What is Musicality?

Thoughts on expressivity from The Music Shoppe’s resident singer

Part 1: You are going to communicate

What is musicality? It’s a rather elusive term. Let me explain why:

“Musicality is the ability to play a piece perfectly.”

This definition is technically correct, but there’s much more underneath it.

Musicality is not just the ability to play the music on the page, it is the ability to perform the piece. In order to perform the piece, you have to be expressive. To be expressive, you must know what you want “to say.” In essence, you have to decide what you think the piece is about and communicate that to the audience.

For vocalists like me, communication is critical. In a literal sense, you have text to your song and the audience needs to understand what you’re saying. But all musicians, vocalists and instrumentalists alike, have to dig deeper:

  • Why does this music exist?
  • What did the composer need people to know?
  • Was there nothing else in the world that said it exactly the way they meant it?

It’s your job to figure it out, then make your listeners understand.

This is a regular thing.

This concept is far more common than we realize. Think about a musical experience that affected you:

  • Was the performer advocating for social change?
  • Were they playing a character that you related to?
  • Did the music just make you want to dance?

Those musicians were able to communicate and in turn get a response from you, their audience. When done right, music becomes a powerful tool to enact change.

It probably sounds a little ridiculous to beginning students, but we singers can barely count, so we have to make up for it with FEELINGS.

Here’s what this all means for your student:

You’re not going to change the world.

Not yet, at least.

What students are learning (or going to learn) is how to be expressive. If they continue to study music, they will learn how to communicate, developing musicality. If they work hard and connect to their music, it will have meaning:

So, how do you do it?

There is no perfect formula for developing musicianship. Ultimately, you must be brave enough to let yourself “feel” the music and be affected by it. It’s much more interesting to watch someone who has a reaction to their music than someone who just stands there and makes noise.

Luckily, there are clues in the music that will guide you as you decide what you want to communicate:

  1. Musical markings
  2. Text
  3. The history of the composer and piece
  4. The general “feel” of the music

We will be going through each of these clues in depth throughout this series, so for now, think about why they might be important and what they mean. To get started, ask yourself:

  1. How do I feel about this music?
  2. If I had to describe the music with just a few words, which words would I use?
  3. How would the music sound if I played it different ways? What if it was melancholy? Joyful? Funny?

Get thinking about your music, and stay tuned for the next installments of What is Musicality? to keep learning!

Beckah Gerber is a member of the office staff at The Music Shoppe and maintains a private voice studio at The Music Shoppe in Normal. She thoroughly enjoys talking about her feelings. Visit her personal website here.