Solo vs Chamber Playing

As a music major, I had to play music…a lot. During my last year of college, I was in three large ensembles, one medium chamber group, and I played three other smaller chamber pieces.

I also played solos quite a bit, both with and without the piano. In fact, two of my recital requirements were an unaccompanied piece and a chamber piece.

Killer Harmony | Solo vs Chamber Playing for Musicians | Light grey background with maroon and teal text

Now, I play with a local flute choir and have begun to get involved with music at a local church. There are some similarities and differences when it comes to solo and chamber playing. Both are important to musical development, and you can learn different skills from each.

So, here is my take on these two equally different, equally important genres of music. Solo vs chamber playing!

Solos

Playing a solo, accompanied or not, is hard work. Not every musician will do this, but most serious musicians have played solos before. Solos are the pieces that high schoolers play to audition for their state band. They are the backbone of an instrument’s repertoire.

Solos give musicians the chance to let their creativity shine. They let us bring to light a composer’s vision without having to discuss anything with collaborating artists.

There are all sorts of solo genres out there. The most famous is probably the concerto. This is where a soloist is accompanied by an orchestra. You can also find sonatas for a solo instrument, or sometimes for two.

While those are some of the common types of solos, any piece where a musician has the main melody and is not playing with a few other musicians counts as a solo.

If you have to play an audition for a music group or for entrance into college, solo music is your best bet. Most audition committees will not want to hear a second violin part or a fourth trumpet part.

Chamber

The term chamber music comes from where the genre originated: a chamber, or room. Chamber music started out in small venues and only a few musicians would play. Now it has become its own genre, and we still play music in this way, just on a bigger stage.

One of the best parts of chamber music is getting to work with your fellow musicians to combine everyone’s ideas. You aren’t (usually) at the liberty of a teacher or director. You get to decide where to get louder or when to take a piece a little faster.

This past year, I played a few flute duets with my professor, and while I enjoyed them, I also liked playing with my peers. I was part of a flute quartet, and I also played a duet with a friend who plays bassoon.

When I worked with my fellow students, we were able to have a discussion about the piece. Our professors were able to give us feedback, but the piece was up to us to work on and perform.

Of all the possible group projects you could have in school, I think chamber music is the best.

One or the other?

Do you have to choose between solo and chamber playing? Absolutely not!

I think that some people tend to be stronger in one area, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do both. There are some things you can only gain from solo playing and others from chamber playing.

Being able to play both solo and in a group means you will have more chances to play and perform. You can share your music with more people, and you can learn about more wonderful works.

Chamber music can teach you team work skills, and solo playing can give you confidence in front of crowds. Small group work is almost inevitable no matter the career you pursue. A reasonable dose of confidence will make you believe in yourself a little more, again, no matter what you do.

The great thing about both of these genres of playing is that where one genre lacks, the other excels. You learn how to work with others in a chamber group, and you learn how to work alone with solos.

Related: Solo vs Chamber Playing by YouTuber JustAnotherFlutist

My preference

Before I state what I prefer, I have to disclose that this is just my opinion. I love both solo and chamber playing, and I would not give up either of them. So, without further ado…

I prefer solo playing.

Why? You ask. Well, there are multiple reasons. 1) I can be controlling and a perfectionist. Solos allow me to rely only on myself. 2) I played piano first. While plenty of pianists play with others, I never did. I was always playing solo music for piano. 3) I’m a Leo. If you happen to believe astrology, Less are confident and like center stage. Such is life, I guess.

And just because I prefer solo playing, that doesn’t mean I hate chamber playing. I do love playing with others. It’s just that solo playing is a slight preference I have.

My preference could also depend on the music. I would rather play a French-romantic duet with bassoon than an unaccompanied flute piece that uses microtones. (no offense if you’re into that… :P)

So…

There are a lot of things to consider when it comes to the debate of solo and chamber playing. I don’t think there is a clear winner. Each person is more than able to have their preference.

If you prefer one or the other, which one is it? Why do you prefer it? Let me know in the comments!

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Playing Music in a Community Group

Over this past year, I have gotten to experience playing music in a few different community ensembles. Playing music in a community group is a great way to play regularly if you are not in school or a professional musician.

Killer Harmony | Cover image | light grey background with text Playing in a community group (in maroon) for musicians (in teal)

With my recent decision to keep music as a hobby, I love being able to still play with others in some capacity. I have played with two different community orchestras and also two different community flute choirs.

Now, one of each of those I received college credit for, but the experience was still the same, aside from the grades. So I wanted to tell you about what it’s like especially if you have graduated from college and no longer have access to school groups.

1. Everyone has different backgrounds.

In a more serious group, you tend to have members who all have similar backgrounds in music. All music majors or grads, long-time lesson students, etc.

When you play in a community group, things will be different. You will have serious music students, music graduates, adult beginners, and other amateur players.

