What Is Musicality? (Revisited)

What does “Musicality” mean? Naturally we have our own ideas here at Musical U but a recent survey revealed that maybe we’ve actually missed the mark a bit…

In this episode we share exactly what “musicality” means to our Musical U members – and what it could mean for you.

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We have reached Episode 200! Of what was “The Musicality Podcast” and is now simply “Musicality Now”. And what was an audio-only podcast, is now available in full video too.

And after roughly 100 interviews and 100 other episodes I wanted to use this milestone moment to do two things.
Firstly, to thank you all for watching and listening, whether it’s been to one episode or all two hundred or somewhere in between.

And a special thank you to everyone who’s taken a moment to rate and review the show on iTunes (which you can do at musicalitynow.com/review ) or to share this show with a musical friend or family member. We’re on a mission to spread the word about what’s truly possible through musicality training, so every time you review or share this show you help us to reach and inspire more musicians just like you.

The second thing I wanted to do was to revisit what we started the show with back in Episode 1. I thought it was important from the outset to explain in a nutshell what we mean by the word “musicality” – and now, two hundred episodes later, it seems due time to revisit that question.

Now you might think that after interviewing a hundred of the world’s leading experts I’m here to share everything I’ve learned from them – and actually, we do have a project underway to do just that, you’ll be hearing more about that in future episodes soon.

But actually what prompted me to revisit it wasn’t those experts – but our members here at Musical U.

Recently we did a huge member survey, 40-plus questions all about our members, their musical lives, their training, and getting their input on some big exciting things we have coming up for the future.

And we had an amazing response. The consultant who was helping us conduct the survey was actually shocked by just how many in our community took the time to respond and the great depth and detail they were willing to share in their answers. And I was really touched and honoured too.

There is a ton of learning in there for us but one of the most striking things was actually their responses to question number one. In which we asked them:

What does “musicality” mean to you?

And I’ll be honest. I was expecting to roughly hear back the same things we say about it ourselves here at Musical U. In that first episode I said:

Musicality is a set of “inner skills” which let you freely and confidently express yourself in music.

And we have a whole set of skills that we think are part of musicality. We’ll be covering these all in more detail in future episodes, but to give you a taste, we’re talking about things like:

Playing by ear
Singing in tune
Jamming with other musicians
Having good rhythm
Writing music
Writing notation
Improvising a solo
Talking intelligently about music
Understanding Music Theory
Clapping in time
Knowing your instrument inside and out
Tuning your instrument by ear
Reading notation
Sight-reading music
Playing from a lead sheet
Performing live
and Playing multiple instruments

And we actually have an article on our site entitled “What Is Musicality?” that runs through those 17 skills and explains how each is learnable.

But here’s the thing. I’m a scientist/engineer type of guy by background, very analytical and literal most of the time. So my go-to explanation of musicality often goes directly to these concrete skills.

Yet really, in essence, musicality is, frankly, a lot more magical than that. Although those component skills are part of it, the overall concept is much more versatile and meaningful, much more about the expressive, emotional side of music-making than a list of skills really captures.

Fortunately, as so often happens at Musical U, my own ideas pale in comparison to what we achieve with the input of our members! And their answers in the survey really did a better job of capturing what musicality is AND why it matters.

So I wanted to share a few of those with you today.

The survey was anonymous, so I won’t name names –  but I know we have many members in the audience here so thank you to you if I’m using your example here.

We had over 100 replies so I won’t include them all! But I’ve tried to pick a representative sample that captures all the fascinating things that were shared…

Keep in mind these come from musicians with a wide range of backgrounds, as befits the Musical U member community. People who are new to Musical U through to those who’ve been with us for years, complete beginners in music as an adult through to professional musicians and music teachers. People playing all instruments and all styles of music.

I’ve invited the Musical U team – Andrew, Stewart, Adam, Anastasia, Zac and Ruth – to help me share these.

Here we go.


