Welcome back to this special pair of episodes celebrating hitting the 100 mark of the Musicality Podcast! If you haven’t already heard Episode 100 then make sure you go back and listen to it too because both that one and this one are jam-packed with incredible insights from over two-dozen expert guests, answering the question:
“What’s one thing you’ve learned that could help musicians to tap into their inner musicality?”
In the last episode we heard from 11 experts whose answers to this question were varied and fascinating. There were some common themes, some of which you’ll hear coming up again in this episode, but each guest also brought their own unique perspective and insight to the question. We’ll talk a little more at the end of this episode about those recurring themes and how we can learn more from them.
We said last time that we’d tried to group the experts to make for two great episodes to listen to, but apart from that there’s no meaning to the order – so the line-up for this episode is just as impressive as the first one.
In this episode you’ll be hearing:
- Bill Hilton, author of “How to Really Play the Piano” talking about the level of instrument technique required to sound truly musical.
- Book author, podcaster, song-writer and musician David Andrew Wiebe of MusicEntrepreneurHQ.com revealing three things that can help you sound more like a pro.
- Innovator in school music education Casey von Neumann of Eclectic Music and CaseyMcCann.com sharing the tip that let her sound just as musical as her incredibly accomplished teacher.
- Leading teacher-of-teachers Sara Campbell of SarasMusicStudio, and our Resident Pro for piano here at Musical U, explaining why young children are often more in touch with their inner musicality and what we can learn from that.
- Practice expert Chris Owenby from PracticeHabits.co talking about what it takes to become an accomplished musician like the greats we admire.
- Rising star singer-songwriter Kendra McKinley pointing out the thing you’re probably forgetting to listen to which could make you sound more musical.
- Actress, singer, writer and cabaret expert Fiona-Jane Weston discussing the relationship between technique and artistry, and how to unlock the potential in a piece of music.
- Composer and guitar educator David Wallimann on escaping the constraints your instrument might be placing on you.
- Author of the must-have handbook for aspiring musicians, “The Musician’s Way”, Gerald Klickstein, on one activity that will transform your musicality and why it’s more vital for music than other artforms.
- Music technology expert Katie Wardrobe on one non-tech thing she does to develop her musical understanding.
- World-leading vocal expert and sight-reading pro Jeremy Fisher on how to overcome tricky spots and learn music faster.
- Creative music teaching expert Leila Viss on the mindset shift required to uncover your own creative voice.
- Music theory innovator Scott Sharp on the special way of thinking about keys and chords that can let you understand what’s going on in the music you hear and play.
- And Vincent James, the man behind some of the most inspiring events and books in the world of music tops off our episode with some counter-intuitive advice for connecting musically with your audience.
Are you excited? We’ve already heard all these and we’re excited all over again just talking through them!
Before we dive in, if you’re somebody who relishes this kind of musicality insight and knowledge then you are not going to want to miss the special edition we’ve put together to celebrate this 100th episode. It’s called the Musicality Podcast Power Pack, and we’ve taken the first 100 episodes of the podcast plus some clever extra resources to help you get maximum value from each and every episode, AND some super cool bonuses contributed by our expert guests. And we’ve packed it all onto a USB thumb drive you can put in any computer or laptop and instantly get access to everything.
No waiting for downloading, no worrying that the episodes might not be available any more in future – you’ve got everything you could want and more, all in the palm of your hand. We would really love for every single listener to the show to have a copy of this – so we’ve made it really affordable and we’re including free worldwide shipping to help get this out to as many people as possible. So if you enjoy the show and want the Power Pack yourself, or if you have a friend or family member who you’d love to hand it to as an amazing musical gift, please head to musicalitypodcast.com/celebrate – that’s musicalitypodcast.com/celebrate – for all the details. This is a very time-limited offer to celebrate this 100th episode, so don’t miss your chance to grab a copy of the Musicality Podcast Power Pack – head to musicalitypodcast.com/celebrate today!
Okay, with that said, let’s dive in.
Listen to the episode:
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Bill Hilton: Hey everyone, I’m Bill Hilton. You might have come across my piano tutorials on YouTube. You might have read some of my books about playing the piano, or you might have heard me before on the Musicality podcast.
