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Queen Guitar Rhapsodies

Playing Music In Groups Helps Advance Social Abilities

….so where does that leave the solo guitarist?

Our society has been shaped for centuries by two apparently contradictory forces: collaboration and competition. Entire social and political systems have tried and tested one or the other, and sometimes combinations of both. Whether any model has been successful and contributed to the sum of human happiness is another matter.

In the small world of music the same tendencies are reflected, although the negative effects are a lot less damaging than in the world at large. The virtuoso soloist competes with his peers for attention and supremacy. An entire sub-culture of officially appointed competitions has been invented to support him. There is even a guitar competition open only to previous competition winners – the winner of winners vanquishing all contenders and thus becoming the last one left standing. Sometimes the competitive element is unavoidable, for there is a limit to just how many virtuoso pianists or violinists or guitarists can be accommodated in a concert circuit or series. On the other hand, competitiveness can have positive outcomes: comparisons form an endless debate for music lovers, frequently leading to partisanship which further stokes the flames of rivalry between players, driving them to achieve ever-higher standards of excellence

Where competition can have both a negative and positive effect in music, collaboration appears to be only a force for the good. All duos, trios, quartets, chamber music ensembles, symphony orchestras and rock bands can only function courtesy of collaboration; the more united they are the better they sound; the more together they sound the more we admire and are moved by the music that flows from them. To achieve great things in playing music with others requires more than loads of practise and rehearsing together: it needs a meeting of minds and such familiarity that one player can anticipate another’s next move intuitively. For the musicians who enjoy this feeling it is a wonderful experience. To reach it is the wish of all who participate, with the pleasure of working towards it almost as intense as its realisation. Apart from musical ability, the collaborative skills required are of a very sociable kind.

The benefits of developing collaborative skills in music-making have been highlighted in a year-long study on children aged 8 to 11 by the University of Cambridge. It indicated that playing music in groups on a regular basis greatly improves a child’s ability to recognise and consider the emotions of others.
“We feel that the program of musical activities we’ve developed could serve as a platform for a new approach to music education – one that helps advance not just musical skill but also social abilities and, in particular, the emotional understanding of others,” says Tal-Chen Rabinowitch, from the Centre for Music and Science, who led the study. This confirms the results of previous studies, as well as the experience of many music teachers.

By coincidence, this very week in the UK, the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela has been playing a series of concerts including one at Stirling Castle in Scotland shared with 120 Scottish primary-school children from the only-too-recently deprived area of Raploch. The orchestra itself springs from El Sistema, the music education system which has succeeded in encouraging thousands of children to exchange their membership of violent street gangs for the more peaceful membership of symphony orchestras – and in the process become brilliant musicians. The advantages of collaborative music-making can scarcely claim a more uplifting example than this - and by the way, of the Scottish children in Raploch 450 of them are now learning musical instruments.

So where does all this leave the classical guitar, that intensely solo instrument? Does today’s child guitarist have to see the future as a permanent pasture of solo activity, with bull guitarists bellowing away on the aspirant professional front, charging into the ring of one competition after another to gain the approval of the high priest judges of our plucked fraternity? And if he cannot attain such proficiency will today’s child guitarist feel a musical failure in the years to come?

Maybe the collaborative route has an important significance today too for the youngsters of the guitar world. If it is true, as it appears to be, that playing music in groups greatly improves a child’s ability to consider the emotions of others, then learning to play guitar in guitar ensembles presses more than just a few worthwhile musical buttons – it is vital for developing his social skills through music-making. What’s more, his self-esteem and ability as a professional or amateur player in adult life will be on an equal footing to those lucky children who are at present playing in musical groups.

Guitar ensembles are more and more evident in guitar education today: one day they may be regarded as an indispensable part of it.

Read more:

Cambridge University Study: Music of kindness: playing together strengthens empathy in children

El Sistema: The story behind our Queen Guitar Rhapsodies recording in Venezuela with the Lara Symphony Orchestra, by Producer David Young, here in the Queen Guitar Rhapsodies Page:

Educational project for transforming lives through music: Sistema Scotland

London, 23 June 2012

Printed from: http://www.carlosbonell.com/blog/?p=1313 .
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