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Maximizing Your Impact: Navigating the Small Combo Music Scene

As you might have guessed, playing in a small combo is not like playing in a rock-in-roll band. The small ensemble environment is typically an acoustic or a small venue performance and more than likely three, maybe four musicians. In this article we will cover the three things you need to know in order to be a great small ensemble musician. 

#1 Your volume is a key 

One element that is key to making the group have a balanced sound is to make sure your saxophone playing volume is not too loud. Small ensembles can be challenging because of the volume dynamic it takes on. In a bigger band you have the freedom to play louder, but in a smaller band the key element is to play softer so you can listen to the other people in your small combo. When you can control your volume and not overpower the other players in your combo, then your ensemble will sound really good.

#2 Play aggressively and pay attention 

In a small ensemble you absolutely cannot play in a timid or hesitant way. When you play in a small ensemble, your saxophone playing skills are magnified and your instrument parts stand out a bit more. Coincidentally, you absolutely have to play your part in an aggressive manner, you can not be hesitant, timid or unsure of your part. This also comes down to knowing your instrument parts and practicing with the group. Playing in a small combo or ensemble sometimes requires more practice hours to put things together because each part is so magnified. You also want to make sure that you have a line of sight to each musician so you can communicate while playing. In a bigger band there is usually a point person or band leader who will direct the band in its entirety. In a small ensemble or combo band each musician is responsible for communicating with each other. 

Bonus Video

Watch the video below to learn about Methods for Better Saxophone Solos and subscribe to the Saxophone Workshop YouTube channel to learn more about the saxophone!

#3 Make sure you can hear the others

Probably the most important thing to remember when playing in a small ensemble is to play quieter than you think you should play. You will naturally hear yourself more because you are in a small combo or ensemble, but the challenge is to play quietly enough to hear the other musicians around you. If you cannot hear the other instruments in your small ensemble, then you are playing too loud. Naturally you must play quieter in a small ensemble or combo, but you don’t want to stifle the power of the music. Earlier we talked about balance, all great combos sound incredibly balanced and this means that all of the pieces can be heard.

In review, it is important to think small when playing in an ensemble so your volume plays a key role. You must play your instrument aggressively, and pay attention to the rest of the members in your ensemble to ensure you can hear their parts as well. 

What is your favorite part of playing in a small ensemble?

Leave your response in the comment section below.



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