Now today, I just want to spend a minutes sharing an idea with you. A really simple idea. Which if you take it onboard, can really help you tap your inner musicality and give you more freedom as a musician, help you release yourself from some of the constraints that you might have imposed as you’ve learned your instrument.
And the idea is this: you don’t need to be a good musician to make good music. Okay? It sounds really simple, doesn’t it? A bit a facile almost. A bit simplistic, yeah? You don’t need to be a good musician to make good music. But it’s absolutely true, okay? I’ve learned that over the years, and I’ve seen it in other people. And if you take it onboard it can make you a better musician.
Let’s just unpack, kind of explain what I mean by that idea. Now, when I talk to a lot of people who are learning how to play a musical instrument, typically the piano because that’s my instrument. And time and time again I come across this very distinctive attitude you find among instrument learners. And it’s this, “I’m learning to play this instrument, and I need to learn this skill, and that skill, and this big of theory, and this scale, and I need to learn to do it really fast. Or here on the piano, or there on the piano, I need to be able to stretch this distance. I need to learn all these things. I want to have learned all these things in two years, or five years, or 10 years, or whatever. Then I’ll be a good musician.” Okay?
Now in some ways that’s a healthy attitude, because as musicians we should always be seeking to get better, yeah? Because the better we get as musicians, the more technically skilled we become, the bigger the range of music we can perform. Okay? But it’s also in some ways an unhealthy attitude, because the implication behind it is, “Until I’ve learned all these amazing skills … Until I’ve learned to sit down and … play really fast jazz scales, or whatever. Until I’ve learned to do that, then I’m no good.” You know, “What I play isn’t worth listening to. It’s not worth sharing with the world. It’s not fundamentally good music.” The truth is, you can make good music, even great music with relatively limited skills.
All I’m doing here, is playing around with a C chord in a root position in my right hand and suspended notes. I’m suspending a D and an F in there every now and then. Okay? They’ll think that’s pretty complicated, if you don’t play the piano I can teach you how to play the shapes that I’m playing there, in 10 minutes or whatever. When all I’m doing is kind of … noodling around with it. Now, I’m not saying it’s great music, but it is kind of interesting music. That’s kind of cool isn’t that? It’s C, F, and G in the right hand, with an E natural in the base. So, you’ve got that kind of slight dissonance in there which resolves … when you get to the F in the base, okay?
So, I’m not using the skills of a massively advanced musician, but I’m making at least somewhat interesting music. Okay. So, when you finish listening to this, go and sit at your instrument or sit with your instrument, whatever your instrument happens to be, and just play around with something simple. And don’t think about the technical skills, don’t think about the chords or the scales. Think about the musicality. Think about the sound you’re making. What are you expressing? Because that’s what music is all about, okay?
There’s a little bitty quotation from the 16th century, Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi, and Monteverdi wrote that, “The end of good music is to touch the soul.” “The end of good music is to touch the soul.” It’s not to show off or to play low fancy stuff, it’s to connect with people, and to make it an emotional impact. To make some sort of statement, to convey a feeling. Now, if you have loads of technical skills, then as I said, you have a bigger range of ways of doing that at your disposal. But even if you have very limited skills, okay? Or only quite limited knowledge, you can still be really really musical. You can still sit down at the piano or with your guitar or whatever, and make good music.
And actually, we all know that to be true if you think about someone like Paul McCartney, who I’m fairly sure to this day doesn’t read music very well. But who has written some of the great songs in the 20th century. Now, that’s not to say that I don’t think you should learn how to read music because I absolutely think you should. But you don’t need to wait until you have all those skills before you start making good music.
Kind of the [cornorary 00:05:11] of that attitude is that learning technical skills, and learning how to be flashy, and how to show off … By extension and getting loads of fancy gear or that kind of thing … Those are not ends in themselves. Some people really learn bits fast play, or fancy playing. Or they get loads of plugins or fancy instruments, and it doesn’t make you a better musician, okay? I would rather listen to a really good piece of very simple music played on a [knack it all 00:05:43] piano, yeah? Than something really flashy, but a bit soulless.
“The end of all good music.” Monteverdi chooses that word “good” very precisely. “The end of all good music, is to touch the soul.” And in order to touch people’s soul, you don’t need to know a lot more … than one chord shape.
