Joining Orchestra Makes Students Progress Slower?

October 9, 2018, 5:59 AM · It's 3:30 AM and I can't seem to sleep, so I thought I'd post this idea that I've been pondering for some time now.

In general, I have observed that if an already-motivated student joins a youth orchestra (or community orchestra in the case of adults), their progress immediately slows down and never seems to recover to the level that it was before.

I attribute this to the fact that instead of their 30 minutes per day going into improving skills in a linearly progressive way, they end up spending most of that time just learning new repertoire. And although this constant influx of repertoire may help them to become more efficient at recognizing a variety of notes and playing with others, it doesn't really help them improve in a general sense. Their tone doesn't get better, and neither does their intonation, projection, or bow control. Sometimes they actually go backwards in these areas.

I also think a lot of this has to do with the utter chaos that exists in low level youth orchestras and community orchestras, where the repertoire is always harder than the students can effectively manage in the time they are allotted to learn it before the concert, and the wide skill range of the players makes it difficult to choose music that will challenge everyone.

Now, if a student doubles their practice so they can dedicate 50% of their time to continue progressing in a linear way while also having the time allotted to learn new repertoire, I think this problem would be mostly alleviated. But even with that said, I believe many students would be better off just spending that extra time improving their own skills, if their goal is to become good as quickly as possible.

I see youth orchestras mainly as a means of keeping a student engaged and motivated, as well as a way of connecting their instrument with a social group. But less so as a means of actually improving.

What do you guys think? Have you noticed students whose rates of progress actually improved after they joined a youth orchestra (or community orchestra)? Or has it generally been more a way for them to just have fun and learn to connect socially, at the cost of their overall rate of improvement?

Replies (38)

Edited: October 9, 2018, 6:45 AM · Depends how good the orchestra is - if it's better than the student, then it will be an inspirational environment.

If it's worse than the student, it will hold him back, but he might meet some nice people.

October 9, 2018, 7:59 AM · As a parent I've sometimes had this as a theoretical concern, but in reality what I have observed is that the great majority of the learning comes in the two hours each week over a three month period they spend in rehearsals. Only for a few weeks are they having to put in additional time on the tougher sections, although the time demand is higher for a section leader and for some repertoire (e.g. Mahler 1 last year).

What really takes away from practice time? Project-heavy AP classes!

October 9, 2018, 8:20 AM · As a fellow teacher, I've seen it work both ways. For some kids Youth Orchestra can be extremely motivating since they are with kids who are also more serious about violin and if the program is good (multi-level auditioned program, music not too difficult, etc.) they are motivated to improve and move up seats, orchestras, etc, and suddenly start practicing twice as much and they improve at twice the pace they were before.
I've also had students who after joining the group only want to work on their Youth Orchestra music in lessons, and it is difficult to persuade them that their lesson time is better spent improving their overall technique and learning their solos to a high level, with maybe a few minutes each lesson devoted to a tricky orchestra passage.
I've also had students fall into the trap of joining too many ensembles, Youth orchestra, School Honor Orchestra, Regular school orchestra, pit orchestra, etc.. and get completely overwhelmed and mostly stop practicing their lesson materials and, as a result, progress more slowly.
I have noticed that my students who are in school orchestra programs (at least the good ones, which most of the ones where I live are) tend to progress faster than those at schools without orchestra, I think because regardless of practice habits the students are playing their instruments daily (or at least 2-3 times each week) in class.
In short, it seems to depend on the individual student, plus which orchestra(s) they are participating in and is very hard to predict in advance of them joining the program.
Edited: October 9, 2018, 8:29 AM · I most likely would have stalled at beginner level without orchestras, because I was self-teaching for years before YouTube existed (due to the mistaken belief that no teacher would accept me because of my age), and if I didn't get pointers from other people in orchestras I played in, I wouldn't have had any real feedback at all. Until 2013, all the orchestras I'd been in were well above my level at the time I played in them. Orchestras get 100% of the credit for pushing me to the point where I'm playing top-tier viola repertoire. They slow me down in learning solo rep now, but I've been getting technical advancements out of playing in orchestras right up until this year.
October 9, 2018, 8:29 AM · If your goal is to become a world-class violin soloist, then it is certainly true that playing in a student orchestra does not contribute to that goal - at least not yet. But even then a time will come when you will want to be able to just sit down in front of a sheet of music and be able to play it perfectly. Orchestral playing will build this skill.

