How to play with others?
A student asked me during a recent office hours session, “How to play with others?”
I remember the first time I played violin along with my teacher. I was thrown off by the sound of the piano. You can train yourself to in listening to parallel voices by playing with drones and play-along tracks. In this way you learn to hear your playing as well as what others are doing.
Play an open D note with the D drone above. Shift your attention from the drone to the sound of your own fiddle. Go back and forth. Then try to hear both together. This practice expands your musical awareness. It’s a practice I call active listening.
Extend this practice to more complicated things. Do this in incremental steps. Here’s a path you can follow:
single notes > two-note intervals > scales > tune phrases > tunes
So play the first note of a tune. See if you can shift your attention between what you’re playing and the sound of the drone. Then do this for the first four notes, and then for the first quarter of the tune.
You can use the same practice strategy with play-along tracks. This is a closer step to playing with others.
- Alternate between listening to a phrase and playing it.
- Continuously play a phrase, alternating your attention from the play-along track to your playing. Then see if you can hear both at the same time.
Playing with other people
Here are a few general tips to help you to play with flesh-and-blood human beings.
- Practice the tunes in advance.
- Know and practice the important fiddle scales.
- Warm up before you meet.
- Do this at home before you show up.
- Stretch the body, relax and breathe calmly.
- Do this before, during and after sessions.
- Adopt a casual attitude. Think to yourself:
- This is not a big deal. I’m just hanging out and playing music with friends. I don’t have to set the world on fire with my playing. We’re all here to have a good time together!
Further learning and practice
This micro-lesson is an excerpt from an office hours webinar I gave on May 12, 2020. View the entire live-stream with indexed questions here.
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