How to develop musicality

Today, I want to talk about musicality. Musicality means different things to different people, but to me, musicality is the ability to rise above the technical aspects of a piece of music and communicate at a deeper level.

A short time ago, I listened to a performance of a very good pianist. While she played very complicated pieces, I noticed that she was doing everything right-the notes and rhythm were close to perfect as well as her dynamics, phrasing, etc.

But the performance was not musical. Something was missing.

Most of you will probably understand what I am saying. Musicality is that little extra something on top of everything else that makes music special. It can make the simplest piece magical and it is the element that has the ability to elicit the strongest emotions from listeners.

If you have the ability to be musical, consider yourself blessed. Many pianists will never get to that level. If you are not there yet, here are some tips to help you:

1) Understand that you cannot be musical unless you play music within your comfort level.

Don’t fall into the trap of trading musicality for technical impressiveness. That is a poor trade, but is one that most musicians make. You would be far better off playing simpler music. Ideally, you want to choose music that you can play unconsciously. Unless you are able to handle the technical aspects of the music without even thinking, you are not going to be in a position where you can concentrate on musicality.

2) Listen to good music so that you can identify musicality when you hear it.
If you can identify musicality, you can start reproducing it. I cannot tell you exactly what kind of music you should listen to, but it should be the music that has deep meaning. When I was growing up, I learned my
concepts of musicality from listening to Dino’s piano-only recordings and then playing those same arrangements.
Whatever else you might think about Dino, he is an outstanding Christian pianist and is very musical. You may have another favorite pianist that you can learn from. Listen to whomever you want, but don’t mistake technical brilliance for musicality.

3) Actively listen to yourself.
Record yourself and listen critically. Compare your sound  to others that you consider musical. Notice the small things they do. Incorporate just one small thing into your music every week and you will see big improvements within a year.

4) Listen to what people say when they talk about your music.

If they talk only about your technique (“My, I thought you had 4 hands!”), you have a problem. If they talk about the effect your music makes on them, you are possibly succeeding in being musical.

Note that I am not giving specific techniques to achieve musicality. I don’t know if I can. If I did, I might be
forcing you into a mold and that would not be appropriate. That being said, I think I am the most musical when I am using a lot of natural rubato, playing simple music, and utilizing interesting harmony. Other musicians might have an entirely different set of elements that make them musical.

As a musician, you have a much higher calling than just to impress people with your technique. You have the power to affect them in a much more meaningful way-you just might need to learn how. I cannot reemphasize how much my first point is true above. Very few pianists have the ability to be both technically brilliant and
musical. Unless you are the rare exception, put aside your more advanced music and play something simpler.

And remember this. Christian piano players are everywhere. Christian piano artists are much more rare. The difference is musicality.