Agony Uncle Derek answers your most personal and embarrassing Ensemble questions.
My FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions - is a chance to find reassurance when you have a simple question.
Most sites have a FAQ page....This one has a mortuary.
Why? Because the questions which are most frequently asked in Ensembles are about death.
What? Is Ensemble Playing dangerous?
No. Only for the piece of music which you have unintentionally murdered!
This page might help you cope with the death of a favourite piece of music, and learn how to prevent it happening again.
Gloomy bit over - let's hold the inquest and introduce the FAQ....
These are all simple questions, because they're the hardest ones to find an answer to if you're just starting out.
Some may seem so simple that you think they're daft, but remember that if you're learning, the only stupid question is the one that didn't get asked.
No fiction - just all the FAQs, and references to where in my pages you can read more on the subject.
- Why play Ensembles?
- Because it's much more fun, and for a certain amount of effort, the sound you hear is much more sophisticated than you can achieve on your own. Try it. You'll agree!
- Why doesn't my music shop stock Ensemble music?
- Ask them! But remember that it is a minority sport, and your shop will want to stock items that turn over fairly quickly and reliably. There are many places to purchase by mail order, and you can sometimes see incipits on the Web so you can assess the standard before you purchase.
- Why does a piece work better with particular people on particular parts?
- Because the type of playing differs from part to part. Some people aren't too agile with their thumb, for example. Others are better at melody than arpeggio. It's not a problem. The way that works best is the one you should perform with, because it is best. But do try to work out why it's less good each other way, so you have some targets for your practice individually between sessions and so that this restriction fades as your experience increases.
- Why do the guitars always sound out of tune?
- Because you may have come into the practice room with guitars that have travelled at different temperatures. As they settle, they may go out of tune relative to each other much faster than they appear to go out of tune in isolation.
- Why do I keep getting lost?
- If you are playing from Full Score, use a highlighter pen to pick out the start of each line of your part so you can track down the page by the right amount.
- Why do I still keep getting lost?
- When you play Solo it is easy to give yourself a fraction of a second's extra time at each tricky bit. Indeed, you may not even know. In an Ensemble, you must not hesitate, because the pulse will continue.
- Why can't I hear what I'm doing?
- If you face each other in a circle, the guitars facing you will sound louder than your own. You are probably playing loud enough.
- Why can't I hear what I'm doing again?
- If your part is melody based, try to learn how to sight-sing. If you can sight-sing, you'll be able to hear your part more easily, since you'll know which part of the composite sound is yours.
- Why does it keep going wrong?
- It may be that the music is too hard. The extra effort needed to listen and correct for mutual timing inconsistencies can take the edge of your playing, at least while you are learning a piece.
- Why does it keep going wrong again?
- One or more of you is doing something wrong. If you are asking the question, it means that you don't know who or what is the problem. One way to locate the problem is to tape record the piece, so you can study the overall sound without being distracted by the effort of performing it.
- Why does it keep going wrong over and over and over?
- Another way to find the source of the hiccup which causes a piece to falter is for one player to sit out, in turn, while the others play. The idea's not to allocate blame but to locate the source of the problem and work on a cure.
- Why can't I hear what's wrong?
- You need to cultivate a keener listening ear. Solo guitar consists of listening to what you've done. The music, the tactile feedback and the sounds you hear all relate to what you just did. In an Ensemble, the efforts of your co-players only reach you via what you hear. Maybe your brain is treating what you hear as lower priority than what you see and feel. Use pitch and direction as two extra discriminants to filter and sort what comes in via your ears.
- Why can't I hear what's wrong, even now?
- If you sit in a long row, the persons at either end do not receive a stereo sound field to listen to; it is harder to hear selective things when the sound all comes from one direction. In the first practice sessions, sit in a circle so that everyone has sound to their left and their right.
- Why does it keep gathering speed?
- Much Ensemble music isn't that hard. It gathers speed because it's easy to play and fun to listen to. And because human instinct says that if you're behind (playing late), you'll rush to keep up and the piece will progress at the speed of the fastest player. Learn to let the people ahead of the beat slow and wait for you.
- Why does it keep gathering even more speed?
- Many players speed up slightly when playing quavers (eighth notes), and often it's the quavers in the tune which cause the piece to accelerate. As the lower parts subconsciously move to keep in step, the whole thing speeds up. Now when the quavers cease, all the parts are moving faster and there is not the same stimulus to slow it back down. Since the bass line rarely moves as fast as the top parts, listen to this to stabilise the beat.
- Why is it so much fun?
- Trick Question! If you've read the rest of my pages and tried out my suggestions, you already know the answer to this one!