Photo by Ramona Smith.
By Jonathan Best
Go outside and listen to the musical terrain. Start walking and listen to it change as you take part in its rhythm.
The terrain is vast. It extends as far as the ear can hear. Listen to the distant reaches. Maybe there’s a chainsaw barely audible in the mountains trading riffs with a cocker spaniel in the second floor apartment to your left. Keep walking and notice the rhythm in your step. Listen to its relationship to the sounds around you. Now listen to the music in your head. To hear it you might have to quiet your mind, which can be pretty loud and overpowering. This can take some practice to hear the music in your head. The first step is to trust that it’s there.
Where does that music come from?
My belief is that it’s built in. It’s part of the design. Our bodies are designed to make music. We depend on rhythm to stay alive. Our hearts beat a rhythm to get the blood circulated throughout our bodies. Our lungs need to be in sync with our hearts. And there is a melody to our breath. Walking and running rely on rhythm. So does eating. Our bodies compose music day and night whether we know it or not.
We also rely on music to stay connected with one another.
Once you start paying attention to the music of our bodies it becomes hard to ignore. And why ignore it? Why not sing along?
When I first meet someone I often ask them if they play music. The responses are quite diverse but they usually contain some kind of caveat about their lack of musicianship. They’ll say things like, “I haven’t got a musical bone in my body” or “I can’t carry a tune in a hand basket.” Sometimes it’s more benign such as, “I played the piano when I was a kid, but then I got a job” or “I play the guitar, but I just strum.”
Professional musicians aren’t supposed to make these caveats because if they show vulnerability they might lose work. But buried deep within them is their own list of shortcomings such as “I can’t read too well” or “I can’t play Latin Jazz” or “I can only play what’s on the music stand.”
So what denotes a musical person? Is it how many notes per minute they can play? Is it how high they can sing? Is it about whether they can sing perfectly in tune? How about reading skills?
My set of criteria is very different.
Let’s start with listening because that may be the most important. And it’s one that everyone develops throughout their life. It’s an important part of conversation. Music is a conversation.
Loving your sound may be just as important, though. And it’s not easy to do. If there is one quality that all of our favorite singers share it’s a love of their own voice. You can hear that love in every note. One way to develop that love in your own voice is to sing with groups. This way you don’t have to be singled out. You can be part of the greater whole and just experience the sympathetic vibrations between everyone’s vocal cords. Loving the sounds of the people singing with you is also important. And it’s easier to do.
Creativity is imperative to any artistic endeavor. But what if creativity is nothing more than a willingness to make mistakes? Maybe creativity is the making of mistakes. So how about we add mistake making to the list of useful skills for making music?
Any musical group needs a leader. A leader can be the conductor, but it can also be the person who incites everyone to go for it. It can be the person who is paying close attention to the group’s dynamics. Maybe it’s the one who can see the hidden potential of a shy person, or the one whom people follow when she gets quiet or slows down. People sometimes don’t even know who the real leader is. It’s often the bass player.
The last and certainly not least important musical skill to add is confidence in your musicality. This allows you to freely make music whenever you please and with whomever you’d like. We need more people like this in our world.
You may comment that these aren’t really musical skills. But when you see the universe as something made of music, as I do, then you’ll see these attributes as more intrinsic to music making than traditional skills such as sight reading, music theory, keyboard technique, and everything else taught in music school.
I used to say that a musician is a person who hustles for gigs. Now I say that just like a Christian who worships Christ, a Musician is one who worships Music. We all make music, and anyone can choose to worship music and be a musician if they want to.
Who is musical? Everyone.