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What Makes You a Musician

Musicians V.S. People Who Just Play Music

In the 7th grade, I picked up my brother’s guitar for the first time and spent 3 hours looking at tabs for “She Talks to Angels” by Black Crowes. By dinner time I had made it through two full runs of the song without messing up! So I was a musician, right? Hell no!

With the incredible number of “Wonder Wall” covers sang at high school parties, it sometimes seems as though every 14-year-old with access to YouTube tutorials could be a “musician.” As someone whose love for music runs much deeper than trying to get laid, I find it necessary to try and differentiate between musicians and someone who just plays music.

I’ve been playing in bands and jamming with friends for the better part of my short 20 years on this earth. And in that time I’ve realized that a lot of kids who “play guitar,” or any other instruments, aren’t as great as they say. Now, this isn’t necessarily because they are lying. There are a lot of people out there who are very capable of pulling off an amazing solo act. They’ve got their five songs they learned, and they play them perfectly every time! But when they step into a jam room, and the bass player starts playing, and the drummer kicks in, and they just have to have a song appear from thin air...all those hours on Ultimate Guitar don’t really do much.

I’m trying not to come off as a pretentious douche bag here; but, just because you can play “Stairway to Heaven” note for note, doesn’t make you the next Jimmy Page.

Sitting and learning a song note for note, with hours and hours of practice is easy. Anyone with enough patience can pull that off. What’s hard is hopping into a jam room and pulling a song out of your ass, and it sounds good the first time you play it. If you’re the guitar player and the bass player starts a bass line, you need to be able to come up with a lick that not only sounds cool but also fits the vibe. If you’re the drummer, and the guitar player starts playing a chord funky chord progression, you can’t come in with the fill from “Smells like Teen Spirit.” Playing rehearsed songs is easy. What’s hard is not knowing how a song is going to start or where a song is going or how it’s going to end but just knowing it’s going to sound dope because you’re a good musician.

That is what separates those who are musicians from those who just play music. It’s that ability to think on the fly. It’s your ability to collaborate. It’s your ability to improv and adjust what you’re doing so you can mesh with the song that just appeared out of nowhere.

Musicians don’t look at a song as some sort of equation where bridge + chorus x verse = song. Musicians aren’t afraid of yelling across the jam room telling the drummer to drop into halftime. Musicians aren’t afraid to change the melody to something different than was rehearsed. Musicians aren’t afraid to run with those new melodies without stopping to talk about it first.

Is there anything wrong with just being someone who plays music? Absolutely not! However, to consider yourself a musician I think you need to be able to just play. You can’t just practice, practice, practice then perform. Sometimes you have to practice while you’re performing. And that is most amazing part about playing music. Some of the most magical moments will happen without planning, in someone’s garage, when one of your bandmates just goes off and rips a crazy solo and plays something that blows your mind. Those kinds of moments can’t be created in any other way than a completely-organic and spontaneous jam session.

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What Makes You a Musician
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