Where you choose to rehearse is very important. First up you need to be comfortable and it needs to be affordable, but what makes any particular rehearsal room right for you?
Size and Acoustics
The most basic requirement for size is that the whole band fits in with all your gear and a bit of room for comfort! But a larger room can chuck up some acoustic problems as you’d expect a larger room to echo more.
Live or dead?
Nearly all rehearsal rooms have some sort of acoustic treatment in order to change the way the basic room size and shape sounds.
Usually their aim is to deaden the sound to reduce the perceived acoustic size of the room by reducing the amount of reverberation. This is usually considered desirable as too much echo and reverb can confuse the sound and make it harder to hear detail, people often refer to this as sounding “muddy”.
However a room that is too dead, perhaps a room totally covered in thick foam can be a terrible place to practice!
The main reason for this is that room reflections help your brain perceive volume. So without them you are more likely to turn the volume up to the point of distortion and hearing damage.
Not all rooms suit all types of music.
As a general rule of thumb, quieter bands have more space between their sounds and can afford to play in a more reflective space. In fact the reflections can really help bring your music to life! Louder bands, or bands with a fuller sound, will need to play in a deader space. You may need to try out a few spaces before finding your natural home. Some rehearsal rooms have flexible acoustics, this is rare to find but a great advantage if you can get it.
The goal is to rehearse as quietly as you can. That doesn’t necessarily mean quiet, just at the lowest viable volume.
This isn’t just for the sake of your ears, but to reduce the chance of feedback from the mics and guitars. Lower volumes reduce distortion and overload from the equipment and this helps the sound be clearer for everyone.
Try to position your microphones away from the PA speakers to reduce feedback. Many good rehearsal rooms will have graphic EQs already set up to notch out troublesome frequencies, which really helps, but nothing you can do helps more than standing in the right place.
It makes sense from a monitoring point of view also, if the room doesn’t have wedges the singer will want to hear the PA clearest and standing facing the PA is the best position for this. Of course if you have multiple singers not everyone can stand across from the PA, there probably isn’t room, so going sidewards is the next best option. Keyboardists, synth players etc, you may also need to monitor from the PA, so position yourself suitably to hear it.
Let me talk to you about your amp.
It is very common for a guitarist to place their amp behind them, sometimes on the floor, just in a position where they’re the only ones in the room who can’t hear it! I know that’s where it’s easiest to adjust, but once your tone and level is set you shouldn’t need to change it that much (if you do, get a pedal board!).
Try placing your amp up higher and across from you. If you use really high gain distortions you may need to angle it away a bit more to prevent feedback. In this position you will be able to hear your own guitar slightly more clearly than others and won’t be unnecessarily increasing its volume to hear your own performance. Taking the amp off the floor will reduce its bass rumble and also improve its spread of sound.
Bassists can be more flexible with how they are positioned and set up. The human ear finds it hard to identify a direction for bass frequencies, so your amp position has less impact on the overall sound. Also a direct connection to the floor will boost the bottom end, whether that’s desirable or not is up to you.
In the top end of your bass sound, the string and drive sections, you’ll get a similar benefit as guitarists by being across from your amp.
Finally, think about the drummer, they may have no issue hearing their own instrument, but what will they need from the rest of the band? Unfortunately getting a perfect mix for them is unlikely, so you need to prioritise. Usually you’d expect the drummer to want to hook into the bassist for tightness and the vocalist for signposting the song.
Getting a good room balance will mean you get more benefit from each rehearsal you do. You’ll hear the song in more detail than before, allowing better musical understanding between the players and ultimately write better songs.