How do I find other players like me with basic abilities to play with?

October 21, 2019, 8:29 AM · After 2 1/2 years as an adult violin student, I'm feeling the itch to come out of my practice room and make some music with others of similar abilities. Now, I'm not yet one of those players who can pick up a sheet of music and just read it, make beautiful music, and feel good about it all. Frankly, it takes a while for me to get the gist of the whole thing. However, it's getting a bit lonely, and I'd like to meet others in this situation and see where we could take it. I've done a couple of Bluegrass and old time music jams, and they're fun, but - frankly - repeating GCD or CFG or DGA chord progressions over and over gets a bit dull. I've even taken my violin and played in open mic evenings, Being 70 years old does make me as something of an outlier at those shows since most of the players are around 40 - 50 years younger than I am. They play their guitars and sing about broken hearts, life being unfair, and more broken hearts. Then I get up with my violin and play a couple of old Celtic tunes, some Scandinavian tunes, or some blues. Let's simply say they are polite about it all. It's fun, but I'd like to find others to play with. I've looked online for amateur chamber groups, and all I can find are sites with well established music ensembles. If I were a young person could simply join the school orchestra, but that ship sailed decades ago. Any suggestions of where I could start? Thanks.

Replies (15)

Edited: October 21, 2019, 10:48 AM · One option is to post a note with various teachers seeking interest to play duets with someone of equal level. Forget about community orchestras until you can comfortably read music, it's just impossible otherwise, unless you are one of those who can easily memorize 14 pages of not be particularly melodic and often challenging music (2nd violins). You already done the jam group thing, which is good in a way. A local Irish folk/celtic session group might give you the variety you are seeking rather than bluegrass.

I like your statement "They play their guitars and sing about broken hearts, life being unfair, and more broken hearts. "... how true ;-). Reminds me of the old joke, how would a country song sounds like if played backward.... got my truck back, got my dog back, got my wife back ... in that order :-)

October 21, 2019, 10:44 AM · Hi Michael - I'm in a similar boat as you for a different reason - of which I'll spare you!

I'd consider starting a MeetUp group for your area, or hanging flyers wherever you hang out (and open a separate email account for inquiries) specifying what you want to do, and plan to meet at the cheapest location you can wrangle to host a small gathering of musicians to play with?

Why not join the nearby school orchestra? You could be the one breaking the stereotype that all of this is only for "young people".

October 21, 2019, 11:38 AM · You want this:
They are all over the country now, often attached to college music schools.
October 21, 2019, 11:49 AM · To add to Michaels comment, several community colleges offer courses that are really small string orchestras, in the same format as new horizons. So in the chicago area, DePaul hosts a new horizons orchestra, oakton and Harper community colleges each have their own string groups that would fit your skill level well.
October 21, 2019, 12:06 PM · Finding a pianist who would be willing to accompany violin is another option to consider, and would be an excellent opportunity to make music with someone else. Just passing word of your interest in your community might identify someone. With such a relationship it is possible to proceed at your own pace, and both you and the pianist can prepare designated repertoire before meeting for maximally productive sessions. Of course the repertoire for violin and piano is enormous, and runs the range from simple to complex. You didn't give a lot of detail about your current level of accomplishment, but 2-1/2 years in, potential sources include The Suzuki books and their piano parts, as well as Barbara Barber's series and many student concertos and concertinos.
Edited: October 21, 2019, 2:20 PM · Where are you at in terms of technical accomplishment?

Two and a half year in with regular lessons and practice, you should be able to read music comfortably and could conceivably be working on repertoire such as the Bach A Minor Concerto. You could consider joining the second violin section of a community orchestra.

October 21, 2019, 2:43 PM · If you try to put up notices to find others like you in your area, or contact other teachers to get them to refer their students at a similar level to you, you'll need to do several things before the first get-together: 1) find a location and 2) plan what you'll play. There's nothing more frustrating than having people get together and saying "What do you want to play?" "I don't know, what do YOU want to play" and having that go back and forth for a while. Plan what you want to play and have printed music ready for your guests. That way you can practice the printed music and be all set to play, since you say you're not comfortable reading music right off the bat. And be willing to put your best effort into reading whatever music the others bring.

I think the best thing would be for you to find a training orchestra somewhere, probably at a local community music school. And don't be daunted by the fact that most of the members will be 8 to 12 years old. The best way to become better at reading music is to be in a situation where the music is easy but there is a constant beat (from a conductor) that forces you to keep moving and thinking forward.

