Every time we speak about a musician, we have an opinion about the fact that he’s good or not. Have you ever had a discussion with your friends about someone you thought was really good and they didn’t? In that moment you probably asked yourself how they couldn’t hear how beautiful were his music and playing.

Well, this happens because there’s not a practical way to define if a musician is good or not but only our parameters based on our music taste.

Today I want to analyse some of these with you and discover how different people judgement can be. 

Let’s start from technique. That’s often the factor that impacts the most on us when we listen to someone’s playing for the first time. Especially when we’re kids, technical musicians seem like gods to us, and we feel they’re doing something impossible.

The truth is technique is one of the easiest skills we can get on the instrument, because it doesn’t require talent but only a huge amount of practice. When we look at a musician flying on the neck of his guitar we’re not assisting to an incredible superpower show, but hours and hours of time spent on the instrument doing nothing except practicing. Talent can help, of course, in getting things faster, but it has a very little role in this. 

The sound is often matter of debates too. A musician’s sound is like his voice, the way he choose to communicate, it’s personal and as it can’t be objectively judged it can’t be appreciate by everyone the same way. The only thing we can do is to consider if it’s appropriate with music style and genre in which it’s used.

Groove. There’s no much to say about it. If it makes you move you can’t go wrong! 

Improvising is very considered when we speak about a good musician’s qualities. To improvise we have to master our instrument very well, because we need to feel notes we’re going to play before to do it. It requires experience, practice and much time spent playing, but not only that. 

In fact, if usually to play the right scale, on the right chord, at the right moment without a part can be not so easy, it’s even harder to do it without giving the listener the impression you’re improvising, and that’s exactly the point. What a nonsense, don’t you think? 

Musical genres. Many musicians are specialised in one or two. When we spoke about how to create a bass groove (here) we saw every genre is a world to discover with its intervals, language, techniques and sound. The ability to change and play music genres that are very different to one another is not for everyone. 

Language. The difference between composers and musicians is composers write music, musicians play it. But this doesn’t mean musicians merely play what others tell them note by note. Being a good musician means to know how you and your instrument can do your part at best in a musical arrangement, and this is often the hardest work. 

Now we’ve seen some common topics used to define musicians’ skills I’d like to put in some other points people often consider even if they shouldn’t.

So, what are things that for sure don’t define if a musician is good or not?

  • The genre he plays. If you don’t like songs he’s playing it doesn’t mean he’s not good but only that you have different tastes. Don’t generalise.
  • His gear. It doesn’t matter if it’s cheap, too expensive, unconventional. It’s a personal choice that absolutely doesn’t define his skills.
  • How he promotes himself. If it’s true that sometimes we can understand people only looking at them, it’s also true we can’t be sure about how musicians play before to listen. Prejudices are not helpful, you risk to miss someone really good!
  • What he studied. This topic deserves time to be discussed in depth and I’m going to do it in the next weeks. I’ll just say that even if music studies are helpful in some situations, there are others that don’t require them and many famous musicians never studied music at all. Also there are many different schools with any kind of teaching methods according to the instrument you play and which musical career you want to pursue. Knowing what kind of studies someone did can give you an idea, but to base your opinion on this may be not so much reliable.     

I hope this post has been helpful for you to understand that there’s not a clear line that defines what does it mean to be good at playing. And, above all, we shouldn’t worry about it but just have fun when we play and choose people we like to play with. 

See you next week!