You may be a skilled musician, but do you have skilled musicianship?
What exactly is musicianship?
Musicianship combines the “thinking” and the “feeling” of great music making. Musicianship includes your approach to your instrument, but it’s also more than that. It’s the ability to develop a great musical mind, along with the physical ability to bring what’s in your mind out into reality.
If you perfectly connect what you hear in your head with what you’re doing on your instrument, then you have perfect musicianship. Isn’t this the dream of all musicians? Too bad none of us are perfect….
The good news is that this can be developed. And having great musicianship will bring the following benefits:
1) You’ll learn new instruments faster.
2) You won’t overthink things when you play live.
3) You’ll have more musical confidence.
4) You’ll have what it takes to be a pro and get paid.
Think about the whole right brained / left brained thing.
I did this short test to find out where I was, and it turns out that though I have a little bit of both, I am stronger on the right brain side.
This makes sense because I’m naturally inclined to intuition and curiosity. Most artists are in this category.
But musicians can have a unique combination of both.
My take-away from the picture to the left is I need to develop more of the left-brain part of my musicianship.
This would be folks who have an understanding of music theory. If this is you, then you have a serious edge. You’ll be ahead of the curve because you will be able to speak the language of music. You’ll have the right vocabulary, and mental capacity to “think” like a great musician.
But it’s not all you need…
You must also learn to “feel” like a great musician.
Contrary to popular belief, people aren’t born with a great ear. It must be developed and trained. Sure there are those who have more raw talent than others, but they also have to develop. Combine these skills (ear and theory) and you will supercharge your potential to have great musicianship.
Want to get started?
Five action steps to achieve great musicianship
Study An Artist
Memorization and Internalization
Keep Your Instrument Out
Play music with other musicians
Find an hour to do the following exercise: Choose a song from a favorite artist and get out your journal or a notebook. Listen to it a few times as you write down the musical reasons you think it’s great. What do you hear? Listen to each instrument in the track. Ask yourself questions like “why did the drummer do that?”, or if you’re a songwriter ask, “how is the second verse different than the first?”
Do this often enough and you will move beyond mimicking artists to thinking like an artist.
Learn how to internalize music by putting everything you do to memory. Charts and notes may be necessary at first, but get away from them ASAP. Internalizing a song helps tune your ear to the heart of the song itself, breaking you out of the pure clinical, left-brained approach to music making. This is where many classically trained musicians struggle the most.
Like. Seriously. This is a no brainer. Continue to take private lessons, practice, and guess what happens? You get better!
Watch what happens when you bring your instrument into your daily activity. If it’s guitar, get it out of its case and onto a guitar stand. Whatever it is, bring it out in the open. You’ll naturally play it more.
Probably the biggest sign of a person with great musicianship is someone who selflessly plays with others. If you play in a band long enough, it’s inevitable that you will have to learn how to play together as a team. This means you do what serves the big picture. You play less, and not more. You let the song, and the entire group, be in the spotlight.
As my friend Will McFarlane says, it’s not about the notes you play, it’s about the notes you leave out.
No matter what instrument you play, nothing will help you improve more than having a long-term vision of showing up every day to do the work. Achieving great musicianship will not happen over night, but, after years of experience, you’ll look back and see the growth.
As a believer I take great comfort knowing that if God has called me to pursue something, he will provide the grace I need to do the work necessary on that pursuit. But even more than that, my identity isn’t in my level of performance or ability.
Don’t forget that if you’re Christian, all of this is so that Jesus would be more glorified in and through your life. We don’t improve or grow so that we might be made great, but so that we might make Jesus look great.
And guess what? As you do that, you’ll love music more than ever without it being your idol. And that is when it get exciting!
Can I Ask A Favor?
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