If you want to improve your sight-reading, musicianship, ensemble playing and related factors, being in an orchestra under a competent director will be helpful. I have found the orchestral experience and the comradeship of fellow musicians to be motivating - although it has had its ups and downs. The better the director, the more motivating it has been.

Edited: October 9, 2018, 11:51 AM · I would challenge your premise head on, Erik.

You say: "it (orchestra playing) doesn't really help them improve in a general sense". I'd say it doesn't help them improve in a very specific sense, namely technically. Nobody starts taking violin lessons in order to spend their lives with Sevcik and Flesch. We all want to make music. And technique is an important tool for that but not more. Orchestra playing (or any ensemble playing for that matter) may or may not help make progress but it is the real deal. Here is where we apply what we spend hours (years actually) of work learning.

And in my experience one learns more about musicianship from conductors and chamber music coaches (those last especially) than from violin teachers most of whom are so focussed on your technique that they hardly find time to discuss musical aspects.

This last sentence is probably not true for high level teachers and students but we are obviously talking about amateur sutdents in this context and there I'd say it is spot on.

You would'nt teach children to read and then keep them away from books, would you?

Edited: October 9, 2018, 10:02 AM · My experience is exactly the opposite. Students in orchestra tend to be more motivated to practice more and play better than students for whom solitary practice and weekly lessons are the sum total of their violin activity.

The obvious exception to this would be the young prodigy who is on track for international competitions and a solo career, but that's not who Erik is teaching.

October 9, 2018, 10:01 AM · I think orchestra was only a positive for me as a kid, but I spent next to zero time practicing orchestra music. The rehearsals were mostly enough to get the notes, other than some tricky bits, where a moderate amount of woodshedding was necessary. Most pit orchestra music is sight-readable, and the handful of difficult, exposed bits in most shows don't take that long to practice.

Adults in community orchestras often aren't working on non-orchestra music during whatever practice they do. (I suspect that many players practice minimally.)

For me, becoming CM of my community orchestra has turned out to be more of a time-suck, since the repertoire is often difficult and there are lots of parts that require woodshedding -- I generally feel obligated to be able to play every note, so to speak.

October 9, 2018, 10:07 AM · If the challenging passages in the orchestra part could replace the "pieces" in the student's violin education, and the teacher expects them to work on them and bring them to perfection (as much as that exists) then it would be a win-win situation wouldn't it? after all playing in an orchestra is the end goal for 99% of all violin students? (I am talking about the "hobby" type of violin students here.)
Edited: October 9, 2018, 10:51 AM · I think orchestra is a positive influence for students- making friends, being part of a community, learning to be an orchestral player (which is different from solo skills), getting an extra couple of hours of practice in a week. That being said, I always encourage students to audition for the youth orchestra below their current skill level rather than at or above. The ones who reach to the highest orchestra they can get to end up sitting in the back of the section not knowing what the heck is going on. And I absolutely will not go over orchestra music in lessons aside from the occasional tricky passage.

Edited to add: There are many ways of improving and many skills musicians need to develop besides just technical ones for solo repertoire.

