On the contrary, the mistakes become a habit. When everyoneís not on the same page, stop and identify the issue, and correct it, to the best of your abilities. If itís a vocal part you canít nail, maybe someone else in the band should sing that part.

Thatís a heck of a lot of moving parts, and thatís where the focus is important. Each facet I mentioned above canít result in a lengthy discussion, or youíll never get past one or two songs in a rehearsal. In a lot of cases, coming up to speed on the arrangements and vocal parts means woodshedding.

I have been out of practice on woodshedding, to be honest. I noodle around on guitar, bass or mandolin pretty much every day, but trying hard to properly learn unfamiliar songs requires a lot of effort, and for me, a certain amount of panic. I run through the songs over and over, staring at chord charts and lyric sheets and a devilish voice keeps whispering in my ear ďYouíll never learn this stuff! Youíre gonna make a fool out of yourself!Ē Fear of humiliation is a powerful motivator!

By the time my wife gets to hear me with this new band, sheís already sick of the songs, because Iíve been playing them nonstop for a couple of weeks.

Iíve always believed that hard work pays off, and gradually, what was an impenetrable mass of songs Iíve never known become friendly and familiar, and Iím looking forward to an exciting, challenging 2014. But I still have to honor my commitments!

Posted:  3/5/2014

Copyright © 2002 California Bluegrass Association. All rights reserved.
Comments? Questions? Please email