3 Powers Of Downbeat Time (Starting Rehearsals On Time Is A New Phrase Away)

It’s Sunday morning, and rehearsal was supposed to begin at 8:00 am. Your electric guitar player shows up, as requested, at 8 on the dot – but then takes 20 minutes to set up his gear. Is there a better way to start rehearsal on time?

You bet there is, and strangely enough, I didn’t discover it until I had already been leading worship for 15 years. It’s called Downbeat Time, and the phrase is revolutionizing worship rehearsals everywhere.

The Phrase “Downbeat Time” In Context

I still meet many worship leaders and musicians who have never heard of this phrase, and it is such a helpful solution to how your bands think about start times.

Downbeat Time means “the time we’ll begin to play music together.”

Here is the phrase used in a sentence:

“See you Wednesday night for rehearsal. Remember, downbeat time on rehearsal is 7:00 pm, so if you have gear to set up, you’ll need to be there earlier.”

In short form, once your band learns the term, you’d just say:

“Downbeat is at 7 pm. See you there.”

What can this simple change in language about rehearsal do?

The 3 Powers Of Downbeat Time

Simple as this seems, I’ve watched this phrase create a new culture in worship bands, dissolving endless amounts of stress related to time constraints on rehearsals.

Pastors and other leaders also use the phrase, in order to express what time they want something to get started.

1. Downbeat Time helps everyone judge their own needs accordingly.

A vocalist can walk onto the stage, plug-in their IEMs, and be ready to roll. But a drummer, electric guitar player, and sound tech need much more time to be ready to make the music happen at a certain time.

They just have to show up earlier.

2. Downbeat Time helps everyone feel like their time is honored by others.

There is nothing more frustrating for a worship leader than having a short window of time to rehearse, as the gear set-up of  musicians eats the rehearsal down to nothing.

Sometimes, things happen; people are late, or gear issues arise. But if everyone is trying to hit the musical downbeat moment, there is a much better relational vibe overall.

3. Downbeat Time helps you end rehearsal on time.

You can more accurately judge how much time a rehearsal will take if you know when you’ll be starting.

A solid, 4-5 song rehearsal takes about 1.25-1.5 hours in my world.

But if we don’t use downbeat time as our anchor, we have no grid for how long a rehearsal will take.

Try It For A Few Months

Teach your band the phrase, what it means, and why it’s important, by sending them this blog post by the email button above. See if you can begin to create a culture together that uses downbeat time to enhance your rehearsals – and your relationships.


Question: If you have been using downbeat time for a few years, how has it helped your rehearsals and worship team culture?

ResourceEssentials 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. Subscribe to the blog to get weekly tools like this in your inbox.

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

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11 thoughts on “3 Powers Of Downbeat Time (Starting Rehearsals On Time Is A New Phrase Away)

  1. Historically, I have employed the idea of downbeat in the environment of a working band. For example, we would always say, downbeat is at 7:15 but the studio will be open for load in at 7. That type of communication and practice worked very well for us and to ensure its success we held each others time with great respect e.g. no noodling or side conversations during rehearsal, and we also showed up prepared.

    I like the “idea” of a downbeat time in the context of a worship ministry but I have a hard time seeing it work because it feels so much like herding cats as you try to get volunteers to form up and be ready on time. I understand that folks have families, jobs, etc that all jockey for position on their priority list and then once they hit rehearsal they let down their daily drive and want to chit chat to catch up on their analogue relationships, which is fine but most of these folks have never truly had to sing for their supper and as such they don’t know how it is supposed to be when it is time to work, downbeat. I can see those who have a strong downbeat ideology becoming very frustrated by those who are content to socialize once that time hits.

  2. Lod wrote, “I can see those who have a strong downbeat ideology becoming very frustrated by those who are content to socialize once that time hits.” I have been in a professional musician for many years, and I have also had multiple experiences leading worship teams at churches, in sizes ranging from 50 to 3000. While it is true that pros understand the concept of downbeat time better, it really should have the same impact on volunteers who have never been paid to play. The concept is simple, because everyone has “downbeat” times in their life. Everyone needs to be somewhere for the start of something – work, appointments, events, etc. If you aren’t on time, there are consequences. The boss is displeased, you lose your doctor appointment, you miss the first part of a show or game. Church band rehearsals should be no different, and it should be communicated that way from the start. I know of one MD at a very large church that had a rule that if you were more than 10 minutes late, you couldn’t play that Sunday. That sounds harsh, especially with volunteers. But I think many times volunteers take advantage of the fact that they can be late, noodle around on their instrument, have side-bar conversations during rehearsal, etc., because us “church folk” are supposed to be nice, and they won’t get in any trouble. If you learn to start implementing boundaries and consequences, in some form or another, you’ll see people shape up quickly. One thing I used to do that was fun for everyone (except the late person) was I would put that person on speaker phone during rehearsal so they could explain to the whole band why they were late and when they would arrive. Everyone laughed, and their was just good-natured jesting when the culprit arrived. But it had an impact on folks and they rarely repeated that someone embarassing event. By all means, find ways to lead without it being harsh and dominating. Your teams will respect you, and thank you later.