I have met people with masters degrees in music and people who just love playing for the fun of it. So, that means that you may not be able to play the most advanced repertoire even if you are a more advanced player. Keep that in mind before you judge the choices of the pieces. Some music may be out of reach for others.

2. Rehearsals are still important.

Just because you are not playing for money or a grade does not mean that you can blow off rehearsals. You are still in an group that will have performances, and you need to take it seriously.

You still need to prepare ahead of time, and you still need to be a part of the group. Music is an awesome hobby to have, but it being a hobby is no excuse for blowing it off.

If everyone had a so-so mindset about rehearsals, nothing would get done. Plain and simple. You are still, again, working toward a performance, and you (should) want the performance to go well.

3. Do it because you love it.

Community groups will be different from student groups. In student ensembles, like pro ensembles, everyone has a similar background, even between music majors and non-majors.

Playing music with other members of the community is pretty different. You will have people who have played for decades and people who have only played for a few months. I have met a couple of adult beginners and adult re-beginners (people who stopped playing for a while).

This means the music might be of a different level than if you were playing with other serious students and players. The “hard” parts may be not as hard or you may not get to play more challenging pieces. That’s okay, though, because you still get to play.

4. Some groups have membership dues.

Now for the groups where I was a student member, I had to pay tuition, which could count as a membership fee. But of the groups I joined as a community member, one is free (though I was accepted based on credentials) and the other does have membership dues.

Dues can be annoying, but they can help make the group better by providing resources such as better music. It takes money to run any sort of group so when a group doesn’t have the backing of a college or university or other entity, it can be hard to grow without membership dues.

I was a bit shocked when I found out one of the groups I wanted to join had a fee, but I understand that the money will not just be thrown around randomly.

5. It’s an opportunity to play and perform.

If you aren’t a professional musician, it can be hard to find performance opportunities. Sure you can practice and play on your own at home, but that can get boring over time.

Joining a community group guarantees that you will have the opportunity to perform regularly with others. You can seek out solo opportunities, but if you prefer playing with others, community groups are a great way to perform.

I was in a community orchestra this past summer, and we had three concerts in six weeks. The rehearsals were tough, but I got to perform. I believe that it is important to practice the skills you have. If I don’t keep performing, I could lose that confidence I gained in school.

6. It’s fun!

Yes, it is different than any other group you have played with, but it is still music. I can still do the thing I love and share my passion for music with others. I can even share my musical knowledge with other musicians!

Just in the last couple of weeks, I was able to recommend different resources to different people. I loved seeing their faces light up when learning something new.

While music may not be my profession, it is still a passion of mine, and I love being able to play and have the excuse to keep up with my flute and piccolo.

So…

There you have it! Six things I have learned from playing music in community groups. It is its own experience, but I think every musician should give it a try.

Have you ever played in a community group? What was your experience like? Leave a comment below and don’t forget to subscribe for exclusive content sent to your inbox!

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Is Blogging My Career?

Now that I have been out of college for a few years (excuse me…months), it is time for me to start my career. I have kept up with this blog and have increased my posting frequency, because I have had more time.

I have contemplated blogging for a living, and I have searched for jobs and clients. It has been hard, and I would love a career in digital media. However, I need to be realistic. I need to find a way to make money and to start my career sooner rather than later.

Killer Harmony | Is Blogging My Career? | Graduating college has made me really think about what I want out of my career. Is blogging for me? Is music for me? Here are my thoughts.

In a way, it does feel like I have given up on a dream. Two dreams: blogging and music.

But I like to look at it as finding a new dream. A dream that involves what I love about blogging and playing music, but not in those fields.

I love working with people and communicating with others. Working with the public is stressful, but I do enjoy it. If I were to hole myself up at home or in some other office box, I wouldn’t be happy. That’s why I love performing; I get to be in front of people and to entertain them.

The skills I have learned from my music degree and from this blog will transfer with me no matter where I end up. There are so many transferable skills in music, I even wrote a blog post about it. So I won’t list those skills here.

Related: Transferable skills for musicians

What now?

This does not mean that I am going to quit blogging or quit playing music. We all need things to do in our off time, and I love having multiple things that fit that need. It means that if I don’t feel like playing flute one day, I can write a blog post.

If I don’t want to write a blog post, I can play some music.

I am still extremely happy with my decision to major in flute performance. It will not lead me directly to any sort of full time job, but that’s okay. I love being able to use this blog as a way to communicate other skills that I have.

I can write and edit written content. I can create basic graphic images and can create templates for them.  Blogging allows me to create content to educate people all over the world. I can speak to a bigger audience.

The point is that I don’t plan on quitting any time soon, but it will probably become a hobby or a side gig.

A new dream

I have had to think long and hard about what I want to do now, and I don’t even know if I should publish this post. What I do know is that I want to work with others and to help or entertain people in some way.