October 9, 2018, 11:16 AM · It depends on the situation. I have one young student who recently quit his youth orchestra to focus on his basic technique. I thought it was a great idea. I've seen many students who get music that is above them in their orchestra. Then we have lesson after lesson struggling through music they shouldn't be concerned with and will likely struggle with no matter what. It can be quite tedious because I have to coach them through every bar and give them every fingering, and it takes away from working on their lesson material.
So I'd say in that circumstance, take a year and catch up.
October 9, 2018, 11:18 AM · This has been on my mind on and off too since last year because within my studio I have a beginning orchestra as an extension of the Suzuki group. The handful of book 4-6 players are also in youth orchestras, so up to 3 times per year we spend 2-3 weeks on their excerpts (general audition and 2 seating auditions), almost to the exclusion of their general repertoire, and also scattered weeks when they need help on specific spots. I would say their overall practice habits are the driving factor. Youth orchestra may have given a slight boost in motivation but didn't change the amount/quality of work they were putting into lesson material before vs. after joining. (However, if motivation were to decline as they age, then at least youth orchestra made up for the shortfall.)

Spring of 2017, I had a contingent of around 10 reading-ready book 1 students (playing at least Perpetual Motion, transposed all early pieces to D major, and started a separate reading book) and had them play the easier half of a grade 1 orchestra piece with the book-3-4-at-the-time players. Those newly-reading students who are still with me were in the range of Perpetual Motion to Minuet 3 and are now in the range of Minuet 3 to book 2 Long Long Ago, which can be called slooooow. They made huge progress in reading though, we played quite a bit of holiday and other occasion music for community performances, and our year-end ensemble concert, largely non Suzuki pieces, went very well.

(Sometimes I wonder if I should have moved so-and-so ahead in the repertoire faster, but then I look back at my lesson notes and see that such-and-such skill is lagging, hasn't been practiced as I asked, is likely to cause future issues if left unchecked, etc. - so again, this is practice being a factor. Also, the only way you can manage in a year and a half to not get through two reading books - total of 270 short exercises, not beyond grade 1 orchestra level - is by not actually doing it!)

Would my students have been better off to get to a higher playing level and/or reading level before having an orchestra experience? Maybe, but non Suzuki ensemble was necessary for us and had (has) its benefits. Very few of my students have (or will have, unless they move out of town) access to a school orchestra at all, so I see us as a substitute for that.

October 9, 2018, 12:13 PM · Along the lines of what Mary Ellen, Jean, Scott, and Julie said:

- I no longer accept (new) (children) students who won't be a part of the Suzuki group, so when they get to reading/orchestra level, it will be expected/natural to participate. No lesson-and-done students here, or conservatory-tracked students, so I don't know what goes on with them.

- I expect "complete mastery" of Suzuki material but the standards are lower for our orchestra pieces (except section leaders and solo parts!) and for supplementary pieces that students choose (except if for formal performance).

- A student from a few years ago, who had come to me from middle school orchestra, needed frequent help with school music. He could read, but usually ignored bowings, had low ability to self-correct on pitch and rhythm, and after spending lesson time tediously working bar by bar on fingerings/bowings/rhythms, much of the information did not seem to be retained. A year to catch up didn't help (not that you could, in a public school context), with a low level of practice, and I guess a general lack of paying attention...

(I only let my private students play our studio orchestra pieces "beyond their level" last year because I could teach some of the tricky spots by rote in the group and could pair up stronger and weaker readers to work together. It would be different if they were going to an outside group and needing a lot of lesson support.)

October 9, 2018, 1:25 PM · I sort of agree, at least in my own case. The music programmed for my community orchestra is at the top of my ability, assuming TONS of practice, and hence, all I really have time for is practicing orchestra music. I've stopped playing etudes and exercises, let alone the Bach A Minor, and spent the entirety my last lesson getting help from my teacher on fingerings and also the weird rhythms in one piece. And it seems to me that I'm not going to EVER be able to play all the 16th notes in the Moldau in time for the concert, which is somewhat depressing. But this is only my experience.
October 9, 2018, 4:36 PM · There's a prof at my conservatory who doesn't allow their students to join extra orchestras because they believe it creates bad technical habits. I think there's something to this theory if you're still fixing huge problems in your technique, but personally the pros outweigh the cons and as Mary Ellen said it's hugely motivational to be around your peers every week.
October 9, 2018, 4:40 PM · Lots of good input and examples all around. I read all responses, but don't currently have the time to respond to them.