  3. For many years (about 30) leading & playing at church, I’ve run into this struggle repeatedly with my team members. I’d show up 20-30 minutes early to lay out sheet music/charts, position mics & stands & cables, plug-in, tune-up, do a dry run/quick review of the set & take a breath (& pray). I never could get anyone else to show up “early” because they’d fall back to “on time” is good enough (but most of the time they 10-15 minutes late anyway!?). In 27 years of being in the Air National Guard, we had two phrases that covered this: Show Time (when you MUST be in place, good to go) & Wheels Up Time (that’s when the plane actually lifts off the runway). If you show up Exactly On Time, you’re late & the results can be catastrophic (holding up a mission, missing a movement; court martial offenses). Too bad we can’t have some punishment for the Worship Team 😉

  4. Hum. strong words coming from church music leaders. What cracks me up is, frequently, during a typical day, a music leader will come and go, at will, from his office at church, take lunch, plan his rehearsals. He pops in, plugs in his guitar and starts warming up. He’s ready for downbeat alright. He’s also expecting everything to be perfect; “why aren’t the monitors working, I need more of x in my monitor.” Never addressing the sound engineer, until there is something wrong.
    The next day he comes in late, because he put in extra hours the previous evening.
    Easy talk to make demands and issue discipline to volunteers who choose to play in your band.

  5. Mike, with all due respect, it’s obvious from your comments you have never been a band or team leader at a church or with volunteers. And your generalization here of all leaders comes from possibly one or two leaders you’ve worked with who have been lazy, incompetent, inconsiderate, or D, all of the above. 🙂 The truth is, a good leader’s job is a hard one, and until you’ve walked in a that leader’s shoes through a few rehearsals and services, please try to keep an open mind. Good leaders want people to show up on time and excel and have fun because it is the right way to run things. And because it benefits and allows growth for everyone. I’m sorry you’ve run into leaders who yell at sound men and act like prima donnas. I can definitely assure you that we are not all like that. 🙂

  6. excellent post Don-
    that is the problem with a volunteer roster of musicians in the local church.
    I am a firm believer in getting what you pay for; there is a growing trend in P&W circles to ‘hire’ musicians for their services. on one hand, I agree with this philosophy; on the other hand, I don’t.
    I do understand why it has come to that; volunteers have the wrong attitudes about serving in the local church; they think because they aren’t getting paid to play, they can do whatever they want. this attitude may be why God doesn’t move the way He would like to in a given service. anything worth doing is worth doing well. a professional attitude is more than simply getting paid for your services; one must be professional in attitude long before they are actually compensated-if they are at all. I am always the first to arrive and the last to leave at my weekly P&W rehearsals. I expect the same from my brethren. the bar must be set high to eliminate the poseurs and pretenders; give a standard that players can aspire to.

  7. Any bikers will understand this phrase, as it means the same as ‘kick stands up’, meaning that’s when we pull out, not when we arrive.

  8. Downbeat time is an easy concept. Our rehearsals here at Family Life are on Wednesdays and downbeat time is 6:30. I will start @6:30pm whether everyone is there or not. Those that show up will miss out on a song or 2 and will have to play catch up because I will not go back and revisit those 1 or 2 unless we have plenty of time at the end.

  9. I agree with what you have here, Dan. In the past, I’ve used RTP (ready to play) with the same idea. So like other commenters, I think that the idea of acting professional begins with the family conversation (small group time) of the band and setting the expectations up-front. Regardless of paid position or volunteer, the idea of being ready and being on time needs to be ingrained and holistic with the idea that the worship team is in a high position as far as sacrifice to the church and to God.

    I know that sounds easier to say than to implement, but the conversations always need to drift that way. The idea is that folks are scheduled in such a manner that they always have regular time away, but when they’re on the schedule, they’re on for the 110% ride. If a worship team member cannot grasp that their time of being called for service is of utmost sacrifice and importance, the idea might be that they’re not ready for the call.

    Like Kevin Huntsinger said, I often will just begin right on time and that person will miss out. If we have time to go back and rehearse the song we will, but if we don’t, we don’t.