August 2021
The Play-along Library: Your Consort at Home
by Judy Smutek
Are you new to the recorder, maybe a graduate of the ARS beginner recorder classes? Do you live far from other recorder players? Maybe your ensemble skills are a bit rusty after months of social-distancing, and you’d like to practice playing along with other voices before you rejoin your local chapter for in-person meetings. Whatever the reason, consider exploring the ARS Play-Along Library as a convenient and private way to improve your consort-playing, whenever you have a few minutes to devote to it. The process of choosing music, setting up the computer audio, and playing along is described below. The Play-Along Library is currently accessible from the ARS home page.
Choosing Music
The Play-Along Library contains play-along recordings and music scores/parts for over 170 pieces of music, in a range of styles, levels of difficulty and, and numbers of recorder parts. The recordings and music are available to logged in members of the ARS when they click on the links associated with each piece. Non-members may see a preview of the music and listen to a sound sample, when available. Instructions for searching the library are listed on the Play-Along Library search page.  
Here’s an image of the search fields, which are preceded on the website by a set of notes on how to use them. You can search by level of difficulty, style, number of players, etc.

You’ll likely get the hang of using the search function if you experiment with it for a few minutes.  If you simply want to browse, you may also click on the link to see an index of all the compositions in the library.  
After executing a successful search, you can try listening to your selections to choose one or more for playing along. Download the score and parts, and you can start practicing. Here’s a sample piece of music and how it’s presented in the search results. Links to the sound files, score and parts are displayed alongside an image of the first page of the score.
Setting Up Audio for Best Results
It’s important to be able to hear the recordings as you play, just as you can hear other voices when playing with a group. If you’ve attended chapter meetings or music workshops online, you may have acquired speakers or a headset in order to hear recorded music easily at the same time that you’re playing your own instrument. Connecting speakers to your computer is the most effective way to accomplish this, but even a set of headphones, especially open-back headphones, will be an improvement over the speakers built into your computer or tablet. For more advice on good audio set-up, see these tips that David Podeschi first shared with ARS NOVA subscribers in December 2020: Better Sound for Playing Along Virtually.
Getting Ready to Play Along
Unless you’re competent at sight-reading, you may want to practice playing one or more parts on your own before playing along with the recording. One of the best features of using these minus one recordings is that you can play them as many times as you want. Stop them in the middle and start again, or play one section over and over till you get it. No one else will lose patience with you.  

If you’re new to playing along with ‘minus one’ music recordings, take a moment to read the page of Play-Along Tips linked to the Play Along Library search page. These tips cover brief instructions on saving sound files and loading the files into software to slow down a recording or change its pitch.  

I invite you to give the Play-Along Library a try. Browse through or search the library. Play sound samples, and review scores and/or parts. If you’re looking for specific kinds of music, and you don’t find it, please send feedback to [email protected]. We’d welcome your suggestions for adding music and recordings to the library. 
Judy Smutek is an ARS Board member who leads the Communications Committee. She lives in Ann Arbor, MI.
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