A couple of things:

1) I should mention there are many facets to this topic that I didn't add to the original post because I was typing it out on my phone. I don't mean to imply that I've *never* had a student who benefited from joining an orchestra. Rather, I've had pretty mixed results, but I do think it's primarily due to the quality of the orchestras they joined. Back in the day, I really, really benefited from joining youth orchestras, but they were *good* ones.

2) It's certainly most desirable for students to join an orchestra that is a bit "below them" because it means they get the benefit of the group situation without it sucking up all of their practice time. However, the main issue I've noticed here is that lower-level orchestras are often saturated with younger students, so it can be difficult for a student to join a lower level group without also feeling like they're surrounded by much younger kids.

3) One idea I've been throwing around is whether or not small, beginner-level chamber groups wouldn't be a desirable alternative to youth orchestras. It would provide the social aspect but the "small-batch" aspect would allow the leader to pair skill levels more closely with each other (and thus choose music that was in the "goldilocks zone" of difficulty), and also the sound isn't so loud that the players can't hear the quality of their own playing. I imagine this would be a nice mix of both solo and group playing, but of course the compromise is that one coach/teacher/conductor can only teach 4-8 kids at a time, rather than 50+.

Elizabeth, I've had plenty of adult students who went on to play in community orchestras, and their experience was/is very similar to yours. After them joining, I would generally spend most of my time working as fast as I could in each lesson to give them efficient fingerings, show them how to sort of stumble through the piece by their deadline, and then repeat this process.

Once again, most of the "bad" experiences people have with community/youth orchestras seems to stem from the students joining an orchestra which they're not truly "Ready" for. The difficulty, though, is that in an area with limited options, students can't always find an orchestra that's appropriate to their skill level while also providing an age group that's similar enough to theirs.

October 9, 2018, 4:53 PM · My experience is exactly the opposite. I started playing as an adult, a complete musical novice. After one year I joined an orchestra designed for (mostly) new or intermediate players. It has been great - very motivating. I don't think practice is zero sum - yes, I am now trying to learn the orchestral repertoire, but my total practice time has increased. I can't think of a single bad thing to say about it.
Edited: October 9, 2018, 5:20 PM · As an adult learner, joining a community orchestra has challenged me in many ways. The practice time needed has indeed made it more difficult to concentrate on technique. On the other hand, the repertoire exposes my deficiencies with left/right hand technique, which leads to focused exercises and studies. I would say the overall result is significant progress in some areas, and slow progress on others, which I ended up neglecting. I'm now refocusing more on the neglected areas, revisiting some fundamentals and trying to maintain a better balance between technique and new repertoire, keeping in mind that the reason I am learning violin is to play music not just scales and studies.
Edited: October 9, 2018, 6:23 PM · I pretty quickly started hating orchestra after the novelty of it wore off. I started prioritizing learning orchestral parts less, and quickly learned how to hide within my section. I found youth chamber music programs, summer programs ( not orchestra camp of course !), writing music for myself to perform, writing music for my chamber music groups to perform, entering competitions, and organizing my own recitals in cheaply obtained venues and promoting it way more inspirational. If orchestra had been the only option around for me, I probably would have quit pretty fast.
Edited: October 12, 2018, 10:26 AM · I recently joined a community orchestra as the stand partner/page turner of the concertmaster. I am in my late 40’s and the last orchestra I was in was a youth orchestra.

As mentioned by others, I feel obligated to play every note and know exactly all my points of entry. I still get nervous when the CM misses a rehearsal.

Playing in the orchestra is beneficial in that I get to play music of more composers, relearn ensemble skills, and meet new people. It is probably not commonly done, I go to my lessons with the orchestral repertoire we are working on and work out some tricky spots with my teacher. I am making progress on the instrument and have developed a much better command of the upper registers.

