Musicianship – What Is It?

What is the difference between a good singer and a great singer?

If you are a good singer but not a great singer (name your favorites), it is because great singers are hearing things that you do not hear. I’ll say that again: GREAT singers hear things that you don’t!

What are these things? Do they hear voices in their heads? Probably not. But they are hearing things that other people do not recognize or understand. They are operating at a higher level of musicianship than those who do not sound great.

Vocal technique, more precisely, lack of vocal technique can certainly impede a singer’s artistic expression at times but the greatest single problem is musicianship. Musicianship is the ability to recognize, identify, create, and perform many of the smallest of details, or nuances, of singing. Some singers do not know what these things are even called, but they still can hear and execute these things. Other singers know exactly what they are, because they took the time and effort to learn them.

Artistic acumen and talent certainly do play a part in singing and are not to be discounted, but more often than not, the single biggest stumbling block is a deficiency in musicianship. Fortunately, this can be rectified through understanding music theory and through melodic and harmonic ear training. This has to be done at a profound level as opposed to the superficial approach too many of us (who have been infected by bad habits in school of “studying for the grade”, instead of studying for the knowledge) have. After gaining the knowledge, it has to be assimilated and practiced until it becomes a part of the singer and transcends mere thought.

There is a reason that music theory and piano are required and are taught in vocal performance programs at the top universities. Even though this is done at that level, principles are omitted, causing confusion or a lack of ability to harmonize melodic lines or to write or compose songs or pieces, which have significance. Musicianship can stretch to depths and breadths beyond what a singer actually needs but are needed by any singer/songwriter who desires a professional career. The difference between a good song and a great song comes back to…you guessed it: musicianship.