What is Musicality?

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Musicality is a very useful catch-all for “being musical”. It encompasses many of the skills we help people to learn at Musical U. Like all catch-all terms though, there is a downside to the convenience. By using this short and simple word we risk overlooking many of the dimensions and subtleties it’s used to represent.

So let’s take this opportunity to explore: what is musicality?

Is it different from musicianship?

Wikipedia has a slightly flimsy page, drawing on the Merriam-Webster definition: “Musicality is “sensitivity to, knowledge of, or talent for music” or “the quality or state of being musical”.”

The Oxford Dictionary gets a bit mystical, saying musicality is “Musical talent or sensitivity” giving examples: “her beautiful, rich tone and innate musicality” and “his compositions reveal an exceptional degree of innate musicality”.

If you’ve been following our blog then you know we at Musical U can’t stand the Talent Myth and think “talent” doesn’t compare to practice for becoming a great musician.

So we’re not keen on definitions of musicality which imply it’s a “gift” or something innate rather than learnable.

However, there is something valuable in those talent-based definitions: they capture the ineffable quality of musicality, the fact that it isn’t a simple yes/no quality, nor something you can fully define in a single sentence.

In fact Dr. Chad West who regularly presents on the subject of modern musicianship defines 5 “Big Skills” which contribute to musicality and go way beyond instrument technique or being born talented.

Here at Musical U we like this short and simple definition: Musicality is a set of “inner skills” which let you freely and confidently express yourself in music.

We’ve unpacked that into a large number of specific skills and explored each of these here on the blog in our “Musicality Means” series and we have a Musicality Status Check for our members to see which areas they want to focus on improving next.

Here (in no particular order) are some of the skills we believe are important parts of musicality:

Playing by ear
Singing in tune
Having good rhythm
Writing music
Writing notation
Improvising a solo
Talking 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
Playing multiple instruments

Let’s look at each of these in turn and see how they contribute to being musical.


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What is Musicality?