Orchestral Manoeuvres

What makes a good ensemble? Surprisingly, ability to play well comes a fair way down the list...

Classical guitar is often regarded as a solo instrument. However, it is a shame for guitarists to miss out on the fun of group playing. Musicians also gain valuable skills from learning to play together.

Large guitar ensembles, known as guitar orchestras, require conductors to keep everyone together. Learning to follow a conductor is another useful skill. Unfortunately, most guitarists do not get this chance so make the most of it if you do have the opportunity.

Here is a list of vital skills for the orchestral guitarist:

  • Turn up early. You should be sat down tuned and ready to play at the time your rehearsal starts. Rehearsal time is always limited. A half hour rehearsal will be reduced to fifteen minutes or less if the musicians are not ready to play. 
  • Make sure you have all your music with you. You will most likely have a number of single sheets of music. It is best to buy a folder for your orchestral music to keep it all together.
  • Make sure you can see the conductor over the top of your music stand. You need to watch the conductor constantly. You may find that you can not see them if you are sharing a stand.
  • Do not talk or play your instrument unless directed to do so. Do not ask questions or comment unless it is absolutely necessary. Certainly do not talk to other members of the orchestra.
  • Watch the conductor as much as possible. There will be points in the music where he can help bring you in. He will also be keeping you in time and indicating other changes in the music.
  • Listen to what is going on around you. Are you in time? Does your sound blend with everyone else? The conductor will tell you if not, but you need to be aware of the other musicians.

Finlly, my only comment related to ability:

  • Make sure you know your music before the rehearsal. Rehearsals are not the time for learning the notes. It can be really frustrating to sit through rehearsals where musicians are still trying to learn their parts. Rehearsals are for learning to play the piece together.

Follow these guidelines and your guitar orchestra will make astonishing progress.