Sunday, April 10, 2011

Family Bands and the Patridge Family Pattern

Judea was visiting with a friend of her's at college.He was mocking her a bit for having to go to the Bach Festival. "Your house must be just like the Partridge Family"

This brings up the point that it is not unique for families to play together. At the Bach Festival, I met a wonderful musician named Kathleen Briggs. A while back she started her own publishing house. One of the services her publishing house ( offers is a product called "Instant Ensemble" ( where customers can download the parts they need in the key they need -- instantly customizing the arrangement to fit the ensemble.

Being a certified teacher myself, I am a big fan of public education. I'm an even bigger fan of public music education. My kids, all seven of them, have had excellent music teachers. These teachers devote time before and after school, during school, during lunch breaks, and on weekends to encourage a love and understanding of music in their students. The effort they put into teaching is inspirational. But teachers can only be stretched so thin.

As important as it is for students to play in large ensembles, they also need to experience small ensembles. It's there that kids learn to listen to others and adjust what they are doing to match the group. Harmonically. Rhythmically. Dynamically. Musicians also learn to give and take constructive criticism without getting emotional. In other words, they learn to get along and communicate. Isn't that what family life is all about?

The biggest obstacle in young family bands is creating roles for everyone in the family despite their musical expertise, experience, or aptitude. I've always preferred percussion for younger kids. (This follows the Partridge Family Pattern) On the plus side, percussian is an integral part of the band and the band will insist that the percussionist not get off beat, on the minus side, the band will insist that the percussionist not get off beat.

Another way I have "evening out the playing field" is to encourage older kids to play secondary instruments. For example, If someone plays the saxophone so well that everything the band plays is too easy, ask that kid to start playing bass, or guitar, or melodica, or mandolin. The challenge of learning and transposing for a new instrument may keep that child engaged.

Technology has both eased the cause of the family band and made it more difficult. Sibelius and Finale make composing fun and arranging convenient. The internet is an incredible resources for finding music, but the internet and gaming can also be great distractions away from family time.

Today, however, I want to announce that music and family won for a brief shinning moment. Today, at nobody's bidding -- my internet gamer took my saxophone son's offer to upgrade gamer from the clarinet to the saxophone.  And their mother smiled.

 Some day maybe Ben will play with Joe so Joe can stop playing with himself (see below).


  1. Hurray for the family band! My offspring couldn't seem to get into that for me, no matter how I tried. I admire those who succeed.

  2. You missed the best part of the story. When I said that we were like the Partridge Family, only cooler and friend asked if we had a bus. I said no, and he said how much cooler can you be then?

  3. @Barbara -- your kids all play. They may not have appreciated your efforts, but the enjoy the results. Judy and I both had a laugh when we compared notes. It is not all smiles and giggles. Remember when dad would tell us he was going to staple our feet to the floor so we'd play rook as a family. That's what I do to my kids about playing music together. Only sometimes I won't feed them unless they play :)

  4. I'm listening to the sax song and smiling ear to ear. It makes me happy, too! Judea's comment made me wish we had a bus. I like the idea of having a family band as part of identity. The Rook comparison was very good. We do it because that's who we are. I never dreamed of having a family band when I began parenting, but if I had known it was possible I might have started younger. Your suggestion of equalizing the playing field was also good. I did that in my first old lady band, by being the fiddler. I have since migrated to the banjo, but those early years on fiddle were a wonderful memory for me. All the ladies were new to their instruments, and I decided that I was too good on the banjo, so took up the fiddle! That way I could feel the same discomfort they all felt!