Musicality is all of the pieces one needs to be a musician. It is hearing, processing, creating and performing music. It is our ability to take in music on a more refined level and to turn that inner understanding into making music. It can be broken down into many aspects that rely on the ear, mind, emotions and skills we develop.

Understanding the language of music, its grammar, punctuation, its clarity and most of all its delivery.

That “thing” that makes music, human, creative, emotional and unique. It’s what attracts a listener to some kinds of music more than other forms of music. It’s the way the performer makes a piece of music uniquely his/her own. It’s more than technical and mechanical ability but something over and above physical capacity to make music.

Musicality means playing freely in a way that expresses what you are feeling at the moment.  Your mind and fingers already know what notes to play and how to physically play them.
You are not thinking about specific chords or notes or scales or timing or fingering or theory.  You just enjoy the sounds you are making.
You do not have to be a musical expert to play musically.  The music you play does not have to be very advanced. The song can be one you have practiced and learned, or a tune you make up as you go along. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just good enough to feel good when you are playing.
What matters is that you have fun playing.  If you don’t enjoy the playing, you’ll stop.

Musicality means being able to express your thoughts/feelings through music.

I believe that musicality means understanding music from a listening point of view and not necessarily from a theoretical point of view. Listening for certain details reinforces the theory, provides more meaning and the occasional “aha” moment. It is helping me to become a more rounded musician.

It’s an ability to play, understand, reproduce and create music.

Musicality is being in the flow of the music instead of struggling with the notes which are written down or how to get them from my instrument

It means communing with the sound.  Hearing, feeling, understanding and expressing sound in a way that transcends the technical mechanics of making music.

Hearing and appreciating the music I hear, being able to feel the shape and mood of a piece to interpret it with feeling

Musicality for me is like a language, a way of understanding and expressing and communicating music. I think it’s important from the moment we exist in the womb. It is an intrinsic part of my being.

It means feeling the music as you play it and conveying that to the audience. The instrument becomes an extension of yourself. It is communication of an emotion, idea or concept through song. It’s the expression of your soul.

To me, it means an innate ability to play or sing music with an understanding of how notes and chords work together, and to present music in a pleasing way.

To me musicality means the ability to add expressive feeling to your playing; not being a robot but playing off the cuff, adding a bit of yourself into the piece being played. It is really important as it distinguishes the quality of the musician.

Musicality is the power to understand what you hear in your head and be able to transfer it to your instrument.

Until I discovered Musical U, I thought musicality refers to talent. I now know that musicality can be learned at least in part and that with the right practice and guidance, even I can be more musical.

Musicality means the essence of music, tone, rhythm, beat, the structure of sounds we make into a pleasing pattern for our ears. It is valuing and appreciating the art of sound. I enjoy musicality and the ability to make music. It involves science and creativity. I like putting those two things together. I believe musicality is important because it is a communication tool that is universal, relatable, learnable and teachable. It is a uniting factor for all of us. And everybody can do it.

Musicality means understanding all aspects of music: the listening, the playing, the appreciating

Musicality is the developing ability to interpret the sounds, symbols, rhythms, emotions etc of a piece of music. Plus it is the ability to create and develop a piece of music through composition or improvisation. It is an understanding of what is happening in a piece of music, of what works and why.

When I think Musicality, I think it is something that feels hard to pin down exactly…it’s an essence that goes beyond playing correct notes, rhythms, dynamics and yet involves all those technical aspects as well.  I was often told that I played ‘musically’ even though I was weak with ear and many technical aspects. I think it has something to do with ability to express music emotionally.

Musicality to me means the learnt ability to understand the inner workings of music for both appreciation and creation and performance. I think it is important to have this understanding in order to expand the possibilities of music making and appreciation.

It’s an inner sensitivity to music. More than academic knowledge, musicality becomes part of you.

The rich blend of playing, listening to, appreciating, interpreting and sharing music. Engaging with it as a whole language in all its diverse forms of reading, writing and speaking; unlimited by idiomatic variations and improvisations.

