Performing songs cold


"Uncle Larry"
...meaning no rehearsal. Everyone learns their parts of an agreed upon version and then you debut it onstage with no rehearsal.

Does anyone do this?


Senior Member
Almost all of my gigs are done this way. I'm given a set list, I write charts, then we all show up at the gig and play. If the musicians you are working with are professional enough to learn the material on their own, this should be a pretty smooth way of working. I also think that this forces everyone to be fully present in the performance and really listen to each other.


Platinum Member
Only ever done this at parties. It almost always involves lots of cues from the one guy who knows the song. Train wreck usually, but it's a party so no one cares anyway.

paradiddle pete

Platinum Member
The best way to do covers in my opinion, sure to create your own flavour that way. But you can't just do it with anyone you have to know the other muso's well. We did a version of Like A Prayer one night and the male singer has a deep growly voice. you could see people in the audience thinking , I know this song , who did this again? In fact I think it sounded better than Madonnas version.
Not often, but it has happened. Usually it would be something that the band has agreed to that is pretty straight forward. A variation of this I think would also be when someone requests a song that we as a band have never done, but we all have done it in other bands, or just know it.


Silver Member
Hi Larry. I equate this to a offense line. If they have been playing together for a few years their should be no problem. Everyone should know the feel of everyone else in the band. Your lead singer is the quarterback most of the time.


Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
On songs where there's a clear arrangement (Honky Tonk Woman, I Saw Her Standing There, etc) yes, a quick discussion about the key and whether there's a longer solo or something is all that's needed. Usually that can be in the 10 seconds just before the song is counted-off. In the case of Honky Tonk Woman, I jump in and let them know that I'll start the song, a la the record. :)

If I'm sitting-in with a band that knows a song and I don't, I'll ask them if there's anything I need to know. Typically I say "cue me on stops and changes" and I pay close attention. There are a lot of songs I know, but have never played. Some are just in my DNA from having heard them over and over for 30 or 40 or 50 years. When I play those, the parts and fills come naturally, as if I'm hearing the song while I'm also playing it. Sometimes I surprise myself with the parts and fills that come out without even thinking about them.



Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
I'll add that I just did this in November with my monthly cover band, which hasn't rehearsed in maybe 2 years? On the last gig, we threw in I Got A Line On You (Spirit) and Hard To Handle (Counting Crows? Black Crows? Sheryl Crow? I forget...) with only a discussion about the key and endings. Took just a few minutes before the first set. Since they're pretty close in tempo, I suggested a segue from I Got A Line into LaGrange, and fortunately they were in the same key. No prep, no quiet guitar strumming, nothing. And it worked perfectly, as it should when there's a certain level of musicianship and clear communication.

BTW, this is the Zero G Band I'm talking about, and DW member Bo Eder subs with them when I'm on the road. :)



Platinum Member
Almost every gig (2000+) I've ever done has been like that. Love it. Hoping to start gigging in a few months after being gone 2 years due to back surgery.


Well-known member
99.999% of every gig I've played over the last 25 years has been this way... Sort of...

Not even learn ahead of time. It was all about showing up, setting up and read your but off. For that matter, I had little to no idea who I'd even be playing with. Sometimes it was a 3 piece band and other times 17 piece big band - mostly 6 piece though. Core group of people equated to about 4.

A requirement for the job was being able to read anything thrown at you and make it work.

When I was in 'other bands' it was all rehearsed stuff and in some cases it was learn your part ahead of time and give it a go on the stage.


Platinum Member
It's December and occasionally they still book outside gigs, so yea, I'm unfortunately familiar with playing songs cold.


Platinum Member
All the time.

One three piece band never rehearsed ever. The singer guitarist used to do solo gigs, so we just added bass and drums and followed his cues.
Some months he’d send some Youtube links of new songs - we’d learn them individually and play them at the gig. Built up 40 songs over two years..

In another band we often throw in one or two songs at a gig that we’ve never done before. Someone calls out a key, counts it in and starts singing it. The rest follow along.


Well-known member
I am doing that this weekend...about a 1/3rd of the set list is well known, 1/3rd is new but rehearsed, and 1/3rd is throwing and hoping...jazz and jump blues stuff.

a band I used to play in a long time ago would do one set as audience requests just to challenge our selves and have fun. It was metal/punk and other heavy stuff only due to singer constraints, but we had to know any song in those broad categories. It was like "Stump the Band". We used to get through way more stuff than we thought we could


Silver Member
I posted this before but feel it's worth replaying....

Spring of 69 or might have been 70. It was after all Telegraph Avenue Berkeley CA. A night of blues in the Pauley Ballroom at the UC Berkeley campus. Paul Butterfield Blues Band with Mike Bloomfield, Steve Miller Blues Band before his hit records aa just plain old Steve Miller, Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band, Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton, and my guys the Gilman Street Blues Band. We opened and were told that Willie Mae didn't bring her band and we'd be her backup. "What?" We played our set and then she was introduced. Said she liked our style and if we knew Hound Dog? Well that started her off. She ranted for 10 minutes how Elvis stole her thunder and how she recorded Hound Dog first but he got all the money and glory.
When she was done she turned to us and said "Hound Dog" in the key of "A" boys, then proceeded to scat the tempo and chord changes she wanted. Her version of Dog was growly, soulful and mean. AND she didn't use a mic, but damn she belted that song!!! When she finished she asked us if we ever stole any of her songs. No we said and she responded with a rant about people who were making money off her songs. She then said keep it in "A" boys and we'll do another one stole from me. But girl who took it did it good. So with her instruction we did Ball and Chain. Yeah the Janis Joplin remake of Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton's self penned tune about love gone bad. We finished and she just walked off stage not to return. Me and the guys will never forget that night with a 400 pound black woman who had obviously swallowed a lot of whiskey before hitting the stage. Not sure this is a scary story, but at the time, the Gilman Street Blues Band was shakin' in our Beatle boots. And thankful for the experience.


My band back then played a lot of frat parties at UC Berkeley and always took requests. Thanks to top 40 radio most of the requests were songs we knew and could play cold having never played them before. Sometimes not very well and many times just half the song, then on to something else....great fun for sure.