Musicality Unleashed: What Makes A Musician A “Natural”

This episode is part of the Musicality Unleashed series. Learn more and get a bonus “cheat sheet” at In this episode, we explore what really makes a musician “natural” – and as you’ll learn, it’s not countless hours spent at the instrument!

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3: Mental Models (not technique/skills) – What makes a musician a “natural”

Mastering your instrument won’t make you a great musician.

If you’ve wanted to be more capable in music, then putting in more time practicing instrument technique is not the answer.

If you’re someone who’s dreamed of feeling free, capable and confident in music – but instead feel restricted, limited, and like learning music is a struggle – then you may have fallen for the big lie which mainstream music education tells: That learning music means learning an instrument.

Yet if that were true, surely anyone who’s studied an instrument for years would feel free, confident and capable? They’d be able to play whatever they want, improvise or create their own music, they’d perform and collaborate with ease.

In reality, very few musicians ever enjoy that kind of freedom – and it’s because learning an instrument doesn’t deliver what you really need to become that “natural” in music.

What is it that distinguishes a “natural” musician from the average music learner?

Why is it that even when you get good with instrument technique you don’t really feel any closer to feeling really “musical”?

We think the better we get at our instrument the closer we’ll get to those pros and “naturals” we admire.

That’s understandable. They often do have some impressively flashy instrument technique.

But even a robot can play music note-perfectly! And it wouldn’t move the listener.

All the instrument technique in the world doesn’t capture the essence of true musicality.

In fact, if all it took to be a “great” musician was instrument technique then every concert would be performed by robots.

So if the difference isn’t in the instrument technique, where is it?

Well, there’s only one place it can be: in the mind of the musician.

That’s not actually surprising, right? You’ve probably suspected that the “great” musicians just have a different kind of “musical mind” than you do.

They think about music differently, they understand it more deeply and intuitively than you do.

If you’ve thought that, you’re absolutely right – BUT if you also assumed that is something they were born with, here’s some good news: It’s not. You too can learn that “musical mind”!

The difference between you and the greatest musicians you admire and dream of being is all in their “mental models”. Meaning the way their brain represents musical ideas such as pitch and rhythm.

We all have mental models for music, whether it’s something you’ve ever thought about or not.

The trouble is that most musicians lack the specific and fundamental mental models that unlock those “instinctive” skills in music like playing by ear, improvising, composing, collaborating freely and so much more.

When you study music theory or do ear training you’re extending and improving your understanding of music – but not always in a clear and coherent way. It can feel very piecemeal, like you’re learning bits and pieces but it doesn’t all fit together into a single cohesive mental model of how music works.

Put the right mental models in place and the whole world of music opens up to you.

So if you’ve yearned for that freedom and confidence in music and wondered why instrument practice alone doesn’t seem to be getting you there – maybe it’s time to acquire some new, more empowering mental models for music and upgrade your musical mind.

Stay tuned to more Musicality Unleashed to find out what exactly that means…

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