Chamber music may be the key to improving your ensemble

Ensemble directors often look for ways to improve their students’ performance. Chamber music may just be what they need. And there are plenty of options.

We all want our ensembles to perform better, right? Of course! Whether it is through the use of technology – such as Tonal Energy (highly recommend!) – or finding new ways to say the same things, directors will do most anything to improve student performance and understanding of music. However, one of the best and most overlooked ways is through chamber music.

I can hear you now. “When do I have time to do chamber music? Our schedule is already crammed with marching band, jazz band, preparing for LGPE or some other festival. Plus all the paperwork…” Of course, there is solo and ensemble time each Spring when students will throw something together and hope for a high rating.

I know. I was one of those students. My senior year of high school I earned six distinguished ratings at Solo and Ensemble Festival. Now, I don’t say that to toot my own horn, but as an example. First, there are students that WANT to do chamber music. Two, having also been on the director’s side of the desk, it takes time.

But, the reward is immense.

Chamber music improves your ensemble!

How? Well, let’s look at what chamber music requires. It is a smaller ensemble setting, usually between 2 to 16 players.

Photo Credit Sandy King
  • Musicians are encouraged to play with more courage as there are fewer people to hide behind.
  • It forces performers to open their ears, paying attention to pitch and articulation discrepancies as they are often more pronounced.
  • And, students can work together on the music before or after school (as your campus allows). They teach each others and themselves.

This means they are playing and communicating about music from a variety of repertoire. They can describe their playing in musical terms, building upon and using the knowledge provided to them in your main classes.

This sounds like NAFME Music Standards achievement if you ask me.

The great thing is you have tons of options. First of all, if you don’t have a library of chamber music, use what you do have. Maybe allow a few students to work together out of a technique book. Or, invest in some flexible instrumentation books or pieces.

If you are looking for pieces for various instruments, you can always check out the Texas UIL Prescribed music list.  This list allowed to browse by grade level and ensemble instrumentation.

This type of performing not only helps them as individuals. When they are incorporated back into the full ensemble, their improvements can spread throughout the group. Because they are performing with better pitch, it generates a better pitch center for the ensemble. Their courage to play with a fuller tone boosts may well influence others to do the same. Sure, these are slightly hypothetical, but I have seen it work.

If students want to participate in chamber music, allow them to play for an audience. Maybe in the lobby of your school before a large ensemble concert. Or as part of the main concert. I enjoyed leading students in John Zdechlik’s Centennial Fanfare to start a concert when teaching high school.

So, why not try some chamber music? It could be just what your students need.

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