What is a Musician?

What is a musician? A musician is one who makes music. I believe that if you can make music on any level, by any means, then you are a musician. While there are varying levels of musicianship and musical expression that one can possess, a person’s level of musicianship and their music career or lack thereof are not always related. Many professional musicians are great players while other pros are not. Some “amateur” musicians play with more emotion and proficiency than some pros.

In the critically acclaimed book “This Is Your Brain on Music”, author Daniel Levitin points out that no known human culture now or anytime in recorded history lacked music. Some of the oldest artifacts found in human excavation sites are musical instruments. It’s only been in the last 500 years of our own culture that society has divided itself into two groups, music performers and music listeners. In many non-industrialized cultures, music making has always been, and still is as natural an activity as breathing and walking, with everyone participating. Before television came along in our own society, many families played music together for entertainment. Most modern day music listeners have the ability to recognize wrong notes, remember melodies, and tap their feet in time to music, which according to Levitin is an activity that involves a process of meter extraction so complicated that most computers cannot do it. An argument could be made that a person who possesses even a minimal amount of music making abilities is a musician.

Our culture tends to put emphasis (perhaps at times, too much emphasis) on technical virtuosity. While understanding music theory and being technically capable can enhance the performance of some musicians, it is not at the essence of human expression through music. We only need to look back to the blues music of the last century, the work songs of the slaves, or the primal rhythms of Africa to understand the power and depth of human emotion that “non technical” music can convey.

Music exists for everyone, and the performance of music should not be reserved to the few that happen to excel at it. If you enjoy the feeling you get when you strum a guitar chord or strike a drum, that is reason enough to make music. If you like to sing, even if it’s only in the shower, then you should sing. Music is perhaps the oldest form of communication, and should be continually explored by all people from all walks of life. What is a musician? Perhaps a musician is simply a human.

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