String Band Ensemble Class
This is a list of talking points for starting a string ensemble class at Music Matters, where I teach in Pasco County. When I handed this to a colleague, she talked about some other teaching venues that had tried this and not succeeded. So, I understand, nothing is guaranteed.
1 What it is: a small group of violin and fiddle students playing together and learning more about their instrument and about music through the interactive group of players. This is great preparation for later experience playing in bands, sessions and even orchestra playing.
2 What we will do: we will play fiddle repertory students already know. We will add some new tunes just for the ensemble players. We will play some classical pieces that are appropriate to the playing level of the students. The tunes they know will be enhanced with ornamentation and variation. The classical pieces will be tasteful and fun to play.
3 As the class moves along we will have brief presentations of musical knowledge when appropriate.The emphasis is on playing, and yet musical understanding will be on the menu. Element of violin and fiddle technique will be included. The emphasis on ensemble organization leads to the real world of music where this is a big part of the picture.
4 Learning to listen to other players and interact musically is a key skill that can best be learned in this ensemble context. When the time comes for the students to play in a band, a session, or an orchestra, they will already had had excellent preparation and practice.
5 Learning to be supportive of other musicians. Not all students are at the same level. We can be supportive of those who can contribute to the over all sound at their own level of playing. This relates to what is called emotional intelligence, a highly desirable ability.
6 The students will get individual tips as needed. When it’s appropriate a skill can be shown by the teacher and the student encouraged in an easy way to make an adjustment. The learning is low pressure and fun.
7 For some of the students this will be their first experience of group playing. It sets the expectations for the future, going ahead to other ensembles, bands, and orchestras. These are a regular part of every musician’s life, whether pro or amateur. Getting a good start here will encourage the student to reach out when the opportunity arises.
8 We will prepare for a group performance at the Spring concert. The group will be featured as an ensemble. Again, this is a core experience for almost every musician, playing for the public with other musicians. There may not be anything more satisfying than that.
9 Students will learn specific bowing and fingering techniques. New tunes, new ornamentation, new variations require learning new skills. The ensemble format is just the right laboratory for mastering this.
10 Music theory is part of ensemble playing, and is included in the syllabus. I have started my students on the music theory pathway already. They will be able to move ahead and deepen their understanding of a musical selection.
11 Everything that has been taught one on one can easily be reinforced and strengthened at the ensemble class. Repetition is the mother of skill, as Tony Robbins says. Sometimes I speak of nagging my students in jest. It’s really just reminding them of something I have taught at the private lesson.
12 Working together, playing together in the music ensemble gives valuable social proof that they are making a great choice in studying violin and fiddle. This is the most natural way to build self esteem and confidence.
To sum this up, the ensemble class is a unique opportunity to learn key music skills that will stay with the learning musician all their life and provide the bed rock for future achievement and success. Speaking as the teacher, I look forward to meeting my students in this unique setting and preparing a superb performance in May.