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Ensemble Performance

King, Elaine



John Rink


Ensemble performance involves musical and social interaction between a group of performers. The term ‘ensemble’ derives from the French for ‘together’, and it defines the seemingly infinite array of musical performances involving more than one person, ranging from a duo to a symphony orchestra. At the same time, ‘ensemble’ refers to the precision with which musicians perform together: a good group is often praised for its ‘tight’ ensemble work, whereas an inferior one might have ‘sloppy’ ensemble.

Our experience of ensemble performance can be enhanced by realising some of the processes involved in making music together. This chapter considers four aspects in particular: coordination, communication, the role of the individual and social factors. Most of the observations refer to small chamber groups within the Western art tradition, but reference will also be made to larger ensembles on occasion.

Coordination: keeping time

The most fundamental requirement of any ensemble is that the individual parts fit together. It is necessary, therefore, for each musician to be able to perform in time with the rest of the group; indeed, the coordination of an ensemble is all about timing. Any accomplished ensemble performer knows that counting is vital in order to keep time, at least to realise which beat is being performed and when to enter or exit. There are, however, further matters to consider with regard to the coordination of timing, and three will be discussed in this section: the ensemble's clock, timekeeping skills and the illusion of synchrony.


King, E. (2002). Ensemble Performance. In J. Rink (Ed.), Musical Performance: A Guide to Understanding, 153-167. Cambridge University Press (CUP). doi:10.1017/CBO9780511811739.012

Publication Date Feb 1, 2002
Deposit Date Feb 20, 2019
Publisher Cambridge University Press (CUP)
Pages 153-167
Book Title Musical Performance: A Guide to Understanding
Chapter Number 11
ISBN 0521788625
Public URL
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