The 5 excuses musicians say in rehearsal (translated)


Excellent question, Morpheus.

We musicians have a language all our own. Whether speaking about chords, melodies, songs, etc., we tend to understand each other a lot better than the non-musician would. However, in rehearsals there can be some miscommunication between musicians, especially when it comes to how we prepared for the rehearsal. Here’s a translation guide to the five most common excuses heard at rehearsals.

“I didn’t have time to listen to the music.”

 Translation: I don’t take this gig / band / job seriously enough to prioritize learning the music.  Although you gave me the music to study, it never occurred to me that I should sit down for an extended period of time and practice it.  Feel free to call someone else next time that will spend time preparing for the gig. I’ll be home watching Empire and wondering why no one is hiring me anymore. 

“This isn’t the way I usually play this song.”

 Translation: I’m musically stuck in one style of playing and I don’t have the ability to hear things in new ways. I’m also lazy and learning a new way of playing this song would mean I have to practice. (See #1) I would rather complain about the arrangement rather than take direction and focus on flowing with the band. 

“I forgot my pedal / amp / cord / equipment / cymbals / etc. ”

 Translation:  You mean to play my instrument, I have to bring the pieces that make up the instrument? That’s news to me. Please call someone else next time that knows what parts he needs to play the instrument I claim to know how to play.

“This key doesn’t work for me.”

Translation: I was unaware that there is more than one key in music. I was perfectly happy playing in the first key I learned back in elementary school – I think it’s C Major? After all, I just use my transpose button / capo and I’m all set when there’s another key. Too much work to actually learn to play in all 12 keys. (Again, see #1) 

“I’ll know it by the time we play the gig / service.”

Translation: I’m so confident in my own abilities that I decided that this rehearsal was a waste of time. After all, why rehearse when I never play a wrong note? Well, ok, I play lots of wrong notes, but I don’t actually consider that a problem. It’s only a problem for the rest of the band that has no idea what I’ll do when the actual performance rolls around. 

I hope these translations help you see these common phrases for what they are – excuses that hide a lack of musicianship and professionalism. Ban these phrases from your musical vocabulary and you’ll have much better rehearsals and performances.

Share this post with your fellow musicians and make sure to hashtag #GodandGigs as you discuss how to improve rehearsals. 

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

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26 thoughts on “The 5 excuses musicians say in rehearsal (translated)

  1. Though I am not a musician. My husband is and this article is so very true. I go to many of his gigs with him and in some cases you get the person that complains about switching up the style or learning new material. I use to question my husband about lugging all his drum equipment around and he told me if you are dedicated to what you do and really love your job you will do the same.

    • Thanks so much for your comments Shakka. I’d love to get your thoughts about being married to a musician on a future post.

  2. Wow…. this is so true! No excuses for us musicians! BUT…. there should be another one… “What if I told you…. that you should send us the song list earlier than an hour before rehearsal!” LOL!!!

    • Hi Rodney, thanks for your kind words! I’ve been a victim of the last-minute set list as well. You can tell I’m talking about when we’re given adequate time to learn the material. That said, I may have to do a “5 things MDs / artists do to aggravate musicians” list next. 🙂

    • Hi nice to connect with you again Austin! Those seem to be the popular choices for a sequel. I welcome the suggestions!

  3. Here is the problem with this article. It’s written by an employer who isn’t paying shit for his bad gig. That’s why musicians show up unprepared. While I think its better to not accept a gig then to show up and not know the material, sometimes you end up in a situation you can’t avoid. Sometimes you are helping out by subbing, or you just got off a plane after a week out of the country. There are all kinda of exceptions. Bottom line, this article wreaks of a really bad musical director or employer who simply isn’t paying well enough for his gig. Maybe there is an absurd amount of material. Maybe the gig is one month away. Who knows. If you dont know that the people you are hiring can do the jon, as a band leader you are already screwing up. And shouldn’t be writing this blog.

    Rant over.

    • Thanks for caring enough about this subject to respond. Let me clarify a couple of things. First, I’m not an employer. I’m a musician as I assume you are as well. Most of my gigs lately are subbing and sitting in on bands where I don’t know the artist or get the music with a short turnaround. So if you felt this was written to shame musicians, that’s not the intent. I’d be shaming myself.
      Secondly, if a musician is dealing with the ‘exceptions’ you quoted, the first move should be to call the bandleader and let them know BEFORE the rehearsal so the MD / musicians can come up with a solution. Every excuse I listed was one I’ve heard without any advance warning at the rehearsal. And it didn’t just affect the employer – it affected the entire band.
      But I don’t get the ‘pay’ situation being a factor. I’m not sure why the amount we are paid would have anything to do with preparation. I’ve accepted gigs for next to nothing, but my desire to play well and perfect my craft was my motivation to prepare, not the size of the check.
      Again, I thank you for being passionate enough to share your thoughts.

    • Sounds like he may have used several of these excuses. If the pay is not right don’t accept the gig. If you’re just getting back into town and there was no time to learn the music; you’ve overbooked yourself. Unprofessional. Musicians often think they invented music or at least the genre of music they love and that they are God’s gift to vocalists, musical directors, etc.

  4. There is one misssing translation, that applies to all five excuses: Your music sucks! But at least I can try.

  5. Thank you for reminding me about having high standards! I’m ashamed to say that after a long period of being discouraged by other’s laziness and unprofessionalism, I have let myself sink down to their complacent level. I’m gonna improve my attitude and just compare myself to my own standards. Thank you.

    • My pleasure! It’s very rewarding to know that you’ve been inspired. Maintaining high standards isn’t easy, but we know it’s worth it. Keep making great music!

      • Well , after being a professional musician for 50 years, I have to say that I’ve dealt with the kind of musicians talked about in this article many times. Some of the best players have the worst work ethics and attitude toward gigging. They do all the things listed in this article. Anyone that excuses this kind of behavior is obviously the kind of musician the writer is speaking of. There is no excuse for unprofessionalism. Just don’t take the gig if you can’t come to rehearsals and learn the show. I hate lame musicians.

  6. I think the matter is being honest with oneself end one’s musicmates/bandleader about one’s skills/possibilities before taking the gig.

  7. WOW!!! I really enjoyed reading this and I can relate to this because I have played with many musicians who would come to rehearsal not prepared. There is no excuse for laziness. I can truly say that the church where I play at, when we come together for band rehearsal every week, we are prepared and it makes a big difference. We communicate very well with one another.

    • Thanks so much for reading! You’re blessed to have team of musicians that make the most of their talent and time by preparing. I’d love for you to share this post with them and see what they think!

  8. How about i can’t make it to practice on sunday because i have to stay at home with my wife and watch matlock reruns.

    • Wow….I pray that you haven’t actually heard that one. If so, I’m praying both for you and the musician who said that. (Smile) Thanks for reading!