So, as I say, get yourself to your instrument now. Just sit down, suspend your judgment, dig into that musicality. Instead of thinking, “Am I playing the right notes?” Think about, “What am I trying to say?” Because even if you’re not a good musician yet, even if you don’t have all those technical skills, you can still make good music.
Casey von Neumann
Casey von Neumann: Hi this is Casey Von Neumann, formerly Casey McCann from Casey McCann dot com and Eclectic music Atlanta dot com. Something that I’ve seen that can help people become more musical is to slow down and take small chunks. To take on less.
When I was a student, my teacher played with the most beautiful technique, and I learned a lot from watching him and what he would always tell me was that whatever I was playing, I should be able to play as well as he could play it. And that didn’t mean that I could play everything that he could play; he was an incredibly accomplished classical pianist. But it meant that he wanted, even if I just played five notes that I was gonna play that five notes with ease and artistry.
If I couldn’t play whatever I was playing with ease and artistry; that I should be taking on less or going more slowly. So that has held true to this day, in a lot of different aspects of my musicianship and that of my students. It’s amazing what we’re capable of and the artistry and beauty that we’re able to display when we actually lower the bar for ourselves and don’t take on as much.
That we force ourselves to slow down and be mindful, even when we wanna just leap to the top of the mountain, we just aim to get there step by step and then we will actually sound very professional and polished when we play even if we’re playing simpler pieces.
David Andrew Wiebe
David Andrew Wiebe: Hi, this is David Andrew Wiebe from the Music Entrepreneur HQ.
I believe that musicality is something that’s deeply embedded in all of us. Everywhere we go, music follows us around, whether it’s in our car, at the mall, in a restaurant, or on YouTube videos, or otherwise.
This is good news, because it means that you don’t need to dig deep to find your musicality, all you need to do is draw it out.
Music is essentially built off rhythm, melody and harmony. If you can tap out a beat with your foot or hum a melody to yourself, it’s proof positive you are already musical.
When you’re first getting started, playing music may seem a bit esoteric. Not because you haven’t heard music before, but because you don’t know how all the elements are supposed to come together to create a cohesive whole. Playing music is a little different from listening to music, and as you begin learning how to play an instrument, slowly but surely the mystery will unravel.
But you might be saying to yourself, I know how the basics work, I’m trying to figure out how to sound more like a pro. As you can imagine, this can take time. So often, we look at the pros and say to ourselves, “Look at how fast they are. How do you learn to play so fast? They sound so good, what scale are they playing? Their timing is impeccable. How do they stay on time?”
I’ve asked myself the same questions, so I know where you’re coming from. Here’s what I’ve found.
One: Players who I initially thought were impossibly fast turned out to be more precise than fast. Certainly, there are some musicians who are fast on their instrument, and they’ve worked hard to develop that, usually with the help of a metronome. But fast doesn’t always translate to sounding good. So, rather than making it your goal to play fast, make it your goal to play accurately. Speed will come with time if you focus on accuracy first.
Two: Most players are using the same scales that we use, so why does it seem like they sound so much better than we do? This mainly has to do with their phrasing. Listening to different genres can help you get a better sense of how a solo or riff is phrased in those styles. Learning a new way of phrasing is like adding another tool to your belt, as you’ll be able to pick and choose how you want to phrase a specific part. Another way of saying this is that, everybody playing music is using the same words, i.e., notes, but how you put those words together impacts the sound that comes across.
Three: Pros have spent years practicing, jamming and rehearsing with drummers and click tracks. Some musicians even use click tracks for their live shows so they can keep synchronized with their band mates and/or video footage. If you’ve ever recorded music before, you know how essential it is to practice your part with a metronome. The number one goal with a recording is to get all the instruments sounding airtight, so even though there’s a lot that can be done in editing and post-production, it’s helpful to get a take that’s as close to perfect as possible.
Bottom line: Learning to play in time takes practice.
So, in summary, you are already musical. It’s an innate part of who you are. This isn’t to suggest that you can get good at playing any instrument. You may need to try several instruments before you can find one you’re comfortable on. But you don’t need to uncover your musicality, you just need to nurture it. If you want to improve your musicality, exercise your five senses, especially sight, touch and sound. Watch others play music, spend time with your instrument, and listen to a lot of music.
Sara Campbell: Hey there, this is Sara Campbell from sarasmusicstudio.com. And I’ve got a little bit of advice for you today about tapping in to your inner musicality. This lesson comes from some of the youngest students in my studio.
