• Over the years, we occasionally hear from students or their parents that the child finds the ensemble music too easy.  We hope that this post will help explain why we program the concert music at the level we do and how a student of the FYO should approach the study and practice of the ensemble music for the overall good of the orchestra and for themselves individually.

    First, being able to read the notes easily doesn’t mean that a student is playing them well.  Note reading is only one aspect of being a musician and therefore is only one factor in successfully performing a piece of music.  Have the student answer the following questions:

    1. Are you playing every note perfectly in tune, with correct articulation and dynamics?
    2. Is your form perfect as you play your music?  Is your left hand in perfect position?  Is your bow hold perfect, bow arm perfect, bow use perfect?
    3. Do you have artistry in your playing?  Are the notes you’re playing full of life and finesse or are they flat and heavy?
    4. Is your musical contribution to the group helping to lead and advance the artistry of the music?

    Also, a student might be able to play a part individually, but playing with an ensemble, where one must adjust and take into account how everything fits together, is a completely separate skill that stands on its own and is learned with much practice over time.  Students must learn how to move their bows up and down together with their section and must understand how their part contributes to the overall musical mission of the piece. These valuable skills can ONLY be acquired in the VERY short time (one hour per week) that they have playing TOGETHER in the classroom.

    Accessible Music Benefits Everyone, Makes Artistry Possible

    When a student declares that the music is too easy, they are saying that they think they are a better player than they really are.  This student hasn’t figured out the benefit of playing easier music in an ensemble: it provides an opportunity for a group level of artistry to be achieved that could not happen with harder music.  If some students in an ensemble are struggling to play notes, then artistry is nothing more than a concept.  But, if the notes are accessible, and if everyone learns their part, then ensembles can actually become vehicles for the highest levels of musical and artistic expression.  Students who think the music is too easy should spend their ensemble rehearsal time perfecting form, intonation, bowing, shifting, entrances, timing, rhythms, and any other aspects of their musicianship that will add to and enhance the overall performance of the group.

    We place students in different levels in order to optimize both the students’ and the ensembles’ success.  In FYO at present there are no students whose playing level is so high that they are “too advanced” for the music of their ensemble level.  Music for ensembles is selected in order to challenge the members and offer the ensemble the potential to sound excellent at performance time.  Although there may be simpler passages or phrases in the music, overall, the difficulty level of each piece is selected for the potential success of the entire group.

    No Short Cuts to Better Playing or Confidence

    The FYO is set up so that students can progress upwards through the playing levels as they gain skills and expertise on their instruments.  Each level that a student passes through must be mastered before they can move up.  There are no shortcuts in this process.  No one can skip a level without losing out on what is to be learned while at that level.

    Confidence in a musician is born from skill acquisition, which is only achieved through constant and repetitive practice.  There are no short cuts to playing better; one must be able play the music at the level they are at before tackling harder music.  When a student is able to say “this is fairly easy music for me, but I still have lots of things to work on as I learn to play it perfectly”, then it will be clear that this student understands and is committed to how the process of improvement really works.