Category Archives: Thoughts

What’s your point of view on the future of musicianship?

On Tuesday May 1st 2012 a bunch of very smart and passionate people come together to discuss the Future of Musicianship in our very first event. If you are in central London and can free yourself 5-8pm this Tuesday, we’d love for you to come along.

It’s open to public and it’s completely free – simply register here:

You can simply come along to listen or if you want to join in the discussion at any point, we welcome that as well! After the discussion there is time for networking with a couple of drinks included.

It’s a great crowd and we are really excited. We’ve seen some of the preparation emails by the speakers fly around and there is definitely going to be a lot of passion and opinions in the room!

Confirmed speakers:

Andrew DubberAndrew Dubber – @dubber

Reader in Music Industries Innovation at Birmingham City University, Advisor to Bandcamp, Co-Founder of New Music Strategies

Paul Kirkham

Paul Kirkham

Managing Director of The Institute of Contemporary Music Performance

Steve LawsonSteve Lawson  – @solobasssteve

Professional musician, masterclass-giver, social technology consultant, co-founder of New Music Strategies and Amplified

Pete LutkoskiPeter Lutkoski

President of the Association for Music in International Schools & Assistant Principal at the American School in London

Bill Martin

Bill Martin@bcmartin

Music Education Manager at Yamaha Music Europe & Manager of the Yamaha Class Band project

Simon Purcell

Simon Purcell

Head of Jazz Department at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music & Dance

Tony Whyton Tony Whyton – @TonyWhyton

Professor of Jazz & Musical Cultures at Salford University

What happens after May 1st?

We are lucky to have photographer Alan Tucker coming along to make sure we get some photos, and Ben will be taking care of the audio recording, so we can make the highlights available for all of you afterwards, to enjoy and to share. We will also be presenting guest blog posts from some of our speakers – make sure you come back to comment and take part in the conversation!

Masters at Work

There’s nothing like hearing and watching masters of your craft at work. On Wednesday night we went to see Chick Corea and Gary Burton at the Barbican and got a perfect example of some of the things we’ve been talking about on this blog.

This is a partnership in it’s 40th year. Obviously at complete ease with each other, throughout the evening they were generously leaving space for each other, weaving their parts together, each picking up on the phrases, dynamics and moods of the other’s playing and complementing it perfectly. What struck me was how they seemed to use their knowledge of each other’s playing, not as an excuse to take it easy, but to listen deeper into what each other was doing.

Also in evidence was the duo’s wide influences, playing jazz standards as well as versions of The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby, pieces by Scriabin and Bartók, and an brilliantly witty original piece inspired by Mozart.

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Where do we get the knowledge we need? – Guest post by Eric Rupert

As the first in a series of guest bloggers to the Loving & Living Music project, we give you Eric Rupert.  As I’ve talked so far about the listening aspect of musicianship, I invited Eric to write from a different angle, one that he’s passionate & highly knowledgeable about – the importance of stylistic & historical knowledge of music.

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 Eric RupertAs musicians we are called on to use our experience, ears and instruments to create substance to the music we perform. To play with great feel and musicianship we need to go back to the beginning of our craft, mainly our predecessors. Before finding our own voice we need to know who’s been here before and how they made their mark on the music and on us. Like in any history lesson we need to explore the explorers. This means listening and learning about the musicians, not just on our own instrument, but the whole group to understand how they achieved the sound and textures which created the sounds of the times.

All genres have a groove, whether it is rock, country, classical or jazz. To understand the music we have to find out about the creators. So we ask ourselves who played piano on Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, what drummer played on Aretha Franklin’s Respect, who’s bass sound is on Steely Dan’s Deacon Blues, what inspired Dave Mason’s trumpet solo on the Beatles Penny Lane? All these things we should know before we try to find our own voice. It’s like collecting an encyclopedia of players, grooves, colours and textures to be used at the drop of a hat or on the gig. These are the building blocks of the “Tools of the Trade”.

Every week we should listen to something we wouldn’t normally and research the musicians; this doesn’t mean we have to like it, it just helps us learn more about our art. Find music to listen to by a player instead of an artist, you may find a person you already respect has done some varied musical work. A great example is pianist/keyboardist Don Grolnick who has performed and recorded with Steps Ahead, Brecker Bros, Bette Midler and James Taylor, quite a dichotomy of genres and artists.