I’ve had the pleasure of teaching so many students over the years of a variety of ages, and one of the things that I’ve observed, is that there’s a big difference between my very little students, and my adult students. And that difference is that little students are so much freer when they sit down to the piano, or when they’re singing. They embrace that inner musicality with ease, and here’s why.
As adults, we develop these really heavy expectations on ourselves. And we have a mean little inner critic that likes to come out whenever we’re practicing or performing. And that critic will say things like, “That note sounded awful. This rhythm is so boring. Why can’t you do this better? You’ve been practicing this for six months.” Little kids, they don’t have that inner critic. They don’t have those heavy expectations.
So my one tip for you is this: embrace your inner child, release those expectations, and find the joy that you had as a little kid when you were listening to your favorite song. So when it comes to improvisation, or practice, or performance, I want you to ask yourself one question, “What would my five year old self do?”
Chris Owenby: Hello. This is Chris Owenby from PracticeHabits.co. I think there’s an air of mystic that surrounds musicians in the craft, especially those who have risen among the ranks to become professional musicians and have celebrated works. Whether that’s in the form of audio recordings or live performances. I feel this can be encouraging for a lot of folks inspiring to watch someone in that light but I feel like that it can also be daunting and almost discouraging for those working at their craft and don’t feel like they’re growing as quickly as they should.
I always like to remind people that you have to consider the whole journey. You take a star in air quotes and analyze they’re working what they’re doing. Just remember there’s always a backstory. There’s always a journey that has propelled an individual who’s achieved great things forward. It’s those little things that we do each day as musicians. The five to 10 minutes of very focused practice here and there or the 30 minutes to an hour of focus intense practice once per week, or once a day even, that’s going to propel you forward. It’s those little things compounded that will help you achieve great things.
Not for everyone is the goal to become a professional musician or a star or someone who’s performing for large audiences. For many, the goal may just to become very good at his or her own instrument and the craft of playing the instrument. I think that’s a beautiful and wonderful goal. But friends, be encouraged to remember it’s those little things that add up, is going to help you achieve great things on your instrument and help you tap in to your inner musicality. Be encouraged.
Kendra McKinley: Hi, my name is Kendra McKinley and I am a musician from San Francisco, California.
The piece that I’d like to share about tapping into one’s inner musicality is about listening. So if you’re singing with a choir or if you’re playing with a band, think it can be easy to become hyper-focused on the sounds that you’re making, on your own intonation, on whether or not you’re playing the correct part, or focusing on the quality of your instrument.
All of which are very important things, but I think that real musicality is achieved when thinking about how your instrument exists in relation to the other sounds around you. For example, if you’re singing and you focus more on the other voices, you sort of start to blend a bit more because your voice sort of gives in to what it is that they’re creating. So yeah, I would just say listening, listen more to those players around you. Or perhaps you’re performing solo and maybe you’re more comfortable as a singer than as a guitar player. Then try listening more to the instrument that you’re playing. Hope that’s helpful. Thank you. Bye.
Fiona-Jane Weston: Hello, my name is Fiona-Jane Weston, and I am a singer, actor and cabaret artist. The terms “musicality” or “being musical” seem to cover a whole range of meanings. It can mean something as simple as saying someone is able to pick up a musical concept faster, or learn an instrument faster, or simply to carry a tune with more emotional intent. Or it might mean someone who has very little in the way of musical education, but is able to really grasp the deeper, visceral connection with music.
It’s possible for someone without much in the way of musical education, but with a great gift, to in fact not really be able to express their musicality very well, because they don’t have the tools there. Whereas someone with less of an innate gift that is brought up in a very supportive musical environment, might really be able to develop.
It seems to me that the purpose of learning any artistic technical skill, whether it’s for playing an instrument, or to learn to dance or act or sing or paint a picture, is to get hold of and develop the tools that the artist needs to express themselves freely, to not be hampered by any technical deficiencies. So speaking as a singer, I know that a sound mastery of vocal technique and an understanding of how music works, grants the singer more colors in their paintbox to express the lyrics and narratives of a song in just the way they want to.
I would say that the things that have helped me in my musical career are to first of all become very familiar with the song as it’s written, and then decide how I want to share the emotions of the lyrics, in order to put my own interpretation on it. And also to listen very carefully to the melody and the musical accompaniment.
