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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 Three

Blending With Other Musicians

Blending -- it's not just for tropical drinks anymore! Seriously, there is only one reason to play with other musicians. It's the blend. Certain instruments and vocal ranges sound good together. There is a distinctly complementary relationship between the timbre and range of a Stratocaster and a Hammond B-3 driving a Leslie Tallboy. Likewise, I find that a classical guitar and a good alto can make the hairs on my arms stand straight up. It's a good thing. Yes, it comes under the attitude, emotional makeup and musical ability headings as well, but I feel there is even more to a good blend. There is a group technique to it, a set of definable guidelines that can put an ensemble on the right path.

 

Listen: To successfully blend with other musicians and vocalists you will have to listen. Sometimes it's painful, but you'll have to listen to yourself as well. We all know that the time to cut your best shred guitar solo is not when your five-foot two-inch tall ninety-eight pound soprano is singing a delicate ballad. It's a bit more subtle than that. So very few musicians outside the highest echelons of professionaldom understand that silence is as eloquent as a bomb blast. Some of the most dramatic and emotionally moving musical moments are either an anticipatory hush or the quiet sob after the scream. Without the contrast... You get the idea.

 

Stylistic Perception: That's the most-easily understood aspect. There are finer points. Style of music will define the rough overall mix. Metal? Drums and bass will be prominent with the guitar and vocalist on an almost equal footing. Of course, they will switch back and forth in what has been described as a duel. How about straight ahead classic rock? Well it's almost the same as metal, but the singer takes on an added importance. In classic rock, the words are of a higher significance than in metal.

The singer in many forms of music is sort of like the diamond in an engagement ring. The setting is only there to hold the stone in place on the wearer's finger. If the setting is too ornate, ostentatious or oversized, it detracts from the beauty of the stone -- the most important part of the ensemble. Now that is MOST forms of music. Rock is more like a school ring. The setting is more heavy and ornate, the stone is set deeply into the setting. Still, the color of the stone is clearly apparent and is easily discerned from the rest of the ring. However, it is still more an integral part of the ring unlike the diamond in the engagement ring. Stylistic perception.

This is also a good rule when discussing the instrumental soloist in the ensemble. When the guitar player, trumpet player, violinist, keyboardist takes a solo, obviously the singer is going to pipe down. What should the rest of the ensemble do? Two words: THIN DOWN. Guitar players: when the keyboardist takes off, this is not the time to go into six string chords. It seems natural to want to 'make up' for the loss of the heavy chord structure the organ may have been laying down, but if he's any good, he probably hasn't been over-fattening anything anyway. Give the keyboard a break and play small two and three note chords, maybe lighten up further by only playing on the heavily accented beats --like the one and (possibly) the three beat in common time. Give the guy some clean air to make a statement in. When he builds to the climax at the end of his solo, you may wish to add more accent, but never to the point where you'll overshadow what he's trying to accomplish. Or you could just play all over his solo -- he'll be certain to return the favor!

This works for all soloists. Lighten up when an instrument is soloing. I perform in a three piece with guitar, drums and bass. When I solo, I like the drummer to ride his cymbals more to make up for the loss of my chording. With the three piece, I have the ability to play a thinner guitar part through the song so that when I drop out for the solo, there is no great loss of sound. In our setting, volume is a friend -- it allows us to fill gaps in instrumentation with more sound. But this is a point for a later discussion.

Understand: what exactly it is you are trying to accomplish. Yes, you already know what genre the piece is. You understand which instrument is prominent. You know where the vocalist will stand in the overall mix. Is the tune a guitar hero solo tune? Is the tune one that requires great finesse on the instrumentalists' part to present the singer in the most flattering light? It is an understanding of what is of most importance to the musical concept you are presenting that will allow you to do a good job of moving your audience. If it is to dance or to tears, it is the entire ensemble's responsibility to know the course to reach the goal. It is possible to be doing something really nice with your part and still be playing all over the more important aspect of the composition.

 

 

 


Part Four: A Unified Language -- Hand signals

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The Classic Guitar Method: 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.





With the aid of a good teacher, the student will rapidly progress through The Classic Guitar Method attaining technical proficiency and musical eloquence.

This method stems from the need to incorporate a number of schools into a single cohesive curriculum. Years of honing a logical approach to the guitar and the creation of music culminate in this volume. As a self-proclaimed Disciple of Valdés-Blain , much of that famed teacher's focus can be found in Mr. Pellegrin's method.

ISBN: 978-1-4116-9442-2

Published by PAB Entertainment Group, P.O. Box 2369 Scotia, New York 12302

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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 LULU.com.
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Classical Guitar

Rock & Roll

(It's Good Stuff!)

The Tourist Column

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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