On Musicianship

An Aspect of Musicianship

By Michael Stevenson

After years of working with numerous musicians, I've found that too many musicians didn't have some of the basics of being a well-rounded musician! The main problem was not listening to the musicians they were playing with! Too many musicians allow their Ego's to get in the way when they aren't the soloist. They are so busy listening to themselves and trying to out-play everyone that the music doesn't flow; there is an element of selfishness that rears it ugly head in the form of overly busy, clashing noise. Now, showmanship (performance) is one thing, showboating (or upstaging) is another and it is at the opposite end of the spectrum! Save the 'showboating' for when you are the soloist; that is when it's your turn to shine, not when it is somebody else's turn to solo or lead!

When you are playing and supporting the vocalist or soloist, you should be listening the soloist and supporting them in conjunction with the other backing musicians, NOT trying to out shine the soloist or vocalist!

You are playing to provide a tapestry for the lead to embellish upon, not to have to fight thru! That tapestry being weaved with the other musicians is what should bring joy to the soul, the intricacy of the arrangement being blended for the lead to paint their feelings on. I'm quite sure that you would want that tapestry for your solo, be a sharing musician and provide it for who ever is leading!

Be a Sharing Musician

Be there for the band, for the music, and for the audience as well as for yourself. Some people might say, "That (fill in the instrumentalist) was jammin', but that band didn't have it together!" Wouldn't you prefer "That instrumentalist was jammin' and the band was kickin', they were tight!", I know I would!

It is so joyful to be in the audience listening to a band where the musicians just meld together. The audience member can focus on one musician and enjoy what they are playing, switch focus to another musician and enjoy them and so on and so forth! When all the musicians are truly playing together, the entire listening experience is heightened!!


A musician has to be able to focus on so many different things on stage at the same time and still further divide their focus on things off stage. The majority of those things happen at the subconscience level: fingering, intonation, tempo, sinking to the meter as far as placement within the song. For muscians, these things occur as second nature like walking and breathing.

Now, add to that, being aware of what the other musicians are playing at that time. Matching the volume (hopefully) to how their individual part should blend with the rest of the music. The focus shifts to:

These are a few of the other focal points that a thinking, listening musician deals with. If they also sing while playing, well that opens up another batch of focal points!

I used to be in a "Show Band", meaning that I had to play, sing, and perform sometimes intricate dance routines at the same time. You have to remain well focused if you have to duck under the trombonist's slide, while turning to the right, then stand up and turn to the left being sure that you don't hit the trombonist who is now ducking, come out of a half-spin and getting back up to the microphone to sing your background part! Don't forget to smile for the audience! But to tell the truth, if you've focused on getting those things down pat at rehearsal, it's not hard to do on stage. Those things drop down to the subconscious second-nature level because they were focused upon during rehearsals! You don't really focus on them while you're on stage, you're being aware of your role in the over-all scheme.

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