This will bring us to ask why drummers should know different between Purdie or Porcaro shuffle; bassist and piano/keyboardists need to know the difference between a New York style groove (e.g. Will Lee on bass, Richard Tee on keys) an LA laid back style (e.g. Nathan East on bass, Dave Grusin on piano) or Blues style (Roscoe Beck on bass, Johnnie Johnson on piano), players that left their thumbprint on each. Guitarists should know who played different styles (e.g. Brent Mason in country, Chuck Loeb in jazz, Dan Huff in rock) to emulate them as a sideman. The players of the time and genre are the keys to a deeper understanding of the music. Classical musicians need to know more about the time periods, like painters do, of the pieces they play and the feeling around the era or the country of origin.

This takes us back to the question at the top: Where do we get the knowledge we need? We each take a glimpse back and learn from the forefathers of our idiom.

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Eric Rupert has spent 20+ years teaching and playing bass while recording and touring worldwide with artists from Dizzy Gillespie, Dolly Parton to Slash and West End/Broadway shows. He endorses Ibanez Basses, BBE Pedals, Breedlove Acoustic Basses, Stentor Upright Basses, Laney Amplifiers, RotoSound Strings and Ritter Cases.

Get out of your head!

In my last post I talked about the importance of listening in playing music. In this post I’d like to expand more on the process of listening. At this point you may be thinking “What process? Surely listening just happens?”.

Well, maybe not. We can’t close our ears to sound, but whether we actually listen to it or not is another question. In her coaching work, Heli uses a concept called Active Listening which distinguishes different types of listening. One type is listening to your own inner monologue. If you’ve ever had the experience of being in conversation with someone and realising that you have no idea what they just said, then you’re familiar with this voice. Instead of listening to the person you were talking to, you slipped into listening to your own thoughts. This can happen for different reasons – we may be bored of what’s being said, or we may be so interested in it that we start thinking up responses before the other person even finished speaking. Whatever the reason, we miss out on what the other person said and our response to it will be incomplete as a result.

This can happen when playing music too. It can be surprisingly easy to ‘drift off’ during performance, especially when we have the music committed to memory and can play it on autopilot. Experienced musicians can often do this and give a perfectly passable performance, a bit like the way we can sometimes get through a conversation simply by smiling and nodding in the right places. It’s not really good music-making though, just like smiling and nodding isn’t good conversation.

Alternatively, we may get so engrossed in playing our own part that we stop listening to the other musicians we are playing with and listen only to ourselves. Even though this involves external action, producing sound with our instrument or voice, it’s still internal in the sense that our listening and responding forms a closed loop that doesn’t involve anyone else.

My point is not that our inner voice is always bad and something to be suppressed. Sometimes it says useful things, like “Hey, we just skipped eight bars!” or “This doctor seems OK, but maybe I should get a second opinion”. The thing to notice is that in both these examples, the inner voice is reacting to something outside of ourselves and suggests actions which we can take in the outside world. Keeping these reactions internal is of no benefit to ourselves or others; we must communicate or act on them to produce any results.

In ‘The Inner Game of Music’, Barry Green and Timothy Gallwey talk about ‘noticing’ various aspects of playing. Simply noticing what is currently true about tone, intonation, rhythm, tension in your body, or any aspect of playing and performance, can provide valuable information about how to improve it. The same is true of listening. Noticing what you are listening to, noticing where your attention lies at any moment, can help you to direct your listening to where it will be most effective. When I apply this really effectively, I’m astounded by how many things there are to listen to, at every level from the ting of a hi-hat to the swells and falls of the whole group. It presents me with a huge array of choice about how to listen to, experience and respond to the music. And, out of all these things, the least interesting choice is always what’s going on inside my own head.

Our quest for Musicianship

Whilst Ben & I keep exploring different elements of Musicianship in more depth in this blog (and I will pitch in later on!), I wanted to give you a bit more rounded take on the purpose of this project.

1. Defining Musicianship

What we are looking for in the Loving & Living Music project is a definition or a description of musicianship that includes all aspects of musicianship across all genres and instruments. Having this definition will enable discussion of musicianship to take place on a wider scale than is possible today.

Talking to people we know or have met and looking around the web reveals all kinds of opinions on what musicianship is, including things such as musical phrasing, creating a beautiful tone, being able to play by ear, or being able to imagine music without hearing it first. In addition, most people approach the subject from their own background, leading to differences in the way that, say, a classical musician and a jazz musician think about musicianship.