With regard to the melody, I will as myself questions like this: do I want to finish the note at the same time as the accompaniment? Or do I want to come off earlier or later for a particular effect? Do I want to alter the rhythm on this phrase? Or repeat the chorus in a higher key or even go up the octave? But this is not done to show off how high you can sing; it should be done for artistic reasons. There should be a real intentionality behind it. But at the same time, if you really want to express an emotion by going up higher, but then you find you might be cracking on the high notes, go back to your technique. Go back to your vocal technique, so that you can sing the high notes without cracking. Or bring the whole song down a key.
If it’s a really complex song, a good tip I’ve found is to really listen to the accompaniment. It will give you all sorts of clues as to how to interpret it dramatically, but also help you technically as well, so that if you’re someone who finds it hard to count … secretly, I find it hard to count … listen to the accompaniment, and it will tell you how long you want to hold onto the last note, for example. So that if you’re in a drumbeat … your personal inner drumbeat is different from the person’s next to you, it’s not going to be a problem if you’re listening very carefully to each other. You’ll be fine. You’ll both know what to do.
So I suppose the most important thing I’ve learned really over the years, is that sound technical mastery and artistic expression work together to create a really profound experience, both for the listener and the artist. They’re not competing elements; being clever technically doesn’t necessarily make a musician more musical than somebody who doesn’t have the technical terms, but can really move an audience. But it does mean that if you have those two things going together, that’s really when the magic happens.
So that the person who is relying totally on their artistic expression, but doesn’t have the technical skill or the musical concepts, I would really want to encourage you to go and learn them, and learn the concepts here, on Musical U, because it can only render your artistry even better. It can only increase your knowledge and your confidence, and make your communications easier with other musicians. And here at Musical U, you’re in the right place to do just that. I look forward to joining you here, on the musical journey on Musical U, and to find out just how you’re developing with your musical journey too. Let’s share it together. All the best to you.
David Wallimann: Hey, this is David Wallimann from GuitarPlayback.com and from YouTube, also. And if there’s one thing that really did help me early on develop my musicality it’s this, to just put the guitar down, as a guitar player, or whatever other instrument you’re playing, just put that down, which will force you to not think like an instrumentalist.
I think the problem when thinking about the guitar or the keyboard or whatever … The problem with that is that you’re gonna start to think about the things that you are supposed to do with the instrument. What skills have you learned, what patterns have you learned and when you start to think in terms of those things, your music is really influenced and directed by the skills that you have acquired in your practice, and that’s limiting. You might be missing out on your inner musician.
So what I would do, and that has helped me, is to actually put the guitar down and don’t touch it and just imagine … imagine what you want to say musically. Just start singing something. The voice is probably the easiest thing to do that because we’re so used to using our voice, and just to add a little bit, imagine what you want the outcome to be once you have something. It can be super simple.
Once you have something, grab your instrument and try to replicate what you heard inside and what came out of your mouth and you’ll discover that most of the times what your playing is something new and fresh and exciting because it really comes from within and not from the limitations of your current ability to play the instrument. That helped me a lot. I hope it helps you too and congrats on the milestone for the podcast. Keep up the good work!
Gerald Klickstein: Hello. This is Gerald Klickstein, author of The Musician’s Way and publisher of musiciansway.com.
We’re talking about musicality and the one thing I’ve learned that helps musicians be more musical, and this is the one thing that’s probably the most powerful of all, and it is to self-record in practice and then listen back with an objective ear. Self-recording is crucial for us musicians because with our art form, it exists in time, unlike say visual artists whose work exists in space. For a visual artist, he or she can do some work on the piece, step back and evaluate it and then continue working. For musicians, when we practice a passage, once we finish playing or singing, it’s gone except for our memory of it. So if our memory is very accurate and if our perceptions are keen, we will be able to evaluate quite accurately, but of course, we’re human and our perceptions, our memories are fallible. So sometimes, especially when we’re practicing something that’s more difficult for us, sometimes, we might not notice certain details. Maybe our timing might drift, let’s say.
