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I hope I will find an answer to this question too, even though it is not strictly about music.

But to not lose everything, I ask the question which should be on topic: what is musicality (in general)?

Are there different types of musicality?

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  • I did not find any suitable tag, please feel free to update the question with a more appropriate tag.
    – virolino
    Commented Mar 22, 2023 at 12:28
  • @ToddWilcox: maybe we should move our discussion here? :)
    – virolino
    Commented Mar 22, 2023 at 12:29
  • I doubt you can answer this question objectively. Maybe here's a start en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musicality
    – Awalrod
    Commented Mar 22, 2023 at 12:35
  • 1
    I appreciate your enthusiasm! This question might be too broad, though. I'm not sure that it is myself... the problem with the other question is that it's mostly about language usage. This one "kind of" is, but it is about defining a core musical concept. But unfortunately the answer might be "it's a vague and fuzzy term that many have used in various ways." Commented Mar 22, 2023 at 13:04
  • @AndyBonner: if this is too broad, then I have another one very narrow, "musicality just in the context of dancing" :)))
    – virolino
    Commented Mar 22, 2023 at 13:34

1 Answer 1

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"Musicality" is a very vague and subjective word, and many who use it might be hard-pressed to explain what they mean by it. But we can close in on it by establishing what they don't mean.

First of all, let's confine the context to talking about the "musicality" of a musical performance.1 If someone says "That performance was lacking in musicality," what do they expect you to change? (Note: the fact that we have to ask at all, and the trouble we're about to have nailing them down, suggests that this is not terribly useful advice.)

They're probably not talking about technique. This word is seldom used about the technical aspects of performance. They probably don't mean "It's unmusical... so move your fingers faster." Or "project more," or "use better posture," or "play more in tune." (These things might also be true—and might stand in the way of the "musicality" they're looking for—but are probably not what they're driving at.)

"Musicality" is usually used for "expressive" aspects of the performance. These often boil down, in the crudest terms, to volume (dynamics, articulation, etc) and timing. They may mean that you played all the right notes, but did so "robotically," as a virtual instrument might if given the same sheet music. Perhaps the speaker wants to see more ebb and flow of tempo, perhaps a greater dynamic range. It might be that they don't simply want you to invent random expressions on a whim, but that they're speaking of conventions and practices that are often associated with certain musical gestures—as you approach a cadence you might delay its arrival just a bit; if you have a suspension you might emphasize the dissonance and relax on the resolution. And the speaker can't or won't enumerate all these "unwritten rules" that you're overlooking, and uses the one word "musicality" to stand in for "awareness of these common expressive practices and the ability to notice places for them in the music."

It gets even more complicated when you leave contexts like classical music in which the notes are dictated and "the expression" is supposed to be added: what does someone mean if an improvised jazz solo is "unmusical"? That it has too many notes? too few? That it takes too little heed of the underlying changes? That it panders to the specific idioms of the instrument, or that it ignores them?

To make matters worse, this statement ("that was unmusical") is presented as declarative fact, but is subjectively grounded. A wrong note is a wrong note (well, in non-improvised settings), but one person's "unmusical" is another's "tasteful," and one person's "musical" is another's "overblown and melodramatic." Or maybe two speakers disagree on just how one is to be "musical."

So long story short, I'd avoid using the word in my own speech, and when others do, press them for more useful specifics.


  1. Because musicality just means "being musical," and musical can be used in a lot of other contexts; you could say that a piece of wood makes a "musical" sound when struck, by which you just mean that it's pitched.
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  • Very interesting approach, to analyze the opposite. Thank you.
    – virolino
    Commented Mar 23, 2023 at 6:23
  • One analogy might be a computer's text-to-speech function (especially an older one). That may be able to speak all the words you give it with perfect pronunciation, clarity, and diction — but because it knows nothing about the meaning of those words, it won't have any of the expression and emphasis and rhythm and drama and sense that a human reader (even a bad one) is likely to put into it. (Recent ones have got better at faking some of that, but it's still not the same.) …
    – gidds
    Commented Mar 25, 2023 at 14:30
  • …A good musician also puts expression and meaning into what they play, taking account of phrasing and structure and interplay between parts and flow and feel. That may be what was intended by ‘musicality’.
    – gidds
    Commented Mar 25, 2023 at 14:30

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