A Newbie's Guide to Joining an Ensemble
Tips for Overcoming Newcomer's Anxiety
by Jennifer Carpenter

Recorder teacher, professional and ARS Board Secretary Jennifer Carpenter
  After months, even years of playing recorder on your own, you decide to search for other recorder players in your area. Perhaps you stumbled onto your local ARS chapter's website and discover there are others like you! You wonder, "Am I good enough to join their meetings?"

A friend invites you to come play recorder with their local group. "It's easy! Come find out how much fun it is."  You agree, stepping tentatively into a room full of various sizes of recorders tootling away and you aren't sure how to play five notes.

Sound familiar? Beginners may worry about squeaks, wrong notes, inaccurate rhythms, sight reading...even having the wrong brand of instrument.  And more experienced players may want to help newer players feel comfortable, but be unsure of how to start.

Many local chapters and ensembles around the country begin a new season of playing in September, which makes it the perfect time of year to take the plunge and start connecting with other recorder players.  Here are some strategies to help ease your jitters as you try something new:
  • Join a beginner session.  Several local ARS chapters hold a beginner's session that meets at the same time as, or in addition to their regular or more advanced ensembles. If you live in an area that supports that, then this is the perfect place for you to wet your feet. If a beginner's group does not currently exist, talk to your director and express your interest. If a separate group is not a viable option in your area, don't give up! There are more tips to get you on your way.
  • Find a mentor.  Don't be afraid to sit next to someone and ask for support. As a newcomer, having the assurance of a more advanced stand partner who can help you with fingering and articulation questions makes all the difference. Ask the director for help in pairing you with another player if you are unsure of who to ask.
  • Play what you can!  Say you show up at your first session knowing five notes.  You quickly realize there are many other notes on the page! Resist the desire to run. Instead, lock in on one to two notes (let's say C and G on an alto recorder; or G and D on a soprano recorder). Circle those notes if you need to, and when you come to those notes, play them! Once you become comfortable with playing those two notes, add two more (on alto, if you started with C and G, add D and F. Now you have C-D and F-G, adding the stepwise motion). Then keep adding notes or patterns that are familiar. This is a particularly helpful technique if the music is more advanced than you are comfortable with, either notationally or rhythmically speaking. Stick to the notes you know on main beats. The rest will come in time. No one is keeping score on how many notes you played in a particular session, I promise.
  • Ask questions! The question that is burning through your thoughts is likely plaguing someone else, too. Often, the ensuing conversation is not only helpful, but thought provoking and can lead to deeper understanding of the music itself and/or a recorder technique problem.
  • Bring a pencil and don't be afraid to use it. Mark phrases, circle notes, add hash marks above beats to help you with the rhythm. Make any marks that will help you feel more confident in playing the music. There is NO shame in marking your music!
  • Most importantly, show up. Participating in ensembles can be an incredibly rewarding experience and the friendships and opportunities that grow from it are worth feeling like a beginner!
Local ARS chapters and other recorder-centric ensembles provide fantastic opportunities for musical camaraderie, but taking those first steps to join can be daunting. Remember that every single one of your fellow players was a beginner once, and many of them have a "newcomer's anxiety" story. In general, recorder players are thrilled to meet like-minded people and will go out of their way to help you feel welcome.
If you need help finding other local players, start by visiting the American Recorder Society website and use our search function to see if a group is in your area .   Others have successfully found players by asking on our Facebook ARS group.  

Have you been a newcomer in an ensemble and found tricks that helped you? Please contact us and let us know. We are interested in sharing tips generated by you. Our greatest strength is our community and the support we provide each other!

Triangle Recorder Society
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