October 21, 2019, 8:33 PM · All along I thought this was something "social media" was supposed to be good for...
October 22, 2019, 6:16 PM · Check out ACMP (amateur chamber music players, They are an organization that serves (mostly amateur) chamber music players. There is a yearly fee for which you get access to their member directory and can try and contact people near you that may be willing to play with you. They also have information about chamber music workshops and various other helpful info and links.

If I could give one piece of advice: Try and learn to sightread. It is a skill that is in demand in chamber music circles. It is not as hard as you think, just remember: You are allowed to make errors, nobody will criticize you for a wrong note or a missed passage.

Edited: October 22, 2019, 6:28 PM · Look for a fiddle club nearby. Often they have a "slow" group, which means you play tunes at a comfortable tempo. (You will understand what an "uncomfortable tempo" is when you sit in with the club.)

Certainly, contact other teachers for suggestions, for often one of them will run an ensemble for their students.

Your national strings associations will also have a program of ensembles for musicians of exactly your standard. These are publicised via email, so you have to join to be on their lists.

Go to work on that "music reading" skill. All the stuff on sight reading should underpin your approach to reading music, even though it is not sight reading after "a couple of attempts". Most importantly, count the rhythms while you tap your foot to a metronome. Then, if you must, say the letter names of the notes in rhythm. However you go about it, reading music is not too challenging if you work at it.

Once your reading has improved (in less than six months of work, I suggest), you will fit into beginner ensembles quite well. (My complaint about these beginner outfits is that they don't use music of sufficient interest, but use too much really, really basic stuff. And that is another story.)

October 23, 2019, 2:55 AM · Hi, I would echo Michael Darton's point - I am a member of a New Horizons orchestra, and it is terrific. It is lots of fun and very motivating.
October 23, 2019, 5:54 AM · If you're into fiddling, see if there's a scottish group nearby - they're more likely to play in different keys and to have seconds and cello/bass parts, and to attract more musicians with classical experience (at least they do in Australia). Swedish and baltic music, when played in it's own tradition, also often has a seconds part as well.
October 23, 2019, 8:19 AM · Thank you for these wonderful ideas. I've looked around the Portland, Oregon, area and I found a couple of community orchestras, however at this point my abilities are still not ready for prime time when it comes to that level of playing. There are several Old Time and Bluegrass jams in the area, and I think I'll continue to drop into those on occasion, as well as a couple of Irish jams at some pubs.

However, I'm toying with another idea that I think would help not only my own playing, bot that of others. Along the lines of Classical Revolution, I'd like to host an open mic afternoon/evening for beginning and intermediate string players. Having played for several years with a guitar and mandolin, I can attest to the fact, to paraphrase Dave Van Ronk, "You can play all you want in your living room, but you can't really perform until you are in front of an audience." The only real way to get out there and play music is to get out there and play music. I see this as a way of getting people to connect.

Looking at the limited performance opportunities there are for players of my skill level - and bowing to the fact that listening to players of my level is often an act of charity mixed with patience and benevolent tact - I'm looking for a local coffee shop that would host something like this once a month. It would be open to kids and adults, and we'd just play what we have and see where it all goes. I mean, we've all got to start somewhere, right?

I've written to a couple of places, and I'm hoping they actually write back.

Again, thank you for your ideas and suggestions.

October 24, 2019, 5:21 AM · Check out your local library and churches for places to have your open-mic events. My local library has a very nice small auditorium which is available for such events for free as long as no admission fee is charged. And many churches will charge a modest fee to rent out their auditoriums (not the sanctuaries) and some will even rent out their sanctuaries for such events. Unitarian churches seem particularly open for such things. If there is a rental fee you can place a basket near the door and ask for good-will donations to help offset the cost.

If it really be an "open mic" will you need amplification? If so you might consider getting a battery powered amp such as the Roland BA330, which uses 8 AA batteries and provides a lot of sound which will be good for smaller events such as you're describing and has 4 channels of input, 2 of which can be mic or instrument and two which are instrument-level inputs only (such as from a keyboard or a guitar with a pickup electric or acoustic). And a mic -- the Shure SM57 has been the go-to mic for performers for decades.

When you advertise your event to attract people of a similar level you'll need some way to filter out the more advanced players who are also looking for a place to play, in order to keep the overall level at your level. If an advanced fiddler gets up and fires away a blazing fast bluegrass solo, nobody who is at a more beginner level (such as it sounds you're at) will want to get and play after that.

October 24, 2019, 7:22 PM · Thanks, David, great ideas!

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