There are also differences between instruments; for example, a pop drummer’s idea of musicianship may be skewed towards rhythmic accuracy and dynamics, while a classical flautist may be more interested in tone and expression. And of course even all this is just our own interpretation!

The questions we are asking in order to find Musicianship:

  1. What is musicianship?
  2. Why is musicianship important?
  3. What’s the impact of having it & not having it?
  4. What would be a good way of teaching musicianship?
  5. What are you own strengths & weaknesses in terms of musicianship?

2. Musicianship in Education

We see a gap in the way that music is commonly taught. With the Loving & Living Music project we are looking to provoke awareness and discussion among the music education sector about how Musicianship is and could be taught.

For many students, particular beginners, the measurement of success in musical performance is often skewed towards simply getting the notes right. This is, perhaps, natural for the beginner student, who may feel overwhelmed by the new information and practice required to get to grips with their instrument. It is also natural to focus on the aspects of performance, such as playing the right notes, that are easily measured, rather than measure our success with more subjective indicators. However, such measurement is vital to a rounded musician, as it requires the player to have an opinion about the sound they want to make, as well as listening carefully to make sure that their goals are being reached.

Encouraging students to listen and form opinions in this way not only raises their ability to make a good sound, but transforms the act of music-making from one of the mechanical playing of pre-determined notes into one of active engagement with the music on an aesthetic and emotional level.

Why do we care?

In our respective professions (musician, coach) we see the difference that communication skills have on people’s professional and personal conduct and fulfilment, on stage & off stage. Even though we come into the concept of musicianship from different angles, the effects of having or not having it play an important part in the work that we both do.

In a nutshell, this is our way of being a contribution to the things we love and care about the most: music and people.

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Cheers, Big Ears

Carrying on from last week’s post, I want to talk about listening. For me, listening is a fundamental element of musicianship and, judging by what’s written elsewhere on the internet, it is for many others too.

I was recently reading an interview with Primus bassist and vocalist Les Claypool where he talks about his bandmates having ‘big ears’. It’s a phrase I love; I imagine a huge pair of ears hungry for sound, sucking in the different strands of music from the air around them. For me, this is the first and most fundamental step towards musicianship, simply being aware of what is happening around you. A simple example is something that I’ve heard said in different ways over the years: “If you can’t hear the tune, play quieter”. Simple advice, maybe, but something that makes a huge difference to a performance.

Listening, though, is just part of the story – we also need to be able to understand what we’re hearing. This includes understanding what’s happening with melody, harmony, rhythm and dynamics and goes beyond that into texture, form, mood and emotion. It means being able to decode the different elements of what we’re hearing into a something that we can use to inform our own playing. It can be working out a chord sequence by ear, or noticing when a another musician is trying to affect the mood of the music.

As the ABRSM definition says, thinking in sound includes imagination. This is where the magic happens, imagining the sound we want to hear and producing it with our voices or instruments.

When our imaginings come in response to what we understand from attentive listening we have a profound impact on the music that we’re making. When we notice our fellow performer trying to change the mood we have an opportunity to contribute, to add our own imagination to theirs and create together.

This cycle of listening, understanding and imagination; this constant interplay between the individual performers, is for me what raises music-making from a craft into an art.


What is Musicianship?

We set up this project, Loving & Living Music, to explore and promote musicianship. It’s a topic I’ve always been passionate about.

However, in our initial conversations I realised how fuzzy my idea of musicianship actually was – is it a set of skills, personal qualities, an attitude, or some mix of these and other things?

So what is it?

Like any confused person in the internet age I turned to Google. The first result was a vague dictionary definition, simply stating that musicianship is ‘artistry in music’. More useful was the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music syllabus for their Practical Musicianship exam, which has this to say:

Musicianship is a broad concept that covers a complex range of musical abilities…it is loosely defined as the ability to ‘think in sound’. This occurs when a musician is able to produce music which they perceive internally and in the imagination, whether through playing by ear, singing, reading from notation, or through improvisation.

This definition has elements of what I understand as musicianship but, as the ABRSM note, it’s only part of the story. So what else goes into musicianship? Is it the same for all musicians or does it change from one genre to another? I’ll be posting soon about what I think it is; watch this blog for that and, please, use this space to voice your own opinions and ideas.