The Early Introduction of Guitar Ensemble

by Alan Hirsh

Guitar ensemble should be an essential part of any classroom study, providing experiences not available from solo study.  The benefits are numerous:

  • Community Building and Teamwork. With regular rehearsing, players bond into a community of musicians, working collaboratively toward a common goal.  Over the long term, this creates lasting friendship with like-minded musicians.
  • Concentration and reading. The ability to concentrate on one’s own part while interacting and listening to others builds a high level of musicianship.
  • Musical expression.  While expression should be taught early on, it’s not always easy for beginners to execute.  With large numbers of players, expression is heightened; it’s easy to hear and respond to changes of dynamics and tempo, even to a nuanced degree.
  • Rhythmic Development. Early stages of solo study are often technique driven.  Students work on etudes to develop scales, arpeggios, etc., often with minimal rhythmic challenge.  In ensemble more irregularity may be present, forcing students to command rhythm through the clarifying procedure of counting and clapping.
  • Following a conductor. This skill develops group cohesion and is more critical when working on advanced levels of music involving cued entries and varied musical expression.

The question is, when should guitar ensemble first be introduced?  With grade-appropriate music, the answer is the sooner the better.    For example, the trio shown to the right has been written for raw-beginners who have only been playing the guitar several weeks.   Students could actually begin working on this after C and D on (2) have been introduced (The Shearer Method: Classic Guitar Foundations, p. 25 ).

All parts are to be played with p, to minimize right-hand distraction and there are no disjunct leaps involving non-adjacent strings.  The trio uses only 6 notes on strings (4), (3), and (2) in open position, with only 3 left-hand fingered notes.  The rhythm is limited to whole, half, and quarter notes.  In addition, this work address different levels of players simultaneously: Guitar I is the most melodically and rhythmically active–range G-D; Guitar II is somewhat less active with a narrower melodic range, G-C; and Guitar III is the easiest with just 3 notes, D, G, &A.

Trio No. 1 is an excellent entry into the ensemble experience, which should be continued and developed throughout the school year.  When selecting a work, always look for something which is level appropriate without overwhelming your player’s technical and musical abilities. Most beginning students enjoy ensemble, but spending too much time with it may interfere with the technical/foundational goals of a one-year sequence.   If your school offers at least a two-year sequence (Guitar I and II), consider allotting regular time for ensemble.  Even better, establish Guitar Ensemble as an upper-level class.

2 Comments

  1. Matt Cosgrove

    This is exactly what I need for my young group. I have 3 players who are between six and nine years old. I wish there were a book of these arrangements that followed the Shearer method (as far as the order techniques are introduced). I would find it invaluable to my teaching and would have the students enrolled purchase the book. Thanks for sharing this arrangement. I will use it! ~Matt

  2. alntom

    Hi Matt,
    Thanks so much for your input as always! In fact, your suggestion is exactly what I’m presently working on–a graded ensemble collection that follows the Shearer sequence, for use as a supplement throughout the first year. Wow great minds think alike!
    –Alan

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