The need for continuing private lessons while playing in groups and ensembles

Back on January 30 of this year, I posted our thoughts on the importance of group playing. Today I would like to expound upon that post by sharing our thoughts on the need to continue your private lessons while participating in student level groups and ensembles. Students who have progressed to the point of being ready to play in a group have usually reached a level of basic proficiency. Though the very act of group playing will help with many aspects of your playing, groups are not geared to the one on one attention necessary to move you past basic proficiency.

As part of a group you can expect to learn the myriad of skills necessary for ensemble playing, some of which are independent of the material that would normally be covered at a private lesson. Private lessons provide the time and attention for developing the fine points of playing individual parts (ensembles or otherwise), technique and musicianship.

The teacher that leads group lessons will be focused on the skills necessary for ensemble playing and will rightfully assume that you are going over the technicalities specific to your particular instrument with your private teacher. There are many reasons why this works best for all involved.

First, the teacher who is leading the group is not necessarily trained to teach your instrument. As a professional musician they will bring their years of experience; playing in various ensembles themselves, leading student groups and their basic in depth knowledge of music. However that does not mean that the instructor is qualified to teach all of the instruments in the group.

Often times we hear people making the assumption that musicians can play anything on any instrument. For the most part that is simply not true. It is similar to assuming that your dentist can write your prescription for new eye glasses. Like physicians, musicians spend many, many years developing their own particular area of expertise.

The next point involves group obligation. Each member of the group is obligated to practice between meetings so that no one member is holding the rest of the group back. Likewise the instructor is obligated to give approximately equivalent attention to each member of the group. It is not fair to everyone else in the ensemble if the instructor has to use a great deal of group time to work specifically with one member.

Finally, the group is only as strong as it’s weakest player. In a situation where all but one player is taking private lessons and practicing regularly, those in the majority will be held back in their ability to learn and perform new repertoire. A musical group is a lot like any other team except that there can be no “bench warmers” as most groups are comprised of the actual number of musicians needed.

We recognize that students might need individual attention to learn the music their group or ensemble is working on. Some parts are inherently more difficult than others and of course all members of the group come with their own strengths and weaknesses. Ideally, each member of the group will bring their questions to their private teachers who will help them to overcome the rough spots in their music. This should be the case whether the group or ensemble is sponsored by a local music school or your public or private school. (See post dated January 18, 2016). Your private music teacher is there to move you through their own curriculum; to help you to become a better solo and group player!






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