Attributes of a Total Musician

Why have I chosen to describe a “total musician”? Do you need to be a “total musician” to be entertaining or be considered worthy? These questions I want to answer so that you understand the different ways and points of view from which musicianship can be seen.

I like to believe that we all wish to become better as musicians. At some point during a musicians career they realize that one way to improve and become recognized is to try to play with musicians who are more experienced than yourself.  We don’t need to be a total musician to be entertaining or even famous.

A total musician in my view will have the following attributes but are not requirements to enjoy playing or even for gaining a following:

1. Playing by ear – this ability can range from simple melody to total harmonization and ability to play inner parts that may be part of an orchestration or arrangement. Tip

2. Adaptability  to playing with other musicians. This is understanding when to respect the space of other musicians in a kind of soundscape. A landscape artist for example does not draw the sky green and the grass blue. And the barn does not need to be the main element of a drawing. Similar analogies can be made to playing with others.

3. Reading music – This takes on more than one type of reading and can include some very specific skills.  For instance a classically trained musician will not be able to sit down and play a jazz chart.

4. A sense of rhythm  –  Improvising has not always been a Jazz musician’s skill. Bach and Beethoven and Paganini were all considered masters of improvisation. One very useful ability is an awareness of breaking down the beat into smaller subdivisions. Jazz and other styles will often blend and melt the triplet feel with a straight eighth note or sixteenth note feel.

5. Phrasing – Understanding that melody imitates singing and includes an awareness of where to breathe, when to be expressive and how to go about improvising. Popular music uses a technique of singing or playing a melody ahead or after the beat. All kind of music use what is called rubato. What you take away needs to be given back and of course the reverse is true also. The notes are performed so that if there is a speeding up then there is also slowing down.

6. Knowledge of structures and form example: What is ABA or Theme and Variations or Rondo or ABA etc.

7. Ability to change keys and understanding the harmonic movement and chord progession when changing key.

8. Solfege and relative pitch. Solfege or Solfa is a system from the 1800’s that originated in England and involves the familiar do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do

9. Relaxing and understanding the degree of tension and relaxation necessary to achieve the best results. The best way to play without getting tired is to relax.

10. Knowing that silence and space are an important aspect to a performance or composition.


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