Once a student has learned to play their instrument and has strong reading and rhythmic skills it can be very helpful and gratifying to learn to play in a group setting such as a band, chamber group, orchestra or small ensemble. Group lessons and other group playing add a whole new dimension to your playing; it is both enjoyable and very motivating which can inspire students to progress at a more rapid rate than they might otherwise.
Before I delineate all of the benefits of playing music together, I want to emphasize that first and foremost and maybe more important than all that follows is that playing music in a group is just plain fun! It provides a level a gratification and satisfaction that is exponentially better simply because it is a shared endeavor. It is fun to rehearse together, to develop a relationship with the others in the group and to have and to cherish the shared experience of creating something with other like minded people.
Joining a group of other students with similar musical abilities adds a social element to the learning process. Playing in a group is the same as being on any team, everyone is working together and toward the same goal. Rehearsals provide the opportunity for the camaraderie that is often absent in a private lesson. Shared hurdles can be easier to overcome and ideally, no one in the group wants to let the others down creating a compelling reason to practice and to work through difficulties. Working with others at comparable levels will quickly boost the confidence of everyone in the group as students see that they are not the only ones who must occasionally struggle with difficult passages.
Group playing will very clearly demonstrate why your teacher has been so diligently focusing on your intonation and your rhythm, reminding you to count as you play, encouraging you to follow the written dynamics, playing louder in some places and softer in others. Whether you are a piano student learning to play your first duet, a guitarist learning to play in a rock band, a brass player learning to play in a jazz ensemble or a string player learning to play in a quartet, the importance of all of the above skills will be obvious to you as soon as you begin playing music with others. Playing with others emphasizes the importance of cooperating with others.
A note that is passable but not quite right will be far easier to recognize when matched against the other notes in the chord, if most members of the group are keeping a steady count of the rhythm it will be clear when someone is not and when the melody is drown out by the harmony you will realize why the dynamics are marked as they are. In short, when playing in a group it is imperative that you are following all of the basic rules and that you are all listening to one another. Playing with others emphasizes the importance of good communication skills.
Playing music in a group teaches patience, humility, the maturity to take responsibility, accept the consequences of good and bad decisions and the ability to work hard while still taking a moment to laugh together. It teaches collaboration and crosses all social, financial, cultural and ethnic boundaries. It helps to develop compassion and empathy, as opposed to the development of greed and a “me first” attitude. All of the skills that we learn by playing music with others mimic the skills we need to be responsible and productive members of society. And as I said in the beginning it is just plain fun!
If you are interested in reading more about the social benefits of playing music in a group, I highly recommend Tricia Turnstall’s book, Changing Lives, Gustavo Dudamel, El Sistema and the Transformative Power of Music. This is a link to our website which lists some of the benefits of playing music in groups from the above referenced book Music and Social Transformation.