Ensembles - A Guide to Ensure your Outdoor Ensemble Performs and Sounds the Best

We’ve recently launched a range of outdoor musical instrument ‘ensembles’ for musicians of every ability. Designed to save our customers money when ordering a group of instruments and to help ensure the combination of instruments sound harmonious and complimentary, these ensembles are a great way to get your outdoor music project moving quickly and easily.

An ensemble is defined as a group of people or musicians playing instruments and performing together. Playing music with others is very different from playing on your own and an ensemble allows players to experiment with different sounds, playing techniques and to practice improvisation. Different instruments playing together can sound great just by virtue of the inherent differences in their character and sound. However as we hear and learn the different kind of sound each instrument makes, we can then find ways of using these sounds in more exciting ways. By listening and paying close attention to each other and making the best use of the opportunities that combining the instruments provide, we can find ourselves having musical experiences on an entirely different level.

If you want to sound good together and keep your improv from descending into chaos, you need to keep together. In that proverbial nutshell, here are four ways to help you and your ensemble perform and sound the best you can.

Firstly, keeping your ears open and listening to each other is crucial. In most musical situations, listening is the principle element of creating a great sound, but is often the hardest to remember! Fundamental to all ensemble playing is the ability to listen to the other musicians almost more than you listen to yourself. Nothing can sound harmonious if it fights with the rest of the music, and it’s no fun playing with someone who is not listening to the other players and insists of doing their own thing. After all, isn’t listening what it's all about?! We play music for it to be listened to and when you play in an ensemble the sensation is heightened: you can feel the other players listening to you and answering back. When the funky beat you started is responded to by the other players there's a connection impossible to describe!

Another fundamental issue to keep an ensemble's performance together is rhythm. Good, tight rhythm feels supported, sometimes effortless, sometimes even elevating. To achieve this, it can be helpful to select one person to provide a background rhythm for the ensemble, one whose rhythmic sense is the most consistent, and then all follow them. Once the rhythm is set, your harmonies can be improvised on top of it.

Try experimenting and getting creative with dynamics. Playing all out, all the time is not only monotonous but exhausting to play! There are many ways to use dynamics to make your music more interesting. What happens when you get louder, softer, faster or slower? Change the dynamics all together, or individually. Think about the natural volume of the different instruments within the ensemble. Lowering the volume of the louder instruments, such as the rainbow samba or conga drums to accentuate the softer instruments such as the Cadenza or Babel Drums can make an enormous difference to your overall sound.

Finally there is nothing that will make your ensemble sound better and more professional than a bold beginning, a dynamic ending and plenty of energetic transitions inbetween. Beginnings are essential - they have to set the tempo, introduce the mood and compel people to keep listening. Transitions are important in making sure your arrangement runs smoothly. They help shift energy between sections and make sure that energy remains fluid. Lastly, no matter how good the music is, it eventually has to end and everyone loves a good ending! End solidly, together and triumphant; don't just fade out.

A great ensemble makes maximum use of the opportunities created by combining these different instruments and then improvising some fabulous musical adventures around them. However, the most unusual and exciting musical ideas often arise simply from people who are enjoying playing together, taking risks, trusting each other, and generally having an awesome time. Every performance, no matter how big or small, planned or spontaneous is an opportunity to discover music and who you are as a musician. So get together, listen, enjoy and find exciting ways to play together with style. Be positive and have fun!

Practice for perfection but perform for pure enjoyment.

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