There are a lot of books that teach music theory, but are there any books that teach how to develop musicianship? Such as how to acquire it?

I'm reading "Revisiting Music Theory", the author said the book will teach music theory rather than musicianship. So I'm wondering.

  • 2
    Define what you mean by "musicianship". – user28 Apr 30 '12 at 19:34
  • 1
    Assuming I understand correctly, practice. Practice. Play with other people, play in bands, play in groups. You learn SO much. – Ali Apr 30 '12 at 19:42
  • Added a quick edit, I think it is musicianship on its own rather than musicianship skills. – Ali Apr 30 '12 at 19:44
  • don't forget ear training. – filzilla Apr 30 '12 at 23:45

I believe that a great deal of "musicianship" is being able to blend your instrument with other instruments, and to participate in a band or orchestra or choir or other ensemble. There is much to be learned there.

Practicing by yourself is one thing, and all musicians must do it. However, for most musicians (unless you are perfectly happy being nothing other than a solo pianist or a solo classical guitarist) it is also essential to rehearse and perform with a group, band, ensemble, orchestra, choir, or other assemblage of other musicians.

When I was in music college in the United States of America, all instrumentalists had to sing in a school choir for a couple of semesters, whether they liked singing or not. All music education majors had to play in the school orchestra for a couple of semesters even if they were principally singers and not instrumentalists. All singers had to sing in school choirs virtually every semester.

If you don't go to school to study music, playing in bands is even more important. Your "school" is the interaction you get with other musicians in bands and working situations.


When I teach musicianship through singing, I think of it as having several levels of skills. This is my personal mental structure:

On the first floor is the ability to keep and then alter, in a controlled manner, a range of elements. These are pulse(beat), rhythm, tempo, dynamics and pitch. The ability to improvise simple rhythms and lyrics is also on this level.

Next level up, I would place "inner hearing". This means singing along in your your head, to a silent room, but coming out loud with the the correct pitch and tempo at any point. Lots of people find they've accidentally speeded up, or can't hit the right note to rejoin the tune with these kind of exercises, unless they get lots of practice. Also at this level, I put the ability to sing call and response, to recognise phrases and to sing selected phrases of a piece, unaccompanied.

On the third floor I'd put the ability to hold a drone, to keep simple harmony, to sing a round or canon and to sing part songs. For instruments, playing by ear. At this level you can do two things at once, or hold two aspects of music in your head at the same time, and it's crucial for being able to make music with other people, and for playing an instrument like the piano.

On the fourth floor you get a kind of synthesis of these things. People at this level can improvise to a melody, improvise a harmony, and play an instrument by ear. On this level you can really feel the shape of a piece and give it expressiveness by the use of elements from level one. Certain things can also become automatic, such as keeping a complex rhythm while clapping, and then singing a melody with a different rhythm over the top.

And the top floor is that of really great musicians who can use all these things to create something greater than the sum of it's parts.

The development of these skills in music is very hierarchical, like maths. So sometimes people have missed something and can play an instrument to a high level with a score, but can't play by ear or improvise. It's worth noting that although all this can be achieved without much theoretical knowledge, it is actually the foundation of a deep understanding of music theory. Theory without musicianship, however, is like a building with no foundation and can lead to a lot of confusion later on.

Darn, just noticed I have not actually answered the question directly. Sorry, but I'd say in light of the original paragraphs above, musicianship is not something that can be learned from books. You have to do it.

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