Often when I’m working with an ensemble class, in any type of music, I’ll have to spend a little time focusing on one instrument or one group of instruments. This means there are a few people without anything specific to do for a few minutes. With my younger students this means it’s time to play. While I appreciate the urge to play, working on a difficult concept or passage can be difficult when the room is filled with the sounds of five different instruments all noodling away.

It is not difficult to tell people to stop playing. And I don’t need a reason why, I can just say stop. That’s the alluring myth of power is that you get to just use it and get what you want. But my job is not to have power. My job is to teach, and power is one of the tools a teacher can use. But power shouldn’t be a hammer. Power should be a light that illuminates something for people who can’t already see it. This kind of thinking is probably a good way to start a cult or dictatorship for my purposes I think I’m safe.

So when I tell my eager students to stop playing while I focus on a particular person or instrument, I want to make it clear that we are focusing on the same thing. If we’re in a band then our only goal is to make the band sound good. Sometimes that means practicing our parts, sometimes that means asking good questions, sometimes that means waiting to play until the whole band is ready.

Many students join a band because they want to play their instrument and play in a band. Playing their instrument is easy, playing in a band is hard. Playing in a band requires that you listen to everyone else as much as you listen to yourself. You have to blend with the other instruments and support them by diligently playing your part, and nothing more.

Go on Youtube and watch rehearsals of Orchestra’s and Jazz Big Bands. When the conductor says play, they play. And when the conductor asks the violins to play, only the violins play. That’s how professionals rehearse.

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