What Does It Mean to Be Musical?

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Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. Today the subject is about what it means to be musical. Sometimes you hear people say an artist is so musical. What does that mean? Well, there’s a lot to unwrap here! 

The piano has so many different facets of abilities that are necessary in order to be able to play successfully. 

You might think that somebody who has really good technique must be musical. But technique is something I put under the umbrella of musical abilities or even musical intelligence. Good technique doesn’t necessarily equate to being musical. It does indicate talent for the instrument. Another aspect is security in performance. There are some people who just play their best in front of people. They are good performers, but are they musical? That is really something different, isn’t it?

If a performer doesn’t have security in their performance, it’s difficult to be musical. 

Just like if they don’t have technique, how are they going to be able to express anything? There are other aspects too. You need to be able to digest the score. It is crucial to be able to look at a piece of music and make sense of the structure of the piece. Once again, that’s musical intelligence. These are all important aspects of piano playing. All of these things are related. They really are important. How could you possibly be musical if you can’t digest the piece, if you can’t hold it together, or if you don’t have the fingers to be able to to execute the music? But assuming all of those things are there, what does it mean to be musical?

I believe being musical is being able to elicit emotions in the listener. 

There are some people who are astoundingly accomplished at the piano. They can play the most difficult music with fluency and security. And yet maybe they leave you cold. But sometimes there’s a student, maybe even a young student who doesn’t have much technique or experience, and they don’t even necessarily do all the things that should be done in a piece, but there’s a beauty to their playing. It makes you feel something! It brings a smile to your face, or maybe sadness. Their playing makes you feel emotions. This is something that is really elusive to describe. It’s even more difficult to teach. 

A certain amount of this is inborn. 

A certain amount cannot be learned. But like many other things in life, someone who is naturally musical can become more musical by exposure. With good training, and by listening to other musicians who are more accomplished than they are, they can grow musically. Somebody who just doesn’t have much sense of where the music should go, maybe they can learn a great deal. Their musicianship and their ability to elicit emotions and create excitement or sadness can be improved. But somebody who has very little of that natural ability will have a tougher time with musicality. 

Everybody can improve! 

This doesn’t just go for musicality, for lack of a better word, but all aspects of piano playing can grow. Technique can be improved. Security in performance can be improved. The ability to digest a score can be improved. All of these things can be improved along with that elusive musicality. So don’t fret if you are lacking in one or more of these skill sets. They all can be developed! Nobody has all of them in spades. Everybody has to mitigate their weaknesses and develop their strengths. Thanks again for joining me, Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.

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6 thoughts on “What Does It Mean to Be Musical?”


 
 

  1. I am wondering if the secret to musicality really lies in two places? One is the ear; if I do not hear something that thrills or chills me in the piece I am going to learn, I have no allegiance to the composition or composer (which is certainly unfair to both!). It will lead to my boredom and shut down because I simply cannot learn a piece I feel neutral, or worse, about. The second is the heart. I often wonder how is that someone can listen to a lyrical, mellifluous piece (of course, that is my personal preference, so perhaps I mean what the intidividial prefers in style of music) and NOT feel an emotion of some kind? It has to do with awareness, not of the outside and ‘the other’ (including the teacher looking at one!), but being in touch with one’s own heart, one’s own feelings, one’s own body, and in some cases, a vision or “story” behind what one is playing. If the teacher can teach awareness to the student of their bodily feelings, and also teach better listening/hearing skills along with mechanical technique, I think musicality would automatically improve. Perhaps classes in the dance, martial, or physical massage and energy arts would improve one’s musicality on the piano?

    1. Experience in dance, theater, and even fine arts can all aid in playing expressively. In fact, just taking in life, whether it’s experiencing a beautiful sunset, or enjoying a conversation with a close friend, ultimately, being truly present is what makes being musical possible!

  2. It’s a tough, almost impossible question. But it seems to me that if you are expressive, then it is up to the audience to experience emotion. I do not control other people’s emotions. Emotions are fickle. Some pianists do it by body language, such as having flopping long hair (Cateen), or by the way they move their bodies, but I’m not the body language type. I rely on the expressiveness I put into the music itself.

    I had a neat experience some years ago. I was playing in front of my uncle. We had had a rocky relationship for many years. I played a piece that was fairly simple, not difficult to play, but it had a lot of different moods in it, and I played the moods. After I finished, my uncle said, “You have not lost your touch!” That is one of the best compliments I ever received!

    1. Absolutely! If you have naturally strong, agile hands, you are also very lucky. Having a good sense of rhythm is also a great gift. A naturally good sense of pitch is also of great value. There are many things to be thankful for!

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