Learning in front of others

As you know I have recently joined a concert band, it felt like an incredibly brave step to take as I haven’t played in a group since I was a child, although I was in a couple of bands when I was a teenager. The main reason this is so brave is that they say you should be a grade 5 to join and I have only done grade 3.

The pieces are often quite difficult and I really struggled at the start, although it is certainly and noticably getting easier.

Austin Kleon in his book Show your work says

Think about what you want to learn and then make a commitment to learning in front of others

I have always wanted to get better at playing the flute, but lessons as an adult working towards grades just seems so futile and boring, not just because I hate exams and they terrify me, but also because most people doing grades are small children. It always seems pointless practicing too.

However now, I don’t want to let the rest of the band down, or stand out as not being able to play. It was a really brave thing to do to join as I hate looking like an idiot, but I did it. There have been a few occasions where I made a complete prat of myself, like when I came in a whole beat early before the whole band at the start of the piece, or played entirely the wrong note REALLY LOUDLY, or when I seemed to be totally incapable of playing A flat and it was the predominant note in the piece for the flute section. But everyone laughed good naturedly, I learned to laugh and not curl up under my chair in shame.

Since I joined in January I have probably practiced more than I have in my whole life. I have also made the biggest improvement. I suddenly see the point in scales and I am now working towards my grade 4 practical and grade 5 theory because I want to learn more so that I am part of the band, rather than being behind, struggling, or worse making a total fuck up on a performance (a big fear).

A book to help me through dreaded Grade 5 theory
A book to help me through dreaded Grade 5 theory

Ah yes, performance. My first one is the middle of April and then we are performing quite regularly. I desperately don’t want to mess up, so I am practicing a lot. I have always had acute stage fright, one of the reasons I hate exams so much, but I am hoping that being part of a larger band will protect me some what.

So by learning in front of others I have come so much further than I have ever done before, so so much further. I prioritise it, I practice for 25mins each day at least, and will often go back for another practice session later in the day. By surrounding myself with players who are so much better than me I have been stretched, challenged and I would like to think that I am rising to that.

Join the conversation


  1. Fantastic. You are my hero now. Learning something in front others as well as showing your work…totally exposing!
    I can’t do the thing where you have to admit you don’t know something in order to learn it. I hate not already knowing it… 🙁 Very brave, and very humbling to hear how much you’ve got out oit of it.

  2. Jen, that is *amazing*. From our quick Twitter discussion about bands a few months ago, you’ve progressed to this! Well done!

    I maintain that the quickest way to improve your playing is in an ensemble setting; as well as learning the practical stuff, you’re learning valuable musicianship skills that you might not learn on your own. Listening, for one. And that’s one of the most important skills for a musician to have. Intonation is another. Timekeeping. All sorts of stuff.

    Don’t be too hung up on “only” being a grade 3, either. Exams can be a great benchmark, but they only show what you’re capable of at that moment in time on that particular day. There’s so much more that you’ll be able to do that isn’t included in that, and it all adds up.

    I need to get that theory book too, so thanks for the recommendation!

    Leese x

  3. Aww thanks so much!!

    I am quite happy being someone’s hero!

    I am also really happy to admit I don’t know how to something on the basis that I won’t learn if I don’t ask!

  4. thanks!

    Yes, my teacher highly recommends it.

    I get caught up in what grade I am when we are playing horribly technical pieces with 5 or more flats, until now I have only ever played 2 in a piece! So it is terribly scary if nothing else.

    I am so grateful for that twitter convesation, it has got me doing somehitng which gives me so much pleasure! I would also recommend to everyone playing an instrument to join a band as quickly as possible as it has pushed and stretched me in a way that I never would have had otherwise. And learning to listen to others in a band is actually really tricky!

  5. It is, especially if you’re not sure of your parts yet and you’ve got your head down in the music, but it’s one of those skills that the more you do it the more you’ll automatically do it, if that makes sense. Before long you’ll automatically have one ear on the person sitting next to you listening and adjusting for intonation and before you know it you’ll be coming in off cues from other sections instead of counting bars rest, or “feeling” an 8-bar phrase when you’re resting instead of counting it… etc. Won’t take you long at all.

    I’m so glad we had that conversation too – I’m really, really glad you’re enjoying it so much. Community bands are just the best thing in the world. Especially in our situation, it’s so great to have something you love in which you can immerse yourself totally for two hours; it stops you thinking about all this other stuff we have to deal with!

    Secret: I only ever did my Grade 3 too. Your musicianship is about far more than what you do in that exam room for twenty minutes 🙂 That said, my theory is terribly rusty as a result – at least stuff you need to know outside a band setting – so I really need to brush up before I start teaching, and I want to do my G8 just to say I have it, if you know what I mean. I’ll definitely look into that book, b/c I’ll need to do my 5 theory before I can do that. There’s a good free resource at http://www.mymusictheory.com/ too, if you want some extras.

    That said: Flute music is scary! All those ledger lines, and it’s often in a horrible key signature, so I do know what you’re getting at. I think band stuff is geared towards the Bb instruments, really, so your transpositions can be really unpleasant as a result 🙂

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