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What is Chamber Music?

Traditionally, chamber music was written for a small group of musicians playing in a modest and intimate setting such as a home. As chamber music was played in small rooms, it really only allowed for one player per part, and no conductor.

Aside from the environment in which chamber music is played, not a whole lot has changed since the middle ages. Chamber music is still loved by audiences all around the world and is performed in venues of all shapes and sizes. 

For the National Chamber Music Championship, chamber groups can vary in size from 3 to 8 players, with each musician singing or playing one instrument for each part of music that is written with no conductor, or adult accompanist.


Why Chamber Music?

There are countless reasons why people love chamber music, but for the Penny Quartet, it is the freedom of expression and the time spent with friends that are at the top of the list.

We spoke with Anthony and Madeleine of the Penny Quartet who attribute the connections that can be made in playing chamber music, be it with fellows musicians or the audience, as a major factor in why they continue to love playing this music.

The Penny Quartet on how chamber music makes them feel.


Music and instrumentation

While our definition of chamber music is fairly broad, a range of instruments, and classical music pieces are allowed. Unfortunately, we can’t accept pop, rock or jazz style pieces. If you’re unsure if your groups chosen music fits within the guidelines, send us an email and we’ll let you know.

If you don’t have traditional classical instruments that’s ok too! Chamber music hasn’t always been string quartets.

In reality, the combination of instruments is limited only by your imagination (and availability of repertoire), click for a list of possible chamber group combinations

Here are some suggestions of more traditional instruments used for chamber music:

  • String - violin, viola, cello, double bass, classical guitar

  • Woodwind - flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon, recorder

  • Brass - trumpet, horn, trombone, tuba, euphonium

  • Percussion - xylophone, marimba, glockenspiel, bongos, maracas, triangle

  • Keyboard - 1 piano 6 hands, 2 pianos 8 hands, piano, organ, toy piano, piano accordion, harpsichord

  • Choral ensemble - 3-8 vocalists with one singer per part (soprano, alto, tenor, bass)

  • Mixed groups - any combination of instruments

We welcome the inclusion of non-standard and non-western instruments in chamber groups., including but not limited to:

Erhu, Shakuhachi, Bansuri, Dulcimer, Theremin, Gamelan, Oud, Sitar, Guzheng, Dizi, Shamisen, Koto, Tabla, tambura, bamboo flute, sheh’nai (oboe).

Percussion instrument ideas:

Xylophone, marimba, vibraphone, glockenspiel, timpani, wind chimes, snare drum, tenor drum, tom-tom, bass drum, bongos, cymbals, maracas, claves, triangles, gongs and temple blocks.


Videos for inspiration

Take a look at some of these non traditional groups and instruments for inspiration.

Chinese traditional chamber music - Zhonghua liuban.

Greensleeves to a Ground, performed by Fontanella Recorder Quintet.

Chamber music with percussion - The ACE Percussion Group.