October 9, 2018, 7:49 PM · Erik, I think chamber music AND orchestra are both valuable, and are different skills. It's easier to learn orchestral playing in a larger group where you're less exposed. Chamber music is a skill that comes after you have basic ensemble skills and more confident technique, I think. Chamber music is in part harder than solo playing because you have to have the skill to carry an individual part while functioning as part of a whole.
October 9, 2018, 8:00 PM · I feel it's important not to spread ourselves too thin. I'm not a teacher; but if I were, I'd make sure my students had mastered the basics and had some skill in sight-reading and position-playing before starting orchestra.

My childhood ambition of becoming a symphony player was what nerved me to take up violin. I started playing in elementary school but didn't do orchestra till I entered high school some years later. At first, it felt strange -- I was one of the youngest players, while most others were juniors and seniors. But I adapted.

Orchestra was a good extra motivator; but the interval of years between the time I started to play and the time I joined the ensemble worked to my advantage. When I joined, I already had position-playing -- plus solid tone production and reliable intonation; so I advanced fast through the ranks.

In my late teens, second year of my degree program, I auditioned for and played in the CSO's training school. It was a great experience -- I played a couple of seasons; but by 21, I could see that orchestra playing really wasn't what I wanted to do after all. While it hadn't hampered or slowed my technical progress, it was cutting into the time I wanted to spend on solo and small chamber work, which appealed to me more by then. FWIW, I haven't done any more orchestra playing since that year -- although I remain an avid listener.

Edited: October 10, 2018, 10:16 PM · Reading through the thread got me thinking about two related issues.

1. Repertoire. It appears that conductors of community orchestras like to pick repertoire that is above the comfortable level of the average string player and expect the strings to step up. In my limited experience in the last two months in a community orchestra, the repertoire we are doing requires sinificant amount of practice even among first-stand players.

2. Learning orchestral repertoire. As an amateur, I approach orchestral repertoire in the same way as solo repertoire/audition material. I go to my lessons with my parts and work through them with my teacher. Done this way, there is no reason why playing in an orchestra should slow down ones progress.

October 10, 2018, 9:14 AM · It is interesting to see how much everyone works(ed) on orchestra parts with their teacher. I did this a lot in my first few years, but then, for some reason, it got to the point where I would only work on orchestral music with them if I had absolutely zero idea how to approach a passage, some kind of notation question I couldn’t find the answer to by just listening or using the internet ( both of these became really rare ), or if I was working on audition excerpts.
October 10, 2018, 10:21 AM · Here's the thing, David: The orchestral repertoire is hard. Period. You will not find standard symphonic repertoire that's not difficult for strings. Unlike chamber music, which was often composed with amateurs in mind, orchestral repertoire has always been for professionals.

The only question is how difficult, and even the least difficult of the works tend to require at least some practice if you intend to play every note with confidence. Youth symphonies tend to do somewhat easier music, and that repertoire overlaps into the community orchestra repertoire a lot -- often that's stuff that will sound fine even if the string players have to fake because they have a million notes under double-forte brass or something like that.

October 10, 2018, 1:55 PM · All valid points, Lydia. And you couldn't be more right about the brass being used as a cover up for the overly-difficult string runs.

David, how long are your lessons? One hour once per week? Most of my students take 30 minute lessons. In 30 minutes, I can cover a few pages of overly-difficult orchestra music with them, frantically scribbling down fingerings and then making sure that they can have a chance at playing them.

I would imagine that for the music to not slow them down, I would have to give them at *least* an hour lesson per week, if not more. And even then, it could be argued that if we used that extra time for their own solo improvements, the overall progress would still be faster.

October 10, 2018, 2:52 PM · 30 minutes is too short a lesson for anyone but little kids who can't concentrate for more than 30, honestly. Even an hour isn't long enough for advanced students. 90 minutes is a more natural lesson length though it's not as common (you might see more advanced students doing twice-a-week lessons).

