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Practicing individual ensemble parts

Lydia Tay

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Published: February 10, 2014 at 7:23 AM [UTC]

1) Listen to a recording of the piece

Especially important for parts where there is little or no melody. The importance lies in being able to listen to other parts and noticing what they are playing and where you come in during all that. It is important that you have your score in front of you, so that you can also improve on counting rests and such while waiting for your parts. Also, try not to get lost. Knowing what the piece sounds like will enable you to imagine the piece being played when you are practicing on your own time.

2) Start slowly if it is a fast piece

This also applies to non-ensemble pieces. I cannot stress enough, the importance of starting out slowly. Going too fast will only cause you to stumble through notes, rhythms and bowings. If possible, use a metronome and set it to a slow tempo. If you feel yourself going faster, stop and do it again. It is important that you can play your parts in a consistent tempo instead of speeding up or slowing down unnecessarily.

3) Make markings where you feel you need them

Again, this also applies to non-ensemble pieces. Do not wait for your conductor, friend, stand partner, whoever, to tell you to make markings. If your conductor wants you to play a certain way, mark it down. If you keep forgetting to play an accidental, like a sharp, mark it down. If you can’t follow the rhythm and you feel that you need to write down the counts, do it. At the end of the day, you will not have to remember all that information if you have it written down.

4) Practice along to a recording

Once you have gotten your parts up to speed and you’re sure of where to come in, put on your favourite recording of the piece and try playing along to it. You may not get it the first few times, but keep trying. During a performance, you’re bound to hear your instrument very clearly, and the others would sound like background music, but that is because your instrument is closer to you. Practicing with a recording will ensure that you are not surprised when you can clearly hear your instrument but the others are (I’m exaggerating) half the volume. It will also bring your confidence level up, to be sure of what you are doing.

5) No recording

In case a recording of the piece is not available, it is adviced to listen carefully to other parts during rehearsals and practices, and follow them on your score. This is so that you will be sure of what others are playing, making it easier to count and judge where to come in or when to play certain parts. Also, as some parts have similar rhythms, listening to other parts will assist in getting used to the rhythm.

Happy practicing!


From Laurie Niles
Posted on February 10, 2014 at 7:35 PM
I would add one thing about marking ensemble parts, which may be shared parts; do be considerate of your stand partner. A rule that many go by is: If you are sitting on the outside, make your markings (fingerings) on top; if you are on the inside, make them on the bottom. Of course, markings like bowings, dynamics that the conductor requests, etc., are for both of you and can be made in the most appropriate place. But for things like fingerings, where you might have different ideas, consider using the top/bottom guideline.

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