I love being able to make someone’s day, either by playing flute or simply complimenting them. It could be as small as helping a customer finish their errand a little bit faster.

I know it sounds general, but working with people, and also with technology, is what I really enjoy. Yes, I am introverted, but I work well with others one on one or in small groups. That comes from my experiences in music school.

So while I may not be able to pick out a single dream job, I do know what I want to do and how I work best.

I want you reading this to know that it is okay for dreams and plans to change. We can’t plan for this kind of thing.

Keeping up with me

I do plan to continue blogging about music, but I want to include more content that is relevant to amateur and semi-pro musicians. Music is a tough industry, and it can be a smart choice to keep music as a fun thing.

Please take a look through the archives and if you have any questions that I haven’t answered, comment below and I would love to write a blog post about it (music or career related, of course).

So…

I know this isn’t the type of post I normally write, but I wanted to write it so that if you feel this way, you can get some sense of okayness. It can be very hard to set your dreams aside, but sometimes it is necessary in order to have a better life.

Let me know what you think about dreams and choosing what to follow (or not). And don’t forget to subscribe for exclusive ┬ámusic tips and tricks sent straight to your inbox!

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Playing Unaccompanied

For singers and instrumentalists (other than pianists), an accompanist is almost always required for competitions and performances. At least, if you are playing a solo. However, there are a few pieces of unaccompanied music that are important, too.

Killer Harmony | Playing Unaccompanied | Unless you are a pianist, playing unaccompanied music might be new to you. But it's important. Here are some tips for solo playing and my favorite pieces!

I, personally, love playing unaccompanied music. Maybe that is because of my strong piano background, or maybe I’m just…self centered…? Who knows, but I truly enjoy making music and being the only one on stage.

So, I wanted to write a post about playing unaccompanied music and give you all some tips for when you have to play alone.

1. It’s all on you.

If you are playing an unaccompanied work, it’s up to you to do your best and to entertain the audience. That can be stressful, but it can also be rewarding.

On one hand, you don’t have someone to catch you if you get something wrong, but on the other hand, you don’t have to worry about anyone else messing up.

You can rehearse the music as much as you need to, and you don’t have to schedule times with an accompanist. If you aren’t progressing as quickly as you thought, it is easy enough to up your rehearsal time on that piece.

2. The skill of performing alone can translate to other venues.

If you are good at performing alone, performing in a group will become much easier. Once you are comfortable on stage by yourself, a band or orchestra performance won’t seem so scary.

Performing by yourself can also build your confidence in other ways. It can help with your stage etiquette and performance. Solo performance can also help you get over general stage fright and fear of being in front of crowds.

It is just one more amazing way of getting experience with performing on your instrument.

3. You can learn more music.

There are so many pieces out there that are written for solo flute or solo violin or solo cello. If you limit yourself to music that is accompanied, you lose out on a big part of repertoire.

For flutists, the JS Bach Partita in A minor and Debussy’s Syrinx are two examples of important, unaccompanied flute music. If I wasn’t comfortable on stage without someone else, I wouldn’t of had the pleasure of including each of these pieces into a solo recital.

There are six unaccompanied suites for cello written by Bach, and serious cellists are expected to know them all well. The more music you know and can play, the more versatile you become.

4. You might have to perform alone.

If you are a music major, odds are you have to perform a degree recital at some point. If your school is anything like mine was, one of the recital requirements is an unaccompanied piece.

Or if you ever perform for a masterclass or an audition, you may not be able to bring an accompanist. There are some instances in music where you have to play by yourself, and that is a good thing.

You can learn more by listening to yourself without the influence of outside factors, like other musicians.

Now, for my favorite unaccompanied works.

If you want to look into unaccompanied music, check out these pieces. They are so good, and I am sure you will love them.

Bach, J.S. Partita in A minor

I played this piece on my junior recital, and while it seems very technical, there is something about it that I just love. The Baroque style comes through a lot in this piece, and I really think every flutist should learn it at some point.

Debussy Syrinx

Syrinx is based on the love story of Pan and Syrinx, where Syrinx runs away from Pan and into the forest. Syrinx then hides by shapeshifting into some weeds. Pan finds these weeds and crafts a flute that he begins to play. The ending is marked by Pan’s realization that he has killed his love.

It sounds morbid, but the sounds Debussy wrote are so awesome. This is one of those pieces that should be memorized if at all possible, because Pan is improvising, basically.

Ibert Piece

I played this piece for my final flute studio recital, and I have to say that I really love it and the story behind it. The piece was written by Ibert after the premier of his flute concerto; it was basically an encore.

Telemann Fantasias

Telemann’s 12 fantasias for solo flute are great works to play for solo gigs. They are each their own work, but they can be strung together as part of a larger program.

