7 Steps To Running A Great Worship Rehearsal

Rehearsing is just plain, hard work. Every worship leader, band member, and pastor I know all loves the end result of rehearsal – seamless music, the rising and falling of beautiful, passionate worship, and the silent hum of a well-oiled community doing ministry together. But as I said, rehearsal is just plain, hard work.

Achieving the end result of rich worship times is dependent, at least in part, on confident musicians executing a song – and an entire set – in a sonically beautiful manner.

And that takes rehearsal (unless you’re playing with a bunch of professional musicians).

The Freedom Of Getting Beyond The Music

As a worship leader, I know that there is a fluidity, a great freedom in worship leading, when the band has gotten beyond “now, what chord did we play at this moment?” and are in the “I’m so lost in worship even as I nail this music that it is hard to make a mistake” zone.

A 7 Step Rehearsal Plan

Because rehearsal is necessary, and is hard work, I’ve followed a simple 7-step pattern I learned from working with some excellent arranger-worship leaders.

I use this for a 15 minute rehearsal (I’ve had those) or a 75 minute rehearsal. It all applies.

This pattern enables our band to accomplish much in a short time, and enables us to end on time with some level of confidence in what we’re about to do.

[Note: This progression assumes that the musicians have a) received the songs ahead of time as an mp3 and chord chart (I use WorshipTeam.com for that), that b) the band culture is to show up on time (“downbeat” time), c) the band has at least heard the songs once before the rehearsal, and d) that you have thoroughly practiced personally, and generally decided where arrangements are going, beforehand.]

Here it is, and every step is vital (and can telescope to be short or long):

1. Greet and Connect (5-10 minutes)

Smile, welcome people to rehearsal, and silently honor the fact that they have made sacrifices in their lives to be there.

You don’t need to over-do this, but some worship leaders are so task-oriented that they under-do this vital step of connecting.

It changes the music and the atmosphere.

Make people feel valuable by high-fiving them, taking a moment to ask how their week is going, or by giving a simple hug. It all matters.

And be confident. Of course you’re not the best arranger in the world (heck, I live in Nashville).

But greet people ready to lead the night. Timid leadership is hard to follow, and stresses out the band.

If they feel like you all are wasting time, just because of poor, unclear leadership, it’s a drag on the culture you are trying to create.

Move the rehearsal forward, express appropriate humility, and push through any snags.

2. Overview the Set List and Manage Expectations (5 minutes)

Once everyone is generally set up (again, “downbeat” time is an essential part of a worship band culture), and everyone has the charts (we, with a few exceptions, ask everyone to print/bring/ipad their own), it’s time for an overview.

Walk your crew through the progression of the songs, and tell them what transitions will take you from one song to the next.

Then, help the band manage their time expectations by saying something like this:

“We’ll take 10 minutes or less on each song we already have a grid for. Then we’ll take some extra time on this new song. If I cut us off early on one, we can always come back to it at the end.”

3. Do A Familiar Song and Sound Check (7 minutes)

Choose the most familiar, big song in the set, and count it in.

Have everyone play full out – the loudest and most dense the band will be (but remind them to be musical).

Rock the groove for awhile, even dropping out vocals after a bit, just to let the musicians find their musical feet together.

Repeat sections, ask for things in monitors, or fix your IEMs (in-ear monitors). Git ‘er done, and move on.

4. Outline The First Song, Run It and Tweak (10 minutes)

I start right at the top of the set. Give a quick rundown on where the song is going, what instruments (voices too) come in where, preferences you have, and go for it.

Play it through, the whole arrangement, and note all the train wrecks (wrong bass notes, wrong drum groove, etc.).

Go back to the train wrecks, and repeat those parts in a loop (short, 4 bar loops that repeat the challenging part over and over) until each is fixed.

Note that vocalists need direction. Our vocalists know to give me at least one verse solo before coming in on the pre-chorus or chorus.

Tweak monitors again.

5. Repeat Step 4 for All Songs (20-25 minutes – 3 more tunes)

That’s it. Rinse and repeat for each song.

6. Learn The Unfamiliar Song (15 minutes)

I never start by learning a new song; I usually push it till the very end so we can linger on it for a bit.

So, you’ve let the band get in the groove (and respond to the Spirit) with familiar tunes. Now you’re at the new song.

Spend some time on a new song, giving an overview to the band, speaking about instrument roles one by one, listening to the mp3 so it’s fresh, walking through chart with pens in hand, and using seperate mini-rehearsals for parts as necessary.

7. Top & Tail, Reinforce Weak Spots (10 minutes)

I aim at leaving 10 minutes to wrap up the rehearsal. I first always ask: “Is there anything anyone is feeling uncomfortable about? A part you need us to quickly run through?”

If not, I aim right at Topping (how we’ll get into a song/start it), and 2) Tailing – how we’ll finish it, and get to the next song.

To do this, we literally count in the first song, do a few bars, and just when the band is ready to rock it,

I smile, wave my hands, and yell, “Awesome! Let’s go to the end.”

We go to the end, finish the last few bars of the song, and make the transition to the next song.

Same thing for the next song. I move fast, and skip easy ones. Top and Tail.

Some Final Tips

Here are some final tips to tighten up your rehearsals even more.

  • If possible, I like to turn my mic around and face the band for rehearsal. They can then read my body language more clearly, and I can say things while making eye contact with the drummer, etc. I can also smile, and say, “Yep, that’s it” to the bass player laying it down.
  • On occasion, run ‘mini-rehearsals’ that just focus on the vocals. I kick out other musicians for a break, and just let the vocalists, along with me and my guitar, nail that chorus harmony.
  • Create at least one,‘open’ moment where the band can get past the chord chart and get lost in worship for awhile. It changes the set, and creates a powerful leadership unit ready to go with you where you need to go.
  • Have your awesome sound person show up early for the morning sound check, to get the system humming and to be ready for the band. Give them clear direction on what instruments are on that day.
  • Be polite, friendly, and playful with each other. It lightens the burden of the hard work we must do.
  • Begin and end with prayer. Sometimes, take a few extra minutes to pray for the person needing some extra support.

