Lately I’ve had some people reach out to me and ask, "how do I prepare for a worship gathering?" or, "how do I prepare for a larger setlist and remember everything?" Honestly, I prepare the same way for any size setlist, long before the rehearsal.
Listen. Just Listen.
First and foremost, put the sticks DOWN. Our first reaction when we have to practice is usually picking up a pair of sticks and trying to play, when really the first thing we should do is listen. If we try to play with a song right off, thinking we know it, we’ll just be covering up everything to which we really need to be paying attention. I listen to a song quite a few times before I even touch a pair of drumsticks. I listen to the time signature, the main groove, how many grooves are within the song, the sound of the kit, and whether there are any electronic/sampled sounds that I need to mimic. Critical listening is crucial not only to what type of groove we’re playing, but what the groove meshes with -- like guitar licks that go with certain fills or hits, kick patterns with the bass, and how it all fits with the vocal.
Don’t practice until you get it right. Practice until you can’t get it wrong.
Build It, Groove By Groove
Second I’ll start with the first actual groove, get it in my head, and then start playing along on the kit. I’ll practice this until I can’t get it wrong. Then I’ll listen to the second groove and practice it until I can’t get it wrong and then I’ll put the first and second together. Learn one section and then go back and play the song from the beginning up to that point. This way you won't forget what you’ve just learned because you'll be playing it more and more further on. I’ll do this for each song, but I also practice my bigger setlists the same: start with the first song until I can’t get it wrong and then play the first and second and so on, just to get the set in my head. This repetition will help everything stick.
Not at the rehearsal. Before the rehearsal.
So don’t get stressed -- take time to listen, work through parts, and repeat it until you’re confident. Don’t practice until you get it right. Practice until you can’t get it wrong. That’s my mantra. We should strive for excellence every time we practice, before any rehearsal with the rest of the band. That way when we show up at rehearsal we’re prepared and ready to bring our best.