Musicianship or techniques, which one’s more important?

When we start to learn an instrument, we have to learn many different skills and techniques. It’s a challenging experience, sometimes it’s fun but sometimes it could be frustrating. But it’s a long journey that can help us discover more about ourselves and the world around us, in a way quite different from any other journey.

Learning an instrument can teach us to be more patient, persistent, and hardworking – and also help us express ourselves better. Performing music can teach us to ignore some mistakes, to stay in the moment, to look forward, to listen to ourselves, to learn from mistakes and more… it can also change our feelings and emotions or mood, shape our thoughts and ultimately behavior for better or worse, based on the music that we listen to or play.

As we are trying to learn about the instrument, chords, scales and other techniques – we might focus too much on learning the techniques and techniques only that we forget about the very essence of music. We could forget that the music that we are playing is supposed to communicate with the audience/listener and convey a message, thought, feeling/emotion or energy. Instead, our performance could become about showing off and an effort to impress the audience by showing them how good I can play a certain passage, piece or how to perform a technique faster than usual or than others. That’s when musicianship and musicality walk out of the door hand in hand! When stuck in this situation, one could fall into the illusion and misunderstanding that anyone who can play a piece fast is a great musician. The opposite misconception is that when a performer misses a note or plays the wrong note he’s not good enough!

So which one is more important, musicianship and musicality or skill and technique?

To me, the skills and techniques are tools to perform music – as notes, knowledge of music theory and composition are to a composer – or colors, brushes and paper or canvas are to a painter. When playing music, one shouldn’t really think about them, they should come naturally. Although the musician has already spent countless hours to master them, it doesn’t mean that they are artistry on their own. One can only claim that he has the musical understanding or even mastery when he can blend the musicianship and musicality with skills and techniques. “To play a wrong note is insignificant; to play without passion is inexcusable”, Beethoven. It’s just like listening to the performance of an instrument that we have never played before and have almost no knowledge about, therefore we may not know what is easy or difficult to play on that instrument, then musicianship and interpretation would be talking to us more than techniques.

So the skills and techniques are not really important in playing an instrument, right?

Skills and techniques are like a deep dark trap that we can fall into and see nothing else. Do we listen to music to hear the techniques? It doesn’t mean that they are not important but exactly the opposite. They are very important! When we secure good techniques, that’s not the end in any way. But a lot of people stop here. That doesn’t really help when the community around them starts to call them master X or virtuoso Y, etc. and they suddenly become famous and get hundreds of views, likes and subscription/follows which could lead to performances and tours… (Not to mention those who reach fame without even having a good technique – marketing is over a different subject and I spare you the details).

At the end of the day, there might not be a real separation between musicality, musicianship, skills and techniques.

What about interpretation?

When listening to the classical repertoire (sometimes even jazz and blues), we will soon see that big names play the same piece very differently. Although the music is written and the composer might have given strict orders (performance marks) on how it should be played. The best example might be the Stravinsky’s piano sonata that a famous pianist recorded exactly as was notated to discover that Stravinsky hates it. Later on, Stravinsky recorded it himself and many sections were in contrary to the score and very different than the first one. Stravinsky’s son (Soulima) recorded the same sonata but it had very few things in common with the previous two. It might sound a bit confusing but it can be perfectly explained in a few hours, or more…

To put it briefly and simply, to make an interpretation, one has to analyze many factors and make various decisions. Different musicians might prefer different tones, timbres, colors, textures and totalities.

To summarize:

A skilled musician/singer with good techniques can develop good musicianship. That is through the good knowledge of music theory and the ability to analyze the music well. That does not necessarily mean that the musicianship is the latter though.

A musician should be able to see the bigger picture to communicate better with the audience, to convey the message better and to be understood better.

What is your approach? Which one is more challenging for you? Which one is more important to you?

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3 comments

  1. Very well said! These lessons and insights learned from music can also transfer into other areas of life.

    1. Thanks! They are indeed transferable.

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