Keeping it Together in Real Time
I was asked by several friends (by virtue of me owning a viola) to play with them in a quartet. The three other members are experienced musicians who have been playing since childhood and have significantly more ensemble experience than I do.
They know that I have only been seriously playing the viola for about a month (violin - 5 yrs) so I periodically have "violin moments" while trying to read alto clef. However, my sight reading in general is not as strong as theirs, even if I didn't have to switch back and forth between treble and alto clefs, often in the same piece.
We have read together four times now and I find that I am having difficulty keeping time when I inevitably run into clef confusion. Counting isn't exactly my strong suit, having primarily worked on solo lesson material so far. Since many of the pieces we have read to date are presented with single parts, rather than scores, I frequently get lost and can't find my way back in.
Does anyone have any tricks for finding your way back into a piece when there are no guide-posts to follow?
I realize much of this will come with more time in grade, but I would like to improve sooner rather than later so I don't hold the group back or necessitate them finding a replacement. They have been patient and kind, but if I can get up to speed more quickly, that would be ideal.
This is a tough issue with no simple solution. You are going to have to prepare more, even for a "sightreading" session. Listen to the pieces you will be playing with your part in front of you--listen more than once--practice counting as you listen. A score is also helpful but may be more information than you can take in all at once. However, knowing how your part fits in is a big help.
Also consider playing from the score, rather than from the viola part. It can really help to see where everyone else is, and how your part fits into theirs.
I think there was an article on the v.com mainpage of a quartet playing with laptops from the score and a buttom for the food to turn pages. I still think this is a nice solution, although time will maybe put it more towards an eink tablet or something.
Most of the work we have done so far has been cold reads, but now that I have at least copies of the parts, I can prepare a little better.
"Finding your way back in" is a lot easier if you have a good sense of the harmony. Easier with some composers, obviously, than others. And that just comes with more experience and more time spent listening for that aspect of the music.
Krista, I sure know what you mean. All you can do is keep on doing it and you will continue to improve as long as your mind and body allow you to.
Danhauser, especially volume 3.
It depends to an extent on the music you're playing. You're less likely to get lost in Haydn or Mozart than trying to find your way through a quartet arrangement of a movement from Bach's "Art of Fugue", where there are fewer helpful way-points in the structure (I know, I've been there in the past as a cellist!).
We have to train our eyes to follow the score in the collective tempo, and "when in doubt, leave it out" until the next time round.
I concur. In quartet, keeping rhythm is usually more important than getting all the notes right (entrances, of course).