Interested in keeping in musical shape this summer? String musicians often miss the camaraderie of school-year rehearsal schedules during the long summer break. Plus, practicing solo becomes boring after a while. That's why the #3 tip in our post, How to Stay in Tune Over Your Summer Vacation is, "get together with friends to practice..."
Forming a summertime string quartet puts that tip in action. Not only does it provide collective energy to keep you motivated, but there are many incredible musical scores written for string quartets, and the skills you learn working within that tight dynamic make you a better, overall player.
Balancing Talent and Personalities
Before you call up all of your favorite friends, remember the goal of forming a string quartet is to further your musicianship. Therefore, it's smart to take a moment and review which players in your school orchestra are best suited to the task.
Ideally, your fellow quartet should:
- Be relatively similar in skill level. A bit of variation in skill is inevitable. However, the most unified sounds emerge when skill levels are more or less within the same strata. This keeps beginning or struggling musicians from feeling overwhelmed or defeated, and it prevents more talented players from being bored, irritated or impatient with the group. Want insider's insight into who's best suited for your string quartet? Email or call your music teacher and see if s/he has any recommendations for fellow instrumentalists who'd be interested.
- Have a strong cellist at the ready. If you aren't the cellist in the group, write your list of favorite cello players who have the skill and personality you desire for the group. The cello serves as the foundation of the sound (like the string bass in a full orchestra). So a weak cellist, one who is insecure with intonation or rhythm makes it impossible for the quartet to sound good.
- Consider using flexible violinists. Typically, the first violinist in any group holds tight to that first violin chair. In this case, however, you are all musicians interested in learning and growing. For that reason, it will serve the student in you best if the first and second violinists are comfortable being fluid between those two parts, taking turns via pieces or various rehearsals to play those fun, lead parts. Over time, if your quartet continues to practice and play together, these roles can be more solidified. Some chamber groups are rigid in their roles, others remain perpetually in flux just for fun.
- Have the same interests and goals for the group. This is where personalities come into play. The group should be aligned in their overall interest and goals for the quartet. Is this just a summer fun group? Are you interested in eventually performing or making money? Is once a week sufficient, or do some members want to meet every day? Forming a group with similar ideas and compatible personalities makes for a more fulfilling experience.
Choose songs by consensus
Odds are four different people have varying musical interests and tastes. For the sake of everyone's fulfillment, work to select pieces that interest the whole. If you can find musical selections you all agree on, that's great. Otherwise, it's wise to take turns bringing well-suited pieces to the table. Even if you aren't keen on a particular composition, it's good to expand your musical know-how and who knows, you might end up liking something you couldn't imagine enjoying when you first got started.
In the effort of saving money and respecting budgets, take advantage of free music resources for musicians, many of which allow to print free scores online. Once there, seek music written and/or arranged for your quartet's skill level so the pieces are attainable, while still providing a bit of a challenge.
Create a clear practice schedule
Treat your quartet seriously – and obtain that same verbal commitment from the members you sign up. You need the quartet to practice with all four parts present, so work collaboratively to select the day(s) and time(s) you'll rehearse – bookmarking any dates already unavailable as the result of family vacations or summer commitments. This way, you won't waste time waiting for someone who "forgot," and the group can get the most from each practice session.
Be prepared to be great
Forming a string quartet for summer may have lasting results. Be prepared to love the experience and for the four of you to continue once school is back in session. In fact, for many music students, chamber-style learning is their preferred mode – making it more fun, allowing them to hear their instrument's "voice" more strikingly within the body of musical sound, and taking the pressure off the solo spotlight.
Congratulations on going the extra mile to improve your musicianship this summer.