I played in a youth orchestra as a child. It was great fun and very important to my development. I'm now a music tutor and encourage my students to play in a group. Some are quite nervous about playing with other people. To address this, I have written down the ways I benefited from playing in an ensemble.
Improve on your instrument
Your tuning improves dramatically from playing in a group. I play the violin and it's amazing how easily you can play out of tune if a finger is even slightly out of place on the string. Once I hadn't done any practice before orchestra and my tuning was awful. The conductor got each violin to play separately until she found out who was out of tune. As you can imagine, my tuning improved significantly after this!
Playing in a group also develops your listening skills. You need to hear what everyone is playing around you to make sure you're in the right place, playing at the right dynamic, etc. The marks in my graded exams were much higher after I joined the orchestra, in part because I started listening much more to the piano accompaniment.
There are many ways your personality develops by playing in an ensemble. For example, youth orchestra changed me from being a shy child to someone with confidence who is comfortable playing in front of hundreds of people. You occasionally play almost by yourself as part of an ensemble and can feel very exposed if you make a mistake. I would normally have shied away from these situations at school and they helped to build my confidence.
Great teamwork is crucial to playing in a group. If you take away any section of an orchestra, it won't function. You have to work together, linking the sound from each section like a jigsaw to make the music that we hear as the audience. This teamwork is always visual. For example, if you watch the string players below, their bowing is completely in sync and everyone is moving their bow in the same direction.
You need to be able to cope with pressure. This is even more pronounced with smaller ensembles, such as a string quartet or jazz band, where each instrument is often playing on their own. If you have the confidence and inner belief to manage these situations, it bodes well for everything you do outside of music. Finally, it takes hard work and determination to achieve a high standard on an instrument and play in a music group. I would say that my discipline now as someone who is self-employed is thanks mainly to my commitment in learning the violin and playing for all those years in an orchestra.
Musical achievements are well respected academically. For example, grade 8 is worth UCAS points when applying to university. Academic institutions recognise the musical and personal qualities needed to play in an ensemble. They are often taken into account when applying to sought after schools and universities.
Boost your music knowledge
It goes without saying that your musical understanding will improve by playing as part of a group. Playing in a youth orchestra is a learning experience and I remember the conductor always stressed the meaning and background behind each piece. I always enjoyed playing In the Hall of the Mountain King, which is about the uproar caused by a crowd of monsters in the hall of the troll king "Dovrengubben". I loved it even more when the conductor read out the words of the composer Edvard Grieg:
I have saved this point until last because I believe it is the most important. Playing music can be a very isolating experience and it is easy to lose enjoyment when you have to practice regularly as a child. I went in and out of love with music for this very reason, always loathe to practice the violin. What I really loved doing was playing in an orchestra and it was through this that my musical appreciation developed. I've always believed that there is no point teaching a student to be a brilliant musician if they give up the moment that lessons stop. Music should always be fun to play and take part in. Playing as part of an ensemble definitely ticks that box!
How to get involved
Hopefully I have now got you a little more interested in joining a music group. If you'd like to give it a go, follow the link to see the ensembles in your local area.
This post was updated on 01 Aug, 2023.