It is an appreciation of music and an ability to produce sounds worth appreciating.

Taking sounds and arranging them in patterns, phrases or brushes of color using rhythm, dynamics, tone, articulation, form, tempo and meter to express the thoughts and emotions you experience in daily life and marvelous moments. Or hearing music composed or performed by others that moves your thoughts and emotions and enhances the quality of your existence.

Musicality to me means being a natural musician. Having innate rhythm, a good ear and singing in tune both with accompaniment and without. Having good aural skills and being able to play an instrument/sing both on your own and with others to an enjoyable standard. Being able to have fun with music and be creative with it. Being an essential part of you just as breathing is.

A deep and wide love of music leading to a feeling for and understanding of with an easy ability to create music

Being able to understand the elements of music in a fun, creative, efficient and rewarding way, so that I am able to express myself and my ideas through music without struggling and without getting stuck at sterile explanations.

Feeling musical; able to listen to different types of music with attention and understand things like form, structure and content; not being afraid to embrace music theory being curious at how it works and hangs together, especially across styles; being interested in listening to and enjoying music; wanting to play an instrument and / or sing – and improve at it. Wanting to build on basic knowledge (e.g. what learned at school). Empowerment as musical knowledge improves, even if you’re never going to be a virtuoso, it’s the fun of fitting the different pieces of the jigsaw together!

Musicality means I am using my ears more than my eyes to play music on my instrument. It means a musician can listen actively to pieces of music, play it by ear on his/her instrument, jam with other musicians, and create his/her own music.

A natural way of hearing, experiencing, and producing music with understanding and enjoyment.

Musicality allows me to interact with the world through musical ears, fingers and heart. If I didn’t have musicality, I would be pretty good as a music reproduction robot. Since I have musicality, I can use that perspective to change cicada chirps into a Latin rhythm, Or feel musical tension, or have a desire to put my own spin on something.

It means the idea of being able to feel the music – be that pitch, harmony or rhythm – and play with it, interrogate it, converse with it, or add your own thoughts to it.

Ability to flow with the music, feel the music like a fish feels the water and a bird feels the air.

Musicality is about understanding what you are hearing or wanting to play and maybe feeling empowered to create what you want

I loved reading these responses and found them inspiring, I hope you did too. Such poetry there, and such vivid appreciation for all that musicality can unlock for you in the world of music.

This is what we’re striving for here at Musical U and with the show Musicality Now. To empower you in this wide variety of ways in your musical life. Through training in the concrete skills, but not for the sake of them – rather, it’s for the sake of this greater, deeper, ineffable thing called “musicality”.

Thank you again to all our members who took part in the survey, and especially those whose answers I shared here.

You may have noticed the timing of this show varying a bit over the summer but rest assured, we’re not going anywhere! We have some incredible interviews already in the can for the episodes ahead, including:

  • the world’s top expert on using games to learn improvisation
  • a former child prodigy whose story reveals some interesting subtlety to the so-called “talent myth”
  • and a man who flips performance psychology and how we approach music practice and performance entirely on its head.

We’ll be continuing to do all we can to help you tap into your inner musicality and reach your true musical potential – but we need your help!

We believe that the biggest barrier to most people becoming more musical isn’t their natural abilities or the specifics of learning skills. It’s the awareness and belief that becoming more musical is, in fact, possible for them.

If you enjoy this show and find it useful then you probably know others who could benefit from it too, so if you would, please help us get this message out to more people.

You can do that by subscribing, rating and reviewing the show on iTunes, subscribing or commenting on YouTube, or simply sharing your favourite episodes with friends by email, on social media, or however you like to share things. Visit musicalitynow.com for easy links for each of those. That would mean the world to me and help us reach and help more musicians just like you.

Thanks in advance for taking a moment to do that – now, and any time an episode resonates with you. And together, we can help more people to discover the wonderful, life-changing meaning of musicality.

Enjoying the show? Please consider rating and reviewing it!

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