Do I have any evidence of emerging technologies improving ensemble skills? Nobody has ever asked me this but I found myself reflecting upon the topic recently as a result of gradual changes in practice. In days gone by, I always began secondary school guitar ensemble rehearsals in Week 1. Increasingly, the result of this was that pieces peaked too soon and so, more recently, I’ve tended to start in week 3 or 4.
The single biggest factor has been pupils being able to access play-along midi files on this blog, facilitating more meaningful home practice. This year I hope to experiment by producing mp3s which pupils can import into their mp3 players. I don’t imagine that they’ll listen for pleasure, but they’ll probably drive their families not quite so far up the wall in households where the family computer is in the living room.
Freed from the rush to begin rehearsals, we have spent a little lesson time trying out a few ensemble pieces for size – playing along with Sibelius scores on a laptop with external speakers attached. This allows pupils to try out not only varied pieces, but different parts within the same piece – with some surprising results. Some pupils have bid for parts more difficult than they would have been allocated – the appeal of the part sweetening the extra practice required. Another surprise is that arrangements, shelved a few years ago as too ambitious for school use, are beginning to seem possible. Pieces with syncopations* and cross rhythms** intended to wrong-foot the listener can have a frighteningly similar effect on some players if sufficient familiarity does not materialise. As most instructors spend only one day in each secondary school, today’s technologies create a space where that familiarisation can take place.
* Int 1 concept ** Int 2 concept