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Ensemble Techniques

Personal, Musical, Professional and Emotional Connections


Every player, regardless of style or experience level, will eventually find himself in a position where he will either want or need to play with other musicians in an ensemble setting. This can be in a blues band, with a string quartet, as part of a metal outfit or as an accompanist with another instrument or singer. People outside the business of making music have a number of misconceptions about playing with others. Unfortunately many musicians bring these same misconceptions along with them to the ensemble. Our goal as musicians shouldn't be to blindly throw ourselves into the business with the thought that we'll more than likely be ground up and spat back out. Our goal is to rise above the poseurs and achieve something grander, be it artistically or financially. I'd like to relate some hard-learned lessons and some common sense, then team them all up with some basic ensemble performance technique.


Part Two

Basic Rehearsal Etiquette

Nothing will indicate your level of professionalism like the way you handle yourself in the rehearsal room. Notice, nothing there is said about performance or playing ability. There are many people who make their living playing music who are total losers when it comes to correct professional deportment -- they survive on pure talent. There are more less-than-perfect players who also make a living at music. Key to their success is the reputation they have made for being professional at what they do -- how they handle themselves and how they treat their co-workers.

Professionalism and proper deportment can be broken down into some rather simple rules based on a ridiculously simple concept. This concept? Treat others the way you'd want to be treated. The rules? Read on.

1.) Punctuality. Nothing says "I don't care" to the rest of the performers in your ensemble like showing up late or totally blowing off a rehearsal without calling. If you were relying on someone to show up for an appointment, you'd be upset if they waltzed in an hour or two late or didn't show at all. Punctuality as a musician doesn't just mean walking through the door with thirty seconds to spare, it means getting to the rehearsal room early enough to set, up, tune up, warm up and relax for a few minutes before the rehearsal actually begins. This type of punctuality is what garners call-backs for pick-up musicians and the lack of this punctuality is what kills repeat business for otherwise dynamite players. The phone is a wonderful thing and cell phones make life even easier. If you're running late -- even if you'll arrive on time but not with enough time to set up, call ahead. Let the organizers know you'll be late. This lends credibility to you.

2.) Control. Nothing to with either your temper or your bladder, the type of control that people appreciate is the one where you control your instrument. Once you have quietly warmed up, don't go into a thirty minute drum solo or trumpet solo or shred guitar fest while other musicians are trying to set up, tune up and warm up. Nothing says "$%@#! yourself " like your dazzling and dazzlingly loud solo while someone is furiously trying to tune a twelve string guitar! Control your creativity. Everyone wants to hear what you'll contribute to the ensemble, just not while they're trying to think!

3.) Communication. "I speak with my instrument!" Yes, you do. So keep it limited to just that very thing! Rehearsal time is not the time to gossip, exchange anecdotes, recipes, tips or jokes. It is not the time to boast of sexual prowess, offer marital advice or otherwise engage in conversation having little if anything to do with the business at hand. When the music stops (for whatever reason) the tongues don't have to start moving. Unless the musician has a specifically musical question to ask the leader of the rehearsal, the lips stay zipped, the ears open. Nothing is more annoying to the leader than extra noise, be it instrumental doodling or extraneous conversation. Silence is the canvas upon which we as musicians paint. Having someone spray graffiti all over this canvas as soon as you've put your brush down is nothing less than vandalism. Communicate only when necessary and keep the conversation on topic -- the rehearsal.

4.) Authenticity. Don't tell tall tales. If you can't play the Minute Waltz in fifty-eight seconds, don't tell the band that you can! Don't exaggerate your prowess. A humble performer is a performer that others want to work with. Like any other committee concept, the band is a team, neither as weak nor as strong as it's weakest or strongest member, but able to transcend these limitations through the strength of unity. A band is a synergism -- IF no one feels the need to be a star. A strong performer -- and one who knows just how special he or she is -- can be a real detriment to an ensemble. Even if he or she is absolutely brilliant, no one listening to the results at a concert, bar or dance, is going to want to listen to them all night long. No heroes. No exaggerations, No bullcrap. Honesty will win the day, the gig, and the call-back.


Okay, you've arrived early enough to set up, tune up, warm up, and relax. You are waiting quietly for the rehearsal to start. You are focused on the music, you are waiting for the rehearsal leader to, well, lead. The leader wants to start with a tune you know inside out and backwards. Why do we have to play this thing? Which leads us to...


5.) Submission. We have been geared to think of ourselves as being Number One -- my needs, my wants, my desires, my ideas, my way. Ain't so in an ensemble. If you are fortunate enough to have someone who leads the band and the rehearsals, you have to give that person the reigns to lead. Having a pissy attitude because the leader wants to rehearse a tune you know so well... Who are you? Maybe the other guys in the band don't have the same confidence and ease with the tune. Maybe the leader heard something you missed the last time you played that tune. Cut the leader some slack and be submitted to the authority the band has granted this person. Play that piece like you mean it, like you enjoy it, and with a good attitude.

6.) Attitude. What is your attitude about the band, the leader, the material? Do you like the music? Great. Do you hate the music? Well, sometimes you'll find yourself playing either a tune you don't like or even a number of tunes in a style you dislike. Do you stand or sit there and frown the whole time, expending as little effort as possible until you get to something you like? Do you have a serious puss on? Look bored? Angry? Don't worry about it! You are not long for this ensemble, your attitude will remove you. No one wants to be around a prima donna. Lighten up. Look like you're having fun -- that's what an audience wants to see, not some holier-than-thou 'artist' having a hissy fit. Grow up. Even if you don't like the tune, find something to appreciate. Does the rhythm have any intricacies? Does another ensemble member cut a terrific solo? There has to be something you can cling to that will allow you to look something less than miserable. Find it!



Part Three: The BLEND

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  LOW END  By Harry George Pellegrin.  The first in the Gary Morrissey series of mysteries.  Dealing with modern subject matter in the classic style of the 1940's Mystery Noire masters--think Raymond Chandler in New York in the 1980's...  LOW END is the story of a drug addict who is murdered after he believes he has found evidence of a major government conspiracy.  Is it only drug-induced paranoia?  Might be, except his paranoia could be considered justified: he was murdered, after all.  Friend Gary Morrissey takes it upon himself to find out just what happened and lands himself in the crosshairs.
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Classic Guitar Method  Composed, written, transcribed, edited and arranged by Harry G. Pellegrin: Now in one volume, much of what the novice classical guitarist will need to know to lead him or her to the recital stage. From proper instrument care and maintenance to the necessary technical skills, musical mind-set, and the standard repertoire—all exposed and explored with enough detail and insight that the student will wish to keep this book handy years to come as a ready reference source.
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DEEP END: The Wreck of the Eddie Fitz  By Harry George Pellegrin. A mystery novel. Involving a semi-professional musician and a Kreyol death cult, DEEP END takes the reader from the bottom of Long Island Sound to the steamy streets and Blues clubs of New Orleans. Alternative spirituality does battle with the common working man.  Published by PAB Entertainment Group in association with
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Deep End is the exciting sequel to the first Gary Morrissey novel Low End. Spanning the gap between Haiti, New York and New Orleans, Deep End is an exciting tale of smuggling, rock n' roll, love and murder.


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