Self-recording provides us with the means to correct for any faults in our self-perception and memory, and there are lots of great ways to record oneself. I’ve written more about this in the Musician’s Way blog if you search for the piece called Self-recording in Practice. Writing 100 years ago, a famous music educator spoke about the same thing. That was Tobias Matthay and he wrote “There is nothing more fatal for our musical sense than to allow ourselves—by the hour—to hear musical sounds without really listening to them.” Of course, 100 years ago, people didn’t have the benefit of self-recording, but now we do so I recommend that all musicians record themselves frequently. I hope that’s helpful and I look forward to seeing you on The Musician’s Way blog.
Katie Wardrobe: Hi, this is Katie Wardrobe of midnightmusic.com.au. The thing that I’ve found has helped me over the years the most with increasing, and developing my musicality, is to listen actively all the time. Even when you’re just listening in the car to the radio, or to something on your iPhone. I found that active listening is a great way to develop the ear. So, I listen to the baseline sometimes. Occasionally I’ll listen to the chord progression, and I’ll try to pick it out. I might listen to the melody and imagine how it’s notated. And doing that over the years has really really helped my musicality, and helped me develop my inner ear.
Jeremy Fisher: Hi, this is Jeremy Fisher of vocalprocess.co.uk. There’s one thing I learned early on, that I think could really help you feel more musical, and be happier with the way you perform: stepped practicing. I can make music for hours, and that helps me learn how my instrument works. But sometimes I hit a phrase I can’t do. So here’s my tip: find the exact point in the phrase that you can’t do, and add a bar or a measure before it and after it. Mistakes are only made in context, so experiment with the context. Concentrate on what leads into the mistake, and what leads out of it.
Just do those bars a few times until you’re comfortable, then add another bar before it and after it. And you carry on until you’ve built up the whole phrase. You can often discover that the problem isn’t where you thought it was in the phrase, it’s the way you’re approaching the difficult note. Do this type of focused practice, and that means … well I can learn pieces really quickly and iron out the problems with only a few minutes of practice. Try it out. Works for me.
Leila Viss: Hi, this is Leila Viss of 88pianokeys.me and 88creativekeys.com.
There was one thing I learned early on, which I think could really help others feel more musical and that is nothing is original. After reading Austin Kleon’s book, “Steel Like an Artist,” it gave me the freedom and the material to be creative. Instead of feeling like I had to come up with an idea out of thin air, I now borrow ideas, explore them and blend them with my own DNA.
I encourage you to take an idea, put your own twist on it and find your creative voice.
Scott Sharp: Hi, this is Scott Sharp with Fretboard Toolbox. And one of the most important things I’ve ever learned, and I learned it later on in playing is to think of music in terms of keys. So I used to just think that chords were kind of random and what scales went with ’em were random.
But once I started understanding that if a song was in the key of G Major the chords were predictable and the scales that fit together were predictable; it started opening up all sorts of new musical ideas forming. So when I know a song’s in the key of G now, I know the chords G, C Major, D Major are likely. The one, four, five. I know A Minor, B Minor or E Minor; the two, three or six chords can be in there.
Then I know that any chord that’s in a song that’s in the key of G, that is not one of those six is breaking a rule. And once I know what rule’s being broken, I can play that same idea in any key. And so, the other part that really added a ton was learning the notes that make up the chords. Because once I started seeing that G Major chord is made of the notes G, B, and D; then I could see that on any instrument. As long as I can find and figure out where’s all the G, B, and D’s then I can play G Major on anything.
And if I know what chords fit in the key of G Major, I can start playing all sorts of songs on all sorts of different instruments; and it opened up a lot for me. Hope it does the same for you. Thanks for your time and hope y’all enjoy.
Vincent James: Hi, this is Vincent James from Keep Music Alive, founder of Kids Music Day and Teach Music Week. My wife Joanne and I are also authors of the book series, ’88+ Ways Music Can Change Your Life.’
One thing that’s been beneficial to me is to intentionally slow down when I’m performing a song. Sometimes we’re a little nervous when performing live, or at least I am, and we tend to speed up the tempo. And I’m not just talking about the drummers out there.
What happens when you slow it down a little is you start to feel the music you’re playing more, and that absolutely comes across to your audience. The whole purpose of a song performance is to inspire your listener to feel something, and that’s a lot harder if you’re not truly feeling it yourself.
We want you to keep on playing the music and special thanks to Musical You for helping us all be more musical.