Bless you as you do the hard, but important work, of running rehearsals.

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Question: Does your band do rehearsals? If so, how often?

Resource: Essentials In Worship addresses these main ideas in the Session on Building Sets And Arranging Bands.

Bio: Dan Wilt, M.Min. is the creator of the Essentials In Worship Video Training Course for worship leaders and teams, and is the Founder of WorshipTraining.com, a media-training network of over 31K+ worship leaders and musicians. He serves as a worship leader at the Franklin Vineyard in Franklin, TN, and has taught in Worship & Arts programs for schools like St. Stephen’s University and Indiana Wesleyan. Dan is a songwriter, hymn writer, and author, and has served as a conference speaker globally. Dan works with his church family at Vineyard USA and Vineyard Worship in various support roles, and he, his wife Anita, and 3 young adult children live in Thompson’s Station, TN. His ancient-future worship leadership blog offers weekly tools and team encouragements at DanWilt.com.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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16 thoughts on “7 Steps To Running A Great Worship Rehearsal

  1. Great stuff as always Dan! I would say that some of those final tips (turn mic/face band, create “open” moment, & be polite/friendly/playful) deserve a place in the main list. I am going to see (re: check with the Mrs. :-)) about picking up the course while it’s on sale. 🙂

    All that said, and perhaps you go into in another section in the course because it’s alluded to in the note section, IMHO the #1 key to a great rehearsal is quality individual practice prior to rehearsal.

    They should have the chord sheet, the arrangement & road map of each song so they know what to practice, a recording they can practice with (in the correct key of course), & far enough in advance to ensure that your busiest of volunteers can fit it into their crazy schedule (i.e. not just a day or two before).

  2. Love it! I love the idea of “mini-rehearsals.” We do something similar. Instead of a mini-rehearsal, we have a monthly vocal sectional, led by one of our worship leaders. We hope to have all our BGV’s attend (I think we might average around 70%), and at that sectional, we teach the harmony for the next new song and a harmony for one of the songs that we currently do. Those harmonies then get posted on our Planning Center Online site for later review and for those who could not make it. Having recorded harmonies in a common receptacle has been invaluable!

    Just another idea…!

  3. Very useful Dan, presumably you are full time worship leader? I’ve struggled with worship practices – even getting the song list together in time. However, I do always focus on the worship aspect. The whole team including me are gifted amateurs but I encourage them to recognise that even practice is worship.
    Having read the above though I am setting myself the target of being better organised. Suppose I just don’t want to lose the spontaneity aspect.

  4. Hey Dan, great post! I’m really finding a lot of these tips useful to creating better flow in my own rehearsals. I’ve lived in Nashville for several years, but my wife and I recently moved to the northeast for a full time worship position where the natural tendency of the culture is to remain reserved and unchanging. Do you have any tips on helping to break through that “shell” of reservation with my volunteers and congregation to help them open up and allow that “seamless” atmosphere of worship to develop?

    Thanks again for the tips!

  5. Hi Dan –
    I’ve been the word-person/word-smith for worship services for over 15 years now, beginning with PowerPoint and evolving through Easy Worship, Sunday Plus and ProPresenter. I think you’ve left out a very important aspect of rehearsal and that is the collaboration between the band and the technical team, and I don’t mean just the sound guy! How well the words flow with the music can be a huge help or a terrible distraction from the worship experience. PLEASE remember to include and communicate with your word-smith in every rehearsal. If you want to lead congregational worship, this is a crucial aspect. If you want to give a performance, forget the words and go for it!

  6. good points as always-
    one thing to note is that for things to truly run seamlessly, there has to be a high level of musicianship to accomplish what needs to happen on a given sunday etc. if the team isn’t functioning at the minimum requirements, it really doesn’t work-a team is only as strong as its weakest player; especially drummers…
    at the very least, a player needs to be able to shift to any key flawlessly, to play any style called upon, and to be able to flow as the WL conducts. once those prerequisites are met, then a team can get into the more important aspects of making music such as expression and being creative. playing off each other etc.
    it isn’t about being perfect; good players can mask mistakes so that the average listener doesn’t notice.

  7. Heard this phrase for the first time today… “Get lost in Worship.”

    Where does this come from?
    What passage(s) in the Bible instructs us to get lost in worship?

    Are there any instances in the Bible of Worshippers getting lost in worship? Specifically where that terminology is used?

    Can you point me to it? Thanks

  8. Wesley’s hymn ‘Love Divine’ has the phrase “lost in wonder, love and praise” which I would equate with “lost in worship”. David as he danced before the Lord as he brought back the Ark, not concerned for his dignity, Mary as she sat at the feet of Jesus rather then rushing about as Martha was, but if you ask for a scripture verse containing that phrase I can’t think of one. It’s probably like the “Trinity” , doesn’t occur as a word in the Bible, but is used to describe one of the doctrines of faith. How do you describe those times when the presence of God seems tangible? I know He is always present, but there are times when maybe my senses and more tuned in to Him and I sense His presence in a far more tangible way, usually when I’ve devoted time to praise, worship and seeking His face, when I’ve done what Mary would have done rather than been a Martha. So, sorry, can’t think of a specific verse, but hope the above helps a little. Blessings

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  10. Thank you for the tips,but i have a question pliz help me ,How can i make my voice sound well becoz after sing 3-4 songs my voice will start to sound badly .Kindly help me