I do agree with the general sentiment that spending a lot of lesson time on orchestra music is a waste. The exception is, of course, if an advanced student is studying excerpts for future auditions. (I've also mentioned in a previous thread that I take orchestra coaching about once per set, which I find helpful in being a more effective concertmaster. But I try hard not to bring my regular violin teacher any orchestra music unless I have an insurmountable technical problem, usually in a solo passage.)

Edited: October 10, 2018, 3:36 PM · Erik, I see my teacher once a week for an hour. We approach orchestral repertoire in the same way as solo repertoire.

Before I auditioned for the community orchestra I am in, we spent two or three full lessons on the required orchestral excerpts and I practiced them almost exclusively for almost a month. Whenever we work on orchestral parts now, we will take as long as it needs to resolve the issues. What’s the hurry? The Mendelssohn concerto or whatever solo repertoire I am working on will always be there.

October 10, 2018, 3:35 PM · Childhood today isn't what it was when I was young. As a volunteer with a Youth Orchestra I get to see both those who benefit and those who don't.

The ones who don't benefit are generally way over-scheduled to begin with. Music, both lessons and orchestra, are but a small part of their day outside of formal schooling. They have sports, tutoring, homework, as well as music. They work harder, in many ways, than their parents.

The ones who benefit are those who absolutely love music. Activities outside of school are usually music related and generally they blossom with the combination of lessons and orchestra.

I'm glad that I'm in my 70's - I doubt that I could manage the life of a child today. Way too much pressure.

October 10, 2018, 3:39 PM · The key difference between David and Erik's students, I think, is that David is an adult amateur already playing at a pretty high technical level -- a technical level that should allow him to generally play the kind of rep played in community orchestras, if he works at it. As material for technical study, it's no worse and in some contexts may be better than solo repertoire.

Erik is talking about kids who aren't actually ready to play the orchestral repertoire they're facing, for whom studying something else would be more appropriate and productive.

October 10, 2018, 4:16 PM · Lydia: "---30 minutes is too short a lesson for anyone but little kids who can't concentrate for more than 30, honestly. Even an hour isn't long enough for advanced students. 90 minutes is a more natural lesson length though it's not as common (you might see more advanced students doing twice-a-week lessons).---"

I agree, of course, but very few of my students would be willing/able to pay for 1-hour lessons. There are many things on my "wish list" of what students would/could do, but I try not to dwell on them, and I make the most of what I have. With all of that said, I've been surprised at some of the results I've been able to achieve in students with only 30 minute lessons.

The other side of this, besides finances, is that if a student is barely going to manage 20 minutes 5x per week of practice, I find 1-hour lessons tend to feel pretty tedious, as there just isn't enough work done between each lesson to validate the extra length. I've found that with my average student, it's already pushing it to expect 30 minutes 5x per week. So knowing that, it's hard for me to push for 1-hour lessons with them without feeling like it's a money-grab.

However, 1-hour lessons may be something I start pushing for once I move to a wealthier area (which will be soon). It's possible that if they're spending more per week, they would also feel an obligation to put in the extra practice time to make them feel like they're getting their money's worth.

George: "---The ones who don't benefit are generally way over-scheduled to begin with. Music, both lessons and orchestra, are but a small part of their day outside of formal schooling. They have sports, tutoring, homework, as well as music. They work harder, in many ways, than their parents.---"

I relate to this on so many levels. Now that I actually think about it, I could count on one hand the amount of students that I have who only do violin as an extracurricular, and these also happen to be my most successful students, by far.

It also seems that it's becoming common for parents to think of extracurriculars as a sort of "pill" that you can just throw at problems to fix them, without actually specializing in any one of them, or having to actually *improve* at any of them. As an example, I receive a surprising amount of students with severe ADHD because their parents got the impression that learning music is some sort of magic pill that will fix attention issues. I think it's because of those memes spread around on social networks that quote some study about how learning music has been associated with better grades or something, and then they mix up correlation and causation. Same thing with those on the autistic spectrum, where parents hear that "music is good for for those on the spectrum" as some sort of umbrella rule, and then it's just something they throw the kids into without really considering the implications of learning such a difficult task.

