Ensemble Tips A to Z

Credit: http://stmedia.startribune.com/

Credit: http://stmedia.startribune.com/

A is for Audition. Have a plan to learn your material and be able to play it any tempo, any dynamic under any circumstance with absolute accuracy, rhythm and expression.  Recruit your scariest friends to play through your material in mock auditions.

B is for Beat. Always watch the beat. But if there isn’t one, listen to the brass and percussion or the melody and follow them.

C is for Counterpoint. When melodies are combined know when yours is the main line and when it is not. If your part is the accompaniment allow for the solo parts to shine.

D is for Dynamics. Always follow them assiduously and learn to play every dynamic beautifully, in addition to Forte. A great sounding piano with quality is important.

E is for Ensemble. There is nothing more important. So keep your eyes and ears on your colleagues and the conductor too.

F is for Fearless. Play every exposed solo fearlessly, confidently and with panache. Focus your ideas and continue to challenge yourself without doing too much too soon.

G is for G.P. or Grand Pause. The entire ensemble stops for dramatic effect, the length of time indeterminate and controlled by the conductor. We typically write two long slashes in the music called “railroad tracks” just to be sure not to come in all by yourself!

H is for Harmony. Nothing matters except the music (not the personalities around you.) It is very satisfying to be a part of a whole.

I is for Intonation. Constantly work on it, fitting in with the sounds around you. It’s a lifelong enterprise to play with excellent intonation. And don’t forget to use imagery to capture the essence of the music and the intention of the composer.

J is for jazz. Improvisational, free, distinctive and expressive music with uneven or unusual rhythms, it is an important style to master as part of your palette.

K is for Key Signature. Always eyeball it carefully. Use your pencil to mark an extra big accidental above the note if you’ve missed a sharp or flat more that once in a play through.

L is for Listening. You have to know what is going on in all the parts around you and what other sections your part coincides with.  Always listen critically to your own playing. Evaluate by isolating passages so you can determine what is not working well.

Credit: http://stmedia.startribune.com/

Credit: http://stmedia.startribune.com/

M is for Music.  Love it passionately. Your Musicianship depends of it. Playing an instrument well is hard work.

N is for Notes. Learn all the notes with the right rhythms, the dynamics, and your fingerings before the first rehearsal.  Know that bowings or articulations may be changed in rehearsal—all the more reason to know your part well.

O is for Orchestra. Playing in one is a great goal. Not everyone can be a soloist. But in an orchestra you must do what you are asked to do by the conductor.

P is for Preparation. Look ahead in your calendar to see what challenging works are programmed and get a head start. Perfection is unattainable but possibilities for improvement are endless.

Q is for Quartertone. A half of a semi-tone pitch division, used by composers in the 20th Century and important to learn how to play.

R is for Rhythm. Play slavishly in rhythm. During the rests continue your counting silently in your head and feel all the rests as if you are playing.

S is for Scales. Practice them. There are many scale passages in ensemble music. If you are familiar with the fingerings then they are easy to play on sight.  Scale practicing

is a good time to work on difficult rhythms you’ve encountered in your ensemble music.

T is for Tempo. Stay in tempo with your colleagues and always strive to play in Tune.

U is for Unified. An orchestra’s interpretation should be. When you play in unison try to blend with the others.

V is for vibrato. Always play with vibrato. Notes without stick out, unless that is specifically requested.

W is for Wiggling. Do move to maintain ease in your body but keep your movements unobtrusive.

X is for Xun. One of the earliest musical instruments from China during the Shang Dynasty 1766-1122 BCE—a pear shaped globular vessel with five finger holes similar to an Ocarina. It is still used in Chinese orchestras as an alto voice specifically for mournful, heartbreaking or solemn music. Bone flutes, were discovered near the Danube in Germany, which date 40,000 years ago. Music has been an important part of culture as long as there have been humans!

Y is for yielding to your stand-partner, the section leader, the concertmaster and the conductor.

Z is for Zurückhalten that is to hold back. Rushing of the tempo is disruptive to ensemble. One needs to pay close attention. If necessary, stop playing to get your bearings on the flow of the music.

Performing in an ensemble requires discipline, cooperation, attention and polish. A group of musicians large or small can attain a sublime result when everyone is on the same wavelength. Then, even the players cannot tell you how they were able to achieve such depths and heights.

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