Playing together is part of a musician’s job, probably the funniest.

Nowadays, however, the number of people who play on their own at home is increasing, and the pandemic contributed for sure. Many people just prefer to play in their rooms instead of looking for a band for many reasons, and this is a way as any other to experience music, but there are some things you just can’t learn until you play with other musicians. 

The first thing that comes to me is that arrangements and ideas are not limited by the fact you’re just one person trying to figure out everything. But I’m just scratching the surface, there are many more reasons that make ensemble music important enough to be a subject in music schools, focused on different things than more traditional subjects like, for example, music theory or instrument techniques.

What am I talking about? Let’s see the reasons why playing together is so important.

| When we play with other musicians we have to consider things we don’t need to care about when we’re alone, like others’ timing | 

Timing. We have to pay attention to the time every time we play, but listening to other musicians’ time is a skill you learn only when you play with real musicians.

When you play in a rehearsal room, in fact, you don’t have a metronome or a backing track to follow, but you have to build something with other people and make it work. To do this you need to listen to the others and understand their timing and groove. That’s true especially for bass players and drummers, who have to create together a stable floor for others to move on, that is usually called the “glue” that keeps the band together.

Dynamics too are fundamental in a musical context, and it’s easy to not consider them when we play alone.
When I was a teenager and I played in my high school’s music lab, I remember we used to play songs with the maximum energy all the time, whether they were rock songs or pop ballads, until our teacher started to conduct us like an orchestra. He made us realise the difference between a tasteless group of notes and a song only with dynamics.

| Dynamics have an effect on sound and instruments interweaving, and the only way to experiment their real power is in an ensemble situation |

Your instrument’s role. Every instrument was born with a role depending on its frequencies, its extension and what kind of of music it was made to play, besides what kind of instrument it is (strings, plucked, percussions…). 

It doesn’t mean we must follow that path if we don’t want to, but being aware of what your instrument was born for gives you more means to understand how many possibilities you have. 

Giving space to the others. When you play alone you’re the lead actor, and everything is about you, your technical abilities and your language. But if you keep this attitude in an ensemble situation you risk to fall into overplay. You’re not alone and you must learn to give space to others, and this is true for every instrument. There are many ways to do that: first of all, listen to the ensemble and recognise when you can exceed and when you have to fly down instead. If someone else is playing a solo, it could be not the right moment to play one yourself.

Responsibility. Ensemble music makes you responsible. Your results as a band depend on every member’s work, and everyone has to be prepared to not waste his and others’ time. We’re always encouraged to get better to make a better work.

All the reasons I mentioned are valuable and important, and help us to grow as musicians.
But what I find most fascinating when I play with other people is their vision. Every person has his own way to hear music, to feel and experience it, and this of course has an influence on their playing and it’s the reason why every musician has his sound and groove. Playing with other people opens your mind to a world of possibilities, visions you’ve never imagined, and it can be a great stimulation for your creativity. 

| All these different visions create a unique ensemble, consisting of collaborations between different people and instruments, that you could never reach alone | 

Had you ever thought about it?

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See you in two weeks,