But, getting to the original quote a few sentences back, kids are just way too burdened these days. And simultaneously their parents are usually talking about how "easy" the kids have it, so the poor kids are both overwhelmed and also feel like failures at the same time.

David: "---Before I auditioned for the community orchestra I am in,...---"

The community orchestras in my area don't require auditions. So anyone can join, regardless of whether they're prepared to be able to play any of the repertoire. I think they just figure that the players who can't handle it will just leave on their own, which doesn't actually happen. Thus, chaos ensues, and orchestra rehearsals become more of a social event than an actual rehearsal, with the conductor repeatedly having everyone play at full tempo, not working on sections, and basically not actually trying to improve anything. Just "ok let's go again, ok now again, etc...."

This would all be fine if the music director would just choose easier music that actually stands a chance of being played decently by the concert date. I think it's a case of a beginner-level adult orchestra not wanting to be thought of as a beginner-level orchestra.

October 10, 2018, 4:35 PM · Interesting... my opinion has been that it's best to play in an orchestra a little above your level, where the music requires significant practice time.

But my experience may be colored by playing viola and not having a teacher. For about five years after learning the Telemann concerto, I played no solo repertoire at all and worked only on orchestra rep and etudes because I didn't know of any solo rep in the substantial gap between Telemann and Hoffmeister.

Edited: October 10, 2018, 5:42 PM · Re: Erik's comment on the local community orchestras, this area is rather strange. I was principal violist in one of the orchestras Erik was talking about (one of his students was in my section) and I eventually quit because I felt that style of rehearsal was wasting my time. I recently saw one of Lydia's archived posts about tiers of community orchestras, in which she divided them into elite, serious, and casual. The problem with this area is that we have multiple elite community orchestras where Bruch level is a minimum, and multiple low-level casual orchestras where half of the musicians are beginners, but only one relatively-new orchestra that might be categorized as serious or upper-level casual. There isn't a real progression of orchestras, there's just an enormous gap.
October 10, 2018, 5:26 PM · As a student I think it comes down to 2 aspects:

1. soft skills - like others have mentioned, musicianship, ensemble playing, etc. Not something you can learn with lesson repertoire. Heck, I think I learned to take dynamics more seriously because playing too loud would expose the imbalance during rehearsal right away.

2. techniques - I find that there are still things you can learn, but it's just improving on top of the basics, i.e. intonation, dynamics, rhythms, etc. Orchestra playing asks for higher standards in these departments, so it doesn't really add anything new ... but I mean, a vertical development in existing areas is still progress made.

Edited: October 10, 2018, 6:08 PM · I had to cut corners in my playing in an orchestra, and it ended up holding me back. Long rehearsals and just trying to survive some of the hard passage work meant I slopped through stuff. I had to quit to go work at a lot of basic technique, and I'm glad I did. But others situations may be different, and coming in with a more solid technique may mean that not only can you hang better, but that it builds on your technique rather than diminishes it. I just didn't have time to adequately practice the orchestra material and build my technique up.

With that said, my sight-reading and certain other skills were probably stronger back when I was in the orchestra, so there are likely skills that are going to be emphasized in that scenario. I did get better through my time in the orchestra, and though I also wasn't taking lessons outside of it, I would have benefited more from just taking lessons for the same amount of time.

Edited: October 10, 2018, 10:14 PM · I wish has a way to link specific posts within a thread, but this is the referenced thread: LINK (look for the word "Elite" on the page).

This discussion is making me think about the role of community orchestras as a learning experience, but that might be worthy of another thread. I created one: LINK

October 12, 2018, 4:29 AM · Where orchestral playing can "hold us back" is in the matter of the quality of our playing: we spend most of the time not really hearing ourselves.
I find I have to spend a private practice session recovering intonation and tonal subtlety.

Many professionals find this. Even concert-masters may not play a solo passage to their satisfaction after several hours of "leading the troops"..

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