In an interview with Dean Brown, he broke down his fundamentals of musicianship to three key points.
- Lexicon (Vocabulary)
While these aspects overlap by nature and are blurry by definition, let’s look at some basic exercises and ideas to help build each of these cornerstones.
- For clarity’s sake, we’ll say ears refers to both being able to learn music increasingly quickly and accurately by ear, and maybe even more importantly, the ability to listen and respond to others while playing.
- Lexicon refers to your vocabularies, plural. Rhythmic vocabulary, melodic vocabulary, harmonic vocabulary, and maybe most importantly song vocabulary. For a working musician, especially playing jazz or doing covers, this might mean knowing how to play a lot of songs. I am more generally referring to familiarity with songs though. Being familiar with a lot of songs means that you have listened to a lot of music. This is obviously pretty crucial if you want to be a good musician. These days, personally, having familiarity with tunes is what makes them hard or easy to learn and to remember. There are tunes I’ve played before, maybe more than once which I would struggle to tell you any changes to. Because I never really got familiar with the song, I just read the chords or the part. It’s also what make strange parts or structures in songs no longer strange. It’s also easy to see how the osmosis of a lot of music will inform what you play.
- Technique is the most self-explanatory. Technical proficiency. Can you play this fast passage? Can you play these complicated chord changes in time? Can you play in time Full stop? If we get a bit deeper, can you match the tone of this song (ears figures in here too, and perhaps also lexicon in recognising different effects or eq settings)? Can you match the FEEL of a groove? Can you perform under pressure or on big stages? While I do not believe there is any particular hierarchy with these 3 fundamental elements, technique is probably the easiest and fastest to recognise in a player.
Here are 3 additional musical fundamentals to consider. Two of these were drilled into me when I was learning guitar, but they translate 100% to every instrument including the voice. Time and Tone. The further you look into it, the more symbiotic these concepts become. Your tone influences your time, your time makes your tone work. Any great player will have abundant levels of both. You could call your time feel technique, you could call your tone technique and ears. The Third one is Taste. This is the subjective part of music no-one can really decide for you but yourself. However, your lexicon is probably the most influential outside informer of this.
Obviously this is a simplified view. Music is bottomless and so are the concepts and approaches within it. It is important to remember that it’s the fundamentals which will make you a good player. You can play the most complicated stuff in the world, and without them, it’ll never sound right. With them, you can play the simplest nursery rhyme and it will be good music.