Play One Instrument or Many?

Our instructors help keep their skills sharp with training and discussion about different aspects of music and teaching. This month’s discussion centers around this podcast about playing multiple instruments.

Walt says he has often run into sentiments of “lack of focus” or “not being serious” by playing multiple instruments (even by those who play multiples. However, his personal experience with multiple instruments has been fulfilling and adds perspective to different group musical settings. It’s also a great way to keep up interest by learning so many different things.

Leann wishes she’d learned an instrument besides the piano. (She’s also a vocalist.) Her academic schedule didn’t allow for more instruments and she wasn’t encouraged to take others. She resonated with the idea that each instrument provides a different perception and teaches something new and adds to the sensitivity of phrasing, melody, and understanding chordal relationships. It just makes you a better musician on all levels, when you can incorporate what you learn in one instrument to translate that to your primary instrument.

Andrew really resonates with this podcast in many ways. Like Walt he’s encountered the idea that playing multiple instruments shows a lack of commitment and focus. Even some teachers in the past who would say that learning multiple instruments is detrimental to playing both properly (ex. sax and trumpet). There are so many different musicians who play multiple at high levels such as Joey Defrancesco, Dave Grohl, etc. His experience learning multiple instruments has expanded understanding of theory, musicality and even the physicality of playing music. Each one has taught him something about how to create good music and how the roles of each instrument in different settings change. This learning has also given him a new appreciation for styles of music he wouldn’t regularly consume. While he will say that he can understand that if you don’t treat each instrument with a similar level of attention while a beginner at both may become confusing and slow one down, he believes that learning multiple at a time has a lot of benefits, especially picking up other instruments after years of learning one’s primary and context for what music is. Finally, while it was a smaller part he liked when they brought up the focus we have in the Western world on perfecting one’s instrument as quickly as possible. While that can make one very good in a short amount of time, this singular focus he’s found often leads to eventual burnout and a narrow understanding of one’s role in the broader ensemble.

Kristen says it’s really interesting thinking about your instrument with the whole ensemble and not just what your instrument plays. While you can always learn more instruments but she thinks you either need a goal in mind before switching instruments or keep playing all instruments regularly. She started with piano then flute and then voice. She was able to take note reading, rhythms, and some musicality with her to each instrument. Singing with vibrato helped her flute vibrato and also her tonality. She was able to hear on flute when she was in the center of the pitch as I do not have perfect pitch. She did also start learning clarinet. Right away she could tell if she was in tune with notes played before. She also had a great sense of whether the tone quality was good.

Sarah agrees that it is a very positive growth experience and good for overall musicality to learn more than one instrument. It gives you a different perspective for ensemble playing and a more complete understanding of how instruments work and sound together. If you are switching to a different type of instrument, it can even help you develop a completely different musical technique than what you had learned before. When she was learning music, she chose percussion in elementary school band class. So, just starting out, she had to learn two instruments from the beginning. Mallets, or the Glockenspiel, and the snare drum. It took more time and dedication to devote practice time to both instruments as a ten year old; but it was definitely doable, especially since she enjoyed it. She believes that if a student asks about learning a second instrument, the response should really be individualized for every learner. Are they devoted to practicing and learning? Do they have the time in their life to learn a second instrument? Are they doing well in their other school classes? Are they doing well on their first instrument? If not, it may lead to discouragement or lack of progress, and the student may give up on learning music altogether. It is definitely a careful balance; but worth it if the musician is determined.

I learned piano first. When band started, I picked up the trumpet. Eventually I’ve worked up to the guitar. Michelle gave me my first guitar lesson before MTMS existed. It may have helped me to only play piano for the first couple years playing music. My daughter started with the violin, also tried trumpet, and is now working on her vocal skills.

My son has always had a single-minded approach to music: he’s a drummer and he hasn’t expressed interest in any other instrument so far. When asked what he liked about piano, he answered “In two years I can play the drums.” (It was a school district requirement.) When he got to take lessons with Michelle- he’s been very happy. Also, in a related sense, he is a dancer who prefers tap above all else – think of it as drumming with your feet.

So, readers, what are your opinions and experiences with single or multiple instruments?

Winter Playlist 2022

The first MTMS Lobby Recital went really well! Thank you everyone for participating to make the week a success. We’re always so excited to watch our students show off their new skills and enjoy their music.

The playlist shares all the students who performed throughout the week. We can’t wait to do this again. Please don’t stop the music!

September Themes

Composition in September: This month we are going to talk about national anthems. Learn about what makes them sound the way they do, and take a shot at writing your own. Don’t worry we have plenty of examples and techniques to help you out. And if you have any questions please ask your lab attendant!

Music History in September: All about national anthems – Read about what National Anthems are and what makes them sound like they do. If you have questions – your lab attendant is ready and waiting to help.

Do you know these countries? Can you find their anthems? Click here for help.

Recital This Weekend!

This weekend is the recital at MTMS! We’re so excited to see everyone – and it is important to know that weather will not cancel this event. Prepare to be outside for good weather and to hear more details if the forecast changes. It’s going to be hot.

For our excited version – we’re going to have this recital outdoors. There will be games and activities. Be prepared for the heat- it might be above 90 degrees. Beach volleyball and beach bingo will be on the list of activities. Be ready to play dolphin ring toss and horseshoes. There will be prizes and a craft, too.

If you haven’t heard from MTMS by tomorrow, please contact us about your recital time. Practice and be ready for all the fun.