Forming a Harmonious Partnership
While performing solo has its advantages, musicians from time to time want to team up in duets, quartets, bands, or large ensembles. Musical partnerships come in all shapes and sizes: a career move, for instance, or a few sessions, a short tour, or recurring but not exclusive relationship.
The trick is finding the right partner. That’s the key to success, peace of mind, and enjoyment. The right people playing together is the foundation of a harmonious friendship.
There is a distinction between the right musician and the best musician. To illustrate that
distinction, consider the 1980 Winter Olympics “Miracle on Ice” American hockey team.
Without a star among them, the Americans took home the gold because, as coach Herb Brooks said, he wasn’t “looking for the best players” when assembling the team. “I’m looking for the right ones.” It’s all about teamwork, just like in music.
Consider these in the search for musical partners who are right for you:
Think of it as a bonding agent that takes the best of all the musicians involved and creates one, harmonious relationship. To some extend it involves getting each other but even that can have an expiration date. Ground-breaking bands that set the standard for years suddenly dissolve when a new element is added to the mix. Egos and personality conflicts can erupt any time, especially as fame grows. Diverse personalities can strengthen a group, but the different puzzle pieces still have to come together—and stay together. Most successful musical groups have chemistry with each member fulfilling a vital component that works together for a greater whole. You can’t force it. You either have chemistry or you don’t.
The music business means business. Whether you perform for free or make your livelihood through music, the business aspects of performing are vital to your success. The right partner’s commitment to the business of music should align with yours. If there is a grind on anything from showing up on time for practice and sound checks to being ready to play when the curtain goes up, there will be conflict. Do they lead with their strengths and follow in the areas where they’re not as strong? Do they listen to feedback with receptivity?
When considering partnering with someone, you can ask these questions directly or share your approach, values, etc., and gauge their responses. In essence, you’re interviewing that person, but remember that an interview works both ways. Maybe the potential partner is meticulous about practice time and you’re a little more relaxed about it—that’s not going to work for either of you!
We all have different priorities and lifestyles. That is the way of the world. But too much of a good thing can cause the gears to clash. If you’re single with few commitments, you may be able to accept a gig across town later that night. If your partner is a parent with school-aged children, it’s unlikely she will be able to drop everything to do it. Not a big deal if it’s a one-off situation, but if it happens repeatedly, that’s an issue. The larger the group, the bigger the issue.
Partnering with others who share similar priorities and lifestyle will go a long way to fortifying a successful partnership and reaping the respective rewards.
There’s a wonderful SBOmagazine.com article, “Essential Tips and Tricks for Teaching
Woodwinds in the Classroom – Part 1,” where author and clarinetist Lisa Canning writes about the compatibility of music styles. “The principal player in the orchestra, John Fullam, and I sounded identical. You couldn’t tell where he started a musical phrase or when I ended one because we sounded identical. And what a joy it was playing with him!” The article then describes how the process of arriving at a similar playing style was quite unique to each of them. The main point is that they arrived at a similar style!
You and your partner(s) should share a similar music style. While each musician will likely
manifest unique attributes and nuances, the overall style should be aligned. A baroque style on flute may enhance a minuet, but not if the clarinetist is strictly classical.
Some people lurk, some people say whatever pops into their minds, while the rest are
somewhere in between. Body language, facial expressions, and groans and sighs also are ways people communicate.
The point is people send and receive messages in their own peculiar ways. It’s not important that each member of a musical partnership communicate similarly, but it is important that everyone communicate in a timely and honest manner.
Musicians are artists and artists are sensitive, and that become part of the group dynamic, even if the group is only two people. Hurt feelings can arise quickly and if negative issues aren’t addressed in the moment, resentment can rapidly fester. What started as a duet could turn into a dual. Miscommunications will happen, guaranteed. But swiftly addressing problems can just as quickly dissolve them.
A good exercise is to designate time to communicate with one another on a regular basis.
Perhaps take ten to fifteen minutes after a rehearsal and allow each person to talk things out. Consider it a debrief. Try to avoid cross-talk and listen, don’t just wait your turn to put in your two cents.
You don’t have to agree with everything that’s said, but it is important to understand the
others’ perspective and interpretation. Maybe the way you offer constructive criticism was
hurtful instead of helpful. Never suggest they’re wrong or misinterpreted what you
meant—share what you intended and ask how you could have communicated that in a way that would not have been hurtful to them. They may come to realize that they were actually being oversensitive—but they have to come to that conclusion themselves.
Also remember that it’s just as important to communicate positive things. Acknowledge your partner’s savvy suggestion, skillful technique, or how much you enjoy playing with them. As long as you’re being genuine, good vibes penetrate far deeper than sour notes.
Partnering with others in music can be invigorating, pleasurable, and powerful. Like any
relationship, it takes work, but that work can be extremely rewarding. There’s an old adage which applies to romantic relationships as much as it does to musical partnerships, “If you want to find the right person, be the right person.” With that in mind, you’ll be well on your way to forming harmonious partnerships, literally and figuratively.