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.

Play-along tracks

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

Passive And Active Listening

What are the best scales to learn on the fiddle?

Play It Casual

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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2 responses to “How to play with others?

  1. Thanks so much, Jason…..Great advice and yes, listening has definitely been a different experience after learning an instrument. Number one for me, listening has increased my appreciation of all music in every genre so so much, knowing what it takes to become proficient in an instrument to even have to opportunity to play in a group. And number two, I am able to hear the individual parts on their own and in the whole. To get the chance to play a small part in a bigger piece of music, is pure joy. Has brought a tear to my eye from time to time,

    Thanks again,

  2. It’s strange being asked that question as I commented to a friend a couple of days ago that since I’ve started to practice the fiddle, I was hearing other music differently. I started to hear components of music that I’d been unaware of previously. I started hearing individual instruments rather than just a single sound. It’s mostly classical music that I listen to so it’s quite an odd experience shutting off some parts and just tuning into some others. When I made my comments, I wasn’t sure whether this was a good thing or not. Maybe I was losing the ability to listen to the whole thing. On reflection, I think it’s a good thing as you can listen to music and tune in just as you can eat good food and savour the individual flavours that you experience if you concentrate.
    I use your play along tracks quite a lot which I find really helpful but continue to have trouble getting the volume balance with my fiddle right. I’ve tried headphones and speakers but I’m still working on it. More practice needed!