Are you missing a trick?
When people say ‘I’m not musical’, they most likely mean that they don’t channel their innate musicality into playing instruments or singing. But are they missing a trick? Musicality itself is the gift here, not the ability to play or sing well. The foundations of musicality can be found in the most universal things, such as breathing, walking, talking and gesturing.
Musicality can be channelled into any activity, and it gives us things to practise, whether or not we are delivering actual music. Everyone can improve their listening, and their ability to make people listen. Everyone can develop their skills in guiding the emotions of an audience.
The techniques used at the highest levels of music-making are too powerful to be left only to musicians. In our musicality, we can all find power.
Finding your power
‘Is Music the Key to Success?’ This was the question asked by a recent New York Times article. The author approached ‘top-flight professionals in industries from tech to finance to media’, who had undertaken serious classical music training. They were asked if, and how, their music study linked to their professional achievements in other areas.
These highly accomplished musicians and highly successful professionals cited a range of benefits, from simple concepts like learning to listen, collaborating, discipline, to more complex areas like pattern recognition, visualising interrelationships, reconciling conflicting ideas, and ‘the power to focus on the present and the future simultaneously’.
The bigger question is, what about the people who aren’t master musicians? Starting from the premise that everyone is musical, can everyone access such benefits?
To approach this, we need to demystify the art of the musician. In my workshops I ask, what musicians actually do, and which parts can be useful elsewhere? So here are a few things musicians do:
Musicians combine things, many of which are elementary: things like pulse, breath, motion, energy, impulse, tension, resonance. These are put together to deliver musical structures, which organise experiences in time.
Musicians practise. They break down challenges into manageable chunks to be mastered. They repeat things, until actions and movements flow into eachother and they can then carry their audience confidently through a structured experience. In this way they develop strategies and build technique, increasing their powers of expression as they meet each new challenge.
Create a shared experience
Music is a way of not being alone. When musicians play together, every next moment matters, like in sport. Relationships can change at lightning speed - they can be accompanying one moment and leading the next, alone one moment and the next moment allowing different voices to be present at the same time. They learn to collaborate to help create a shared vision of a musical structure, a shared experience. They need the people around them to commit, to contribute and to shine.
Some musicians will take a leadership role. In the case of conducting, they physically cannot make any musical sound. They must create the conditions for their musicians to work together, and encourage the music-making to flow.
Music is immensely powerful. It can make us cry, and can fill us with joy. And especially when it has no words, it can leave us mystified as to how it moved us.
But perhaps we shouldn’t be too mystified. So much of the difficult art of music-making draws on our innate abilities, our musicality. The ‘unmusical’ person could look at the world differently, and realise how much of the master musician’s power they share. And get practising.