Musings on Learning Music




Ensembles are such fun and really, there is no wrong way to do it, but here are a few hints:

Sit in a circle so you can see each other. When you perform, the circle becomes a half circle so the audience can see you!


Move a lot with the beat - it helps everyone SEE where the beat is in each other and helps you stay together


Getting started together on the first note:

  • At first, it is helpful to have one person count a full measure, then half of a second measure out loud.
  • Everyone counts silently to him/herself along with the leader who is counting out loud.
  • Move some part of your body with the counting.
  • The last few beats everyone is counting silently.
  • Breathe in together on the last beat before the first note.
  • Play the first note together!
  • Before actually playing the piece, try doing this counting routine several times just playing one note, until you can all come in together.
    EX: 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, (silent 3, 4) “note”
  • As you get acquainted with each other’s style, you will count fewer beats (just, “1, 2”)
  • Moving together is the key
  • Don’t always have the same person count you in - rotate the job
  • Eventually, one person will breathe and the others will come in!
  • LISTEN!!!

Playing together is key to ensembles working. At first, practice just playing scales together and making sure everyone is counting the same way. Tap your feet and watch the feet to see that they are together, or bob your head, or both!


Do a run through, as best you can, then go back and work out the tricky parts

Use good practice techniques, just like in your individual practice.

  • Slow it down
  • Do a small section at a time
  • Play it several times correctly before you go on
  • One big difference... there is more than one person to satisfy! Don’t be afraid to request that the group play it a few more times!!
  • LISTEN!!!!!

Each person is the leader of the group and each person is responsible for listening and making suggestions to make it sound better.

Pay attention to dynamics and details

LISTEN for balance. Can you hear all the parts?

Pauses, ritards and other disruptions in tempo: LISTEN!!!

Designate one person to be in charge of getting you through the section.

Watch that person and he/she should MOVE with the correct beat for the section. The whole body conducts: head, shoulder, upper torso, feet...

Everyone move with what you see

Again, go back to scales, or individual notes, but practice playing them without setting a particular number of beats per note. Instead, have the person in charge of the tempo change do movements to tell you when to change notes. WATCH! (HA! you thought I was going to say, "LISTEN"! ...that, too!)

Ending together:

  • Again, one person is in charge
  • Usually he/she brings the instrument up, which indicates that you are about to cut off, then brings it down with a little bounce to show the cut off point.

Two last points...
Have fun!!


dot eLesson index dot SVNHM dot New Horizons International Music Assoc dot  Bandnotes.info dot
©Diane Muffitt