How to Start a Family Band
This article covers some of the basic ways to get an ensemble started amongst siblings and/or friends. You don’t have to reach a certain level of proficiency to be able to participate and benefit from the experience, but with some guidelines for arranging, the results can be fabulous!
As an in-home piano teacher, I see lots of families with multiple students in one household. Many times, they are siblings with usually two to three students taking lessons back-to-back with me, or in some cases, the families are neighbors and have the students meet in one location for their lessons. Regardless of the exact scenario, it is clear to me, as a teacher, that these combinations of young musicians who can easily work on pieces together lend themselves to great ensemble possibilities.
In Lessons In Your Home’s Spring Recital this year, I had two different sets of students, who were either family or neighbors, ask if they could perform a duet or a piece with a combo of three players for the finale of the next year’s recital. I was so excited in that moment that I would be able to share the experience of ensemble playing with these students and that they would have the opportunity to work with a peer on music, not just me. Students love the idea of playing with other musicians that are around their age, too, because the idea of playing in a band or a music group is so magnified by popular culture and music. I’m pretty certain that all musicians have at least a small part of them that wants to be in a band, and whether the stepping stone is playing a classical piano duet, or your own arrangement of an Ed Sheeran song with others, they are all working toward being able to communicate effectively with other musicians and a common goal.
So how do you start a family band?
- Consider the players/performers. The first step is getting a group together. This can start with two players of the same instrument, to four or five people playing different instruments. Get creative! It doesn’t matter if a player is more or less advanced than others either. Different parts can be arranged that suit everyone’s playing ability. If you have brothers and/or sisters taking music lessons, they are your first resource. Also, friends who play the same or complimentary instruments are great to have on board.
- Establishing genres. I think the first and most important detail in choosing your ensemble’s music is to make sure you have established what style of music you want to play (whether popular, classical, jazz, etc.). There is a lot of variation in the way you would approach each style, so it’s best to decide this initially. That way, selecting the exact piece will be easier, because your group will be looking within one genre.
- Instrumentation. Not all players need to necessarily play the instrument they are studying during lessons. If a student takes piano lessons, but has a side interest in guitar and singing, then incorporating those instrument groups is beneficial as well. Also, in a “family band,” it’s easy to also bring in hand percussion, as a drum kit is not needed to have a steady beat accompaniment. Think of creative ways to divide up instrumental parts that compliment each other. For instance, bringing in piano, guitar, and handbells make a beautiful combination.
- How to practice. Setting up a practice schedule for the group is the best way to make sure your ensemble or band is progressing as a whole. Have a set meeting time (even between siblings in the same household) and make sure to work through pieces you would like to get “performance-ready” in conjunction with new material. Also, it’s great to ask your music teacher to help with feedback, arranging, and music suggestions. A teacher can strengthen the group dynamic and make sure your group is working efficiently towards a goal.
- Establish a Leader. In any group, there needs to be someone who is in charge. This doesn’t mean that other members of the group do not have a say in choosing songs or making up their part, but it does mean that there is someone who keeps the group on track and controls stopping and starting of pieces. If I am involved in working on the dynamics of a band or group as their instructor, I usually mention who I think should be the leader, and it is, usually, the most proficient musician in the group.
- Don’t Play the Same Parts. This may seem obvious, but the goal in having several musicians play together is that you can expand the musical texture of a song in a way that is impossible for one person to achieve on their own. Therefore, each group member needs to be playing something different musically than everyone else. Experiment with different ranges (like high vs. low) or different instrument groups. The key is variation in what is being played to enjoy the results of having a band or ensemble. In classical music, the separation of the musical parts is already completed for you in the sheet music, but for popular styles, it may take a bit of independent arranging to get a good result.
My most fond memories of studying music through childhood and in college all go back to opportunities when I could play with other musicians. I was fortunate to live with two opera singers when I attended Georgia State School of Music for the first year, and I enjoyed the opportunity to be their accompanist and work on standard vocalist repertoire. I also enjoyed living in a house several years later with four friends from the School of Music and starting a band. Those opportunities and memories have stayed with me for a lifetime, so when I see my students wanting to do the same amongst their household, I can’t help but be delighted for them and the fun they are about to have in their family band!
Stay tuned for a follow-up post on a family of three boys who worked together on a piece for this year’s spring recital!