The Benefits of Ensemble Playing in Early Music Education

Young cellist developing in a strings ensemble


In response to demand for high quality instrumental training for musicians as young as eight years old and with the help of funding from Creative Scotland’s Youth Music Initiative, the National Youth Orchestras of Scotland launched its complete Training Ensembles programme in 2015 to include courses for strings, wind, brass and percussion, and for the first time in 2018 the strings course will include provision for classical pedal harp (ABRSM grade 3, as a guide only).

Young Flautist 

Many young musicians across Scotland do not have the opportunity to play with other instrumentalists, especially if they live in rural communities or play an instrument that is less commonplace like the harp, tuba or percussion. The values of studying musicianship or learning to play an instrument from an early age have been well documented and these benefits include: 

  • Language Development
  • Physical co-ordination and motor control
  • Integrating mental and physical activity
  • Demonstrating knowledge and understanding
  • Being expressive
  • Using creativity and imagination
  • Building self-belief and confidence
  • Nurturing emotional intelligence
  • Learning to learn

However, the key to unlocking these benefits is progression. Simply taking part in musical activity – just ‘having a go’ – is perfectly worthwhile, but it does not have the same powerful effects. There are a range of activities that support and inspire musical progression, however one of the most fundamental of these is to develop from playing alone, to playing with others.

Young Trumpet Player

With a common goal comes many benefits. Playing or singing in an ensemble can be one of the most rewarding and enjoyable musical experiences. In an ensemble, students learn to bring their individual accomplishments together to create something greater than themselves. Not only do the students work to play at the same speed, but to ebb and flow together, listening and watching for changes in mood, tempo, or harmony. They learn about their role in each part of a piece, whether to be bold and play loudly or to play quietly, gently adding to the texture. Participating in an ensemble helps bring balance and control, learn style, volume, note lengths and rhythms, and helps work towards the common goal of a polished performance.

NYOS Training Ensembles comprise four short, non-auditioned summer residential courses for: Wind, Brass, Percussion and for the first time in 2018, our Strings course includes classical pedal harp. 

Our courses adopt a holistic approach, concentrating on learning repertoire, listening skills and musicianship, together with advice on audition preparation and each course culminates in a private showcase performance for friends and family. We provide a fun, yet focussed learning environment with games, pop song arrangements, jazz and mini concerts. A place where students are encouraged to grow as musicians and as people in a relaxed atmosphere.

Final Showcase Concert

Through this work we aim to fill a vital gap in provision, which many schools and local authorities struggle with due to cuts in local authority funding, particularly in areas of low cultural engagement.

Applications to NYOS Training Ensembles are now open and take place between 7-15 July at Kilgraston School in Perthshire.  For more information including fees and dates please click here.

Further Reading:

How to improve the school results: not extra maths but music, loads of it The Guardian

A modern-day boom for music's oldest genre: young classical music listeners are on the up The Herald