Why Play in a Group?

ViolinGroupPlayingRecently, I attended a Violin Graduate Recital. The young lady did a great job and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to her playing and watching her technique. The best part of the recital though was when she played Chausson’s Concerto in D Major for Piano, Violin, and String Quartet. The piece was enjoyable to listen to and the players were a joy to watch. Their interaction with each other through the music, the glances, and the smiles bore testimony to the fun they were having playing together.

About a week later, I was able to experience some of the same feelings they had when the orchestra I’m in played the spring recital. We played film music and had a lot of fun doing it. There is something special about playing music with other people. A lot goes through my mind while playing in a group. As always, I concentrate on the music in front of me and the technique it takes to get a good sound – both in the fingering and the bowing but there is an additional dimension when playing with others – I listen to what they are doing and stay with the group. My tempo and dynamics must match theirs. We play as one.

Playing with a group has many benefits. Here are a few I hope you will consider:

  • Playing with a group is motivating. Before the group session you will want to be “practiced up” so that you will be at your best when playing. After the session you will probably still be “pumped up” and want to go home and work out those difficult passages.
  • It gives you the opportunity to learn skills that just can’t be learned any other way.
    • Leading and following. The group must stay together. When I play alone I have a tendency to be inconsistent with my tempo. I speed up the easy spots and slow down the difficult ones. Playing with a metronome helps, but doesn’t allow for tempo changes written in the music. Playing with a group forces me to keep the tempo set by the leader.
    • Listening to self and others. When playing with a group, I not only have to pay attention to what I am doing, but I have to listen to what everyone else is doing as well. I don’t want to keep playing as loud as I can when everyone else has suddenly started playing softly. By the same token, I don’t necessarily want to play loud just because someone else is. They may have a melodic passage and I have the harmony. I need to back off so the melody can be heard.
  • It can help you improve your pitch and tone. When playing alone, it is often difficult to tell if you are playing exactly on pitch. There have been many times when I have been playing and it sounds fine to me – until I play an open string and it sounds flat. Guess what? Most likely the open string was fine. It was my hand position that was off. Playing with others will force you to stay in tune. Paying attention to other people’s bowing can help you make changes in yours that will improve your tone. It’s a constant give-and-take that can benefit everyone.
  • It can help improve technique – especially position work and scales. Many pieces written for groups will require you to be in a certain position and will make heavy use of scale work – both up and down. The more you are forced to work on it, the better you will become.
  • It will improve confidence and therefore make playing more enjoyable. One of the main reasons I play the violin is because I enjoy it. However, if the pitch is off, the fingering bad, and the tone scratchy, my confidence is gone and the fun quickly dissipates. As confidence improves, these other areas will often follow.
  • A musical bonding occurs. Whenever I am watching a group, I am amazed at how all those individuals with separate actions and thoughts suddenly become unified the moment the music starts. It is a special bonding that cannot be experienced any other way.
  • It’s fun!

Some of the most memorable times playing the violin I have had areBand times when I played with a group of people – sometimes in on organized group like an orchestra, other times in an informal setting such as several friends playing together in the living room. Playing instruments with others offers a type of enjoyment that can be found in no other way.

About Richard Tracy

I have been playing the violin for about 20 years - in spite of missing the index finger of my left hand.
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