What defines a good musician?

What defines a good musician? Is it how much experience one has? Is it dependent on if they have the technical ability to play a certain lick? Is is defined by who they play with and what accomplishments they have achieved?

No.Ian Fong

The definition of a good musician is not equated by a certain formula or a list of tasks that one must complete. A musician cannot be analyzed and categorized as a good musician solely upon how many years they have been playing or who they have been influenced by. I feel that a musician’s musical ability depends on their passion, motivation, and unique perception on music. Yes, having the technical ability to play a certain II-V-I lick or play 16th note runs at 240 bpm helps, but, this is not what entirely defines a good musician.

Through my experiences, I have learned one thing. A musician is not built upon a certain set of requirements or a certain criteria. A good musician is defined by their unique ability to create music in a way that expresses themselves. Yes, there are ways of indicating whether a musician has achieved this ability but there is no set measurement that can truly define a good musician.

There is no perfect musician. Our standards for what makes a good musician is influenced by our own opinions. Who we feel is a good musician is dependent on what style we like to listen to or our personal musical understanding.

Personally, my definition of a good musician rests upon if an artist has a unique understanding and  perspective in music. A good musician has the ability to challenge themselves to exceed any boundaries and pursue what they love at any cost. They strive to deepen their understanding in music and apply what they have learned. Lastly, they have the ability to communicate and listen to other musicians musical perspective and perception.

So, if you ever wonder what defines a good musician, remember that it is not what they do but how they do it. Music is not math. There is no definite answer. 1 + 1 may not always equal 2.



13 thoughts on “What defines a good musician?

  1. Hiya, I just hopped over in your website online by the use of StumbleUpon. Now not one thing I would normally learn, however I appreciated your feelings none the less. Thanks for making something value reading.

  2. Very nice post. I have a similar point of view, and have focused on both improving my skills and risking more and more exposure when I perform. With students, I work a lot on the technical aspects of singing: the “mechanics” (breathing and support, what goes on with the tongue, the throat, the soft palate, and how it all works together), vocal exercises, rhythm exercises, knowing how to look at and understand a piece of music, and so on. And then I always remind my students that ultimately technique is in the service of expression, and in the end none of the technique will matter much if they don’t put themselves into every piece of music they sing. Mastery of skills is admirable, and great mastery can even be awe-inspiring. But personality, individual expression, the willingness to communicate honestly and openly – that’s what reaches people, that’s when it feels like music matters. Hearing someone who has all of that – technique AND generosity of expression – can be thrilling.

    • Hi! I totally agree. I think a lot of younger musicians are so caught up in the technique that they tend to forget that music is not all about, like you said, mastery of skills. As a young musician myself, I have noticed that what makes a good musician is if they understand that balance between creativity and technicality. Being able to have a firm grasp on their horns or instrument is only one half of becoming a musician. The next half is taking it further and using their technique to express their understanding and creativity for their music. It actually surprises me because I asked many people what they think about this and some of them feel like you can be a great musician with only technique. Yet, my only question to their response is that I thought music was a connection between you and your horn. I feel technique does not adequately do that. You cannot get an emotional response if someone is only depending on technique to create music.

  3. I really like this. Not pigeon-holing musicians under one set of criteria. I personally dislike all the ‘guitarists’ who are famous only because of their speed. Most of them aren’t musical at all, but there are the exceptions (no criteria or rules, right?).

  4. Very well said, sir. Music is a technical skills, yes, one that requires practice. However, there are so many intangible things that can’t be measured or quantified that go into music. For example, I’m not a jazz player and never have been. But I do play the French horn. Am I not a true musician because I haven’t mastered jazz, blues, or bluegrass–even if I know them all and enjoy them? Heck no! The same can be said for those people who play in the genres I can’t but no nothing of mine.

    Musicality is a certain touch, an ability to make an instrument “talk” with your “voice,” and anyone who can do that, regardless of his/her training or lack thereof, is a musician in my book.

    • I agree! There are things that can’t be measured. This article was centered more for jazz musicians. Jazz musicians tend to either focus on the technical aspect of improvising or they focus on the creative part. I am in no way saying that this rule applies to other genres. I am saying that we need to focus on the creative aspect of playing for jazz musicians. Like you said, a true musician is able to sing through their horn. They can dig deep into their darkest emotions and soul and translate that into music.

  5. Hey Ian great post!
    Yeah I agree with you on all counts, however being technically proficient gives your expression greater depth whether in composition or improvisation. Spending time learning about yourself, what you like and then having the confidence within yourself to honestly express what you feel is the beginnings of something amazing, however on the other side of the coin knowing how other people tick and what they are wanting to hear when they want to hear it is also another amazing facet to musicianship that is not often talked about, I believe as a musician being a great entertainer is an essential skill that needs equally as much focus.

    • I agree, being technically proficient does help you express yourself. I think this post was answering whether we should focus on one more heavily. I find many musicians only focus on being technically proficient and they forget about being creative. As a musician, I feel like we need to find a balance. We need to keep it in perspective that music is not all about showing off your technical ability but also your creative abilities.

      I also agree that a musician should learn how to be a great entertainer but I feel like this doesn’t need as much focus. I think a musician should first understand how to be creative (develop their own sound/style, understand how to musically communicate with other musicians, etc) and then start to learn how to be technically proficient and a great entertainer.

      Thanks for checking out “Jazz in Perspective” and commenting!

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