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Playing Multiple Instruments

posted Aug 7, 2012, 12:25 PM by Wendy Moyer

As students start planning for the upcoming school year, the question is usually asked about taking up another instrument for band or orchestra. Here are some of my thoughts in regards to this subject:

Practice Time – How do students get enough time on each instrument?
Some band/orchestra teachers will let students count a part of their piano practice time toward instrument practice time – especially for beginning students. This helps ease the transition to extra practice time for two instruments.

Two options for practice times:

1 - Both instruments each day but for smaller time periods. For example, a student might practice piano for 20-30 minutes and the other instrument for 20-30 minutes each day.

2 - Alternate instrument practice days. For example. A student might practice piano on Mon/Wed/Fri for 40-60 minutes each day, and then practice the other instrument on Tues/Thurs/Sat for 40-60 minutes each day.

Much depends upon the personality of the student, and their ability to focus on practice for a period of time. Also remember that the quality of practice time is of greater benefit than the quantity of practice time! Adding a second instrument is as easy as watching one less TV show per day, or 30 minutes less of a video game.

Are there benefits to playing two different instruments?

Students may find that they learn different musical concepts on different instruments, and it can enhance the learning of each instrument. For example, a student learning how to bow on a violin or when to breathe with a wind instrument, might see better how phrases are shaped. This can then be applied to shaping lines on the piano. And a piano student can take their knowledge of the harmonies in music and better understand how single melodic notes on their other instrument plug in to the music as a whole.

Band and orchestra instruments provide more of an ensemble experience for students – students need to learn to keep tempo and pitch along with the group. This can help in maintaining a steady beat and improving listening skills.

Piano students have some experience in ensembles (such as in piano duets or accompaniment) but might learn more about being an independent musician.

Importance of private music lessons

I highly recommend that students have private music lessons on at least one of their instruments. Group lessons can be effective (especially for beginners), but the personalized attention in a private lesson is unequaled. With today's busy lifestyles, there aren't many opportunities for a student to have one-on-one time with an instructor. School, sports and extra-curricular activities are largely “group” oriented and can be competitive. In a private lesson setting, the student is able to reach their own goals and get immediate feedback from their instructor. The lesson can also be arranged to meet the individual's needs (and not just the needs of a group).