Why Taking Ensemble Classes Is Not A Good Idea.

Ensemble classes: all music schools have them.

I always felt there is great value in the ensemble classes taught at classical music schools.
Due to the nature of classical music, there are much lesser opportunities for classical music students to perform with other musicians.

As such: the ensemble class at the classical music school is very often where the student gets his/her first ensemble experience.
Unlike rock or pop musicians: it’s hard to imagine that one would get a string and brass ensemble of friends together, to go practice some Rachmaninoff or Beethoven in a rehearsal space.
All that being said: I always felt that ensemble classes are a very important and necessary part of a classical music student’s education.
This is where you learn how to perform notated instrument parts with other people under the supervision of a teacher/conductor.

But this blog is not about the ensemble classes taught in classical music schools or conservatories.

Ensemble classes in Contemporary Music Schools

I wanted to discuss the ensemble classes in music schools specialized in the study of contemporary music.

I always had a problem with the idea of having to take ensemble classes at a contemporary music school.
My main issue with ensemble classes: the high cost (in money and time).
I personally never liked ensemble classes, because that always felt like a great waste of money (and education time at school) to me.

Consider the fact, that you pay a whopping +$500-$550 per credit these days at most music schools.
Then consider; that ensemble classes are very often charged as 2 credit classes, which means that you pay over $1000 for the class.

Meanwhile: you can just get a couple of friends together in a rehearsal room, and jam with them, learning the things you’d be learning in a school ensemble, for free.
You don’t need to pay $550 per credit for something you can (and naturally would) easily learn outside of school in a jam session.

It’s also always been my experience that the teacher in an ensemble lesson/class really doesn’t contribute anything you wouldn’t figure out yourself anyway during a jam.
You can always reach out for jamming opportunities with musicians who are above your level: and this will be all the ensemble class education you need.

I need to be clear here though, that I am specifically discussing my take on the value of ensemble classes only.
I am however not, dispelling the importance of playing with other people.

On the contrary: being that music is a language, there is nothing more important than playing with as many people as you can as often as you can.
I just don’t think you should be spending $550-$1000 on this in a music school, where your time and money would be much better spent on style, theory, technique, harmony, improv. or guitar-specific labs or classes.

Yaaay for Berklee College

The cool thing, that I liked a whole lot about Berklee College of Music, is that ensemble classes were optional/elective there, not something you “had to” take.
I didn’t take one ensemble class during my time at Berklee.
Being that studying there was so expensive: I wanted to get the maximum out of every class, every second, and every penny.
I learned much more in my guitar classes and labs than I would have in any directed ensemble class.

In MI, however, you have to take (and hence pay for) ensemble classes.
It was great that in the 1 semester I studied at MI under a full scholarship, they gave me the freedom not to take any ensemble class.
They made an exception because they didn’t quite know what to do with me (given I already had 3 degrees in music at that time).

If you’re good enough to get into a school like Berklee College, you’re probably also good enough to figure out how to play with other people and learn charts together outside of school.

This is of course just only my take on this.
Different things work for different people.


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