These pieces are also a good introduction to the piccolo, because the range is well within that of a beginner. It doesn’t go too high or low, which makes the piccolo a lot less intimidating.

Read More: Flutists, Should You Play Piccolo?

Bach, CPE Sonata in A minor

This sonata has three movements, and is typical of the later Baroque style. If you want something to contrast the Partita by JS Bach, this is the piece for you. I have been working on this sonata, and it is hard, but fun.

So…

Those are my tips for playing without an accompanist as well as my favorite unaccompanied flute pieces! If you have any other tips or favorites, comment below!

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How to Survive College Band Camp

It’s August, and that means that the new marching season is almost here. I marched in my university band in college. Through my time in band, I have learned a little about how to survive college band camp.

Killer Harmony | How to Survive College Band Camp | With the month of August comes another year of band camp. Marching band can be a lot of work, so here are some tips for getting through it easily!

Band camp can be exhausting, but it is necessary to prepare for the semester ahead. Most college marching bands memorize all of their music, and it can be hard to do that without an extra week of focused practice and rehearsals.

Here are some of my tips and tricks and well as the gear you need to survive marching band camp.

1. Have a water bottle at all times.

Whether you are rehearsing outside or inside, you need to be drinking water as much as you can. In most parts of the country, August is a hot month. If you are outside without drinking enough water, you can suffer from dehydration and other health problems.

If you are worried about more trips to the bathroom, you will sweat enough, so that shouldn’t be a problem. So show up to rehearsals and sectionals with a full water bottle.

Odds are, there will be a jug of water that you can refill from, but you shouldn’t rely on the band to provide water for you. Come prepared.

2. Use sun protection.

It doesn’t matter if you have light or dark skin, you need to protect yourself from the sun. Apply sunscreen, wear hat, and put on some protective clothing.

If you are outside during peak sun hours, this is even more important. The last thing you want, aside from dehydration, is a bad sunburn. It can be easily avoided with the proper precautions.

I was a little lazy with this last year, but don’t follow my lead. It takes a couple of minutes to apply a layer of sunscreen, and a hat should be worn anyway.

3. Use the best instrument you can.

While you definitely should save your highest quality instrument for inside, don’t neglect your marching instrument. If you will be marching with your own instrument, make sure it doesn’t need any repairs.

If you have to march with a school owned instrument, get to campus and check in with the band as soon as you can so that you can try multiple instruments and get the one you want.

The good school instruments go first, so you don’t want to be stuck with the cheapest one that hasn’t been repaired in years. The better your instrument, the easier the season will go.

4. Get enough sleep.

It can be tempting to spend your late nights watching Netflix, but try and sleep at a reasonable time. Odds are you will have to wake up pretty early for band camp, and your day will be long.

You don’t have to go to bed as soon as the day is done, but shoot for about 8 hours of sleep if you can. Band camp is tiring, and the heat doesn’t help. Take advantage of your time and sleep.

Your body will thank you.

5. Eat enough.

If you live on campus, you probably won’t have access to dining services just yet. You might have to eat take out for a few days, but make sure you do eat something.

Food is fuel, and you need that fuel to keep you going during a whole day of rehearsals and sectionals. Don’t hesitate to pack a small snack bar in your bag in case you get hungry. You can then eat it quickly during a break.

Even if you don’t feel hungry, you still need to eat enough food for your body. If you can eat healthy foods, great. If not, do your best to eat foods that will fill you up and give you energy.

6. Use your breaks wisely.

This goes off of the tip for sleep above. If you have a lunch or dinner break, enjoy your time off, but be smart. When you have some time on your hands, see if you can work on memorizing a section of your music.

While sectionals are devoted to memorizing music, you can’t work too much on memorizing. One thing I did during sectionals was play from memory even when I didn’t “have” to.

If we had one more chance to look at the music, I would still try to play as much from memory as I could. That helped solidify the music for me, and I was able to play it with more confidence.

7. Know where you can/want to store your instrument.

If you will be marching piccolo or another small instrument, you can use your own bag or backpack. Some larger instruments might even have their own storage closet.

However, if you will be marching saxophone or mellophone, or another midsize instrument, have a plan for storing your instrument. Will you keep it in your dorm? Can you check out a locker in the music building?

Also be flexible. The layout of my university’s campus had my dorm much closer to the stadium, with the music building a bit out of the way. If I had to start at the stadium, I would make sure to have my piccolo in my room the night before so that I wouldn’t have to waste time going to the music building.

8. Have fun!

Band camp is an amazing way to make friends and have fun playing music. Marching band is a lot of work, but the social aspect (and the music), makes it worth it.

I know that when I was new to campus, band camp allowed me to meet a lot of people that would later be in some of my other classes. Those friendly faces made the semester go much easier.

So, have fun!

So…

Have you gone to college band camp before? Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments!

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