Give Helpful Feedback in Rehearsals


Everyone who leads rehearsals has a slightly different style, from how the whole rehearsal is organized to how he or she communicates musical changes.

One of the trickiest things as a band leader is attempting to give feedback to band members about their playing. If you don’t play the instrument they’re playing, you may run into an added layer of “imposter syndrome” as you try to communicate what you’re looking for to someone who is proficient at their instrument.

Equally tricky is giving feedback to someone who can’t hear what they’re doing wrong.

One of the most important things you can do as a worship leader is to equip yourself to give direct and constructive feedback in real time without derailing a rehearsal or being unnecessarily critical of individual team members in front of the group.

Train Your Ear

One of the most important things you can do as a band leader is to invest time into training and honing how well you yourself can hear what’s going on.

If you’re an instrumentalist, this is usually a little more intuitive. Knowing the chords and the changes makes things a bit easier because you have a comfortable language to talk about sticking points. You know which chord should have been played at the moment something sounded off.

The next step in ear-training is reaching the point of being able to hear what DID get played instead of what should have been played. If the song is written with a 4 chord, but someone plays something different, it can be helpful to be able to identify that by ear. This isn’t a huge deal, but it helps to get to the root of the issue faster and shows the team that you’re listening well.

Even if you don’t play an instrument, or your instrument is not a tonal instrument (like drums or percussion), it’s worth spending time developing your ear, so you can communicate effectively.

Know the difference between a mistake and wrong preparation

A huge “pet peeve” among musicians is when the band or worship leader stops to give feedback about a wrong note that was clearly simply a mistake. In my experience, accidental flubs make up most of the audible wrong notes and chords. If the bass plays the wrong note in verse 1, but in verse 2 plays it correctly, there is no reason to address it. As musicians, we are almost always the first people to hear and recognize our mistakes, and we don’t need them pointed out in order to fix them. Once mistakes are made consistently in the same portion of the song, it may be time to stop and talk through the correct way to play it.

Get specific

“Something doesn’t feel right” or “this sounds off” is not helpful feedback. Sometimes it’s all we have to work with, because we couldn’t put our finger on the root issue, but in those cases, it’s better to say something like “could we play the second chorus again? I want to listen back to something”. You may hear it again and feel like whatever the issue was is now fixed, or you may be able to establish exactly what the problem is and fix it from there.

Lead with questions

When you’ve identified the problem spot, start with questions rather than accusations. “What is everyone playing here?” is a better approach than “You’re playing that wrong”. Questions almost always lead to better resolutions for several reasons. First, if you lead with strong statements, it’s a worse look if you’re wrong, and eventually you may have to do some relational damage control. On the other hand, when you approach things with a curious attitude, being wrong is easier to back off of, and you’ll save yourself a little embarrassment, for what that’s worth. Beyond being right or wrong, asking questions helps you get to the root of WHY something was played “wrong”. It’s possible that a player or two are accidentally playing the wrong note or chord, or that they misheard the reference track. It’s also possible that they felt like a slightly different chord could sound great, and if you dig in, you may like what they’re doing, but it may require adjusting what the rest of the band is playing as well. Curiosity leads to discovery!

Some feedback requires personal conversations

One thing to keep in mind is the nature of the issue you’re trying fix. If there’s a trouble spot in a song, you can work in out in rehearsal all together. More difficult, however, is a conversation with a band member about a pattern of mistakes or under-preparedness.

It’s important to be direct and have the conversations with band members as they are needed, rather than avoiding the issue. Avoidance will likely eventually lead to resentment and potentially comments made in rehearsal that would better serve you and your musician in a private conversation.

If a player is habitually unprepared, then have a private conversation about whether there’s anything you can do to help them prep better. It’s possible that they need to be scheduled less, or that the songs should be up sooner to help them succeed. It’s also possible that they just aren’t ready to play on stage at this time, and setting them up with resources to help them learn and execute songs can be a game changer.

If your musician knows the songs, but doesn’t seem to hear his or her parts quite correctly, help them with resources to train their ear.

Whatever the problem is, getting to the root of the issue is imperative. Correcting a couple of wrong notes is never going to be as effective as addressing practice habits and the ability to learn parts.

It can be tough to give critical feedback, but it’s important to remember that almost all musicians want to be better, so if you have earned the trust of your team but continuing to become better yourself, they’ll respond well to you pushing the team to a higher standard of excellence.

Happy rehearsing!

Josh Tarp, Author

About the Author

Josh Tarp is a multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter, and worship leader from Minneapolis with over 15 years of experience in church & worship leadership. Josh serves as the Director of Marketing at Motion Worship, helping to write various blog posts, managing social media, designing graphics, and handling customer service.

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