• Julie Martin

But, I'm Not a Real Musician



In my years of various music making experiences, I have come across quite a number of people who play instruments or sing, mostly for themselves or with a small group of others playing and singing, or even "hanging in there" in a volunteer music group that gets them out of the house once a week and say, "But, I'm not a real musician."


Hearing that always makes my heart ache. I wish I had asked every one of these people, "What is a 'real musician'?" or "compared to whom?" What is the definition of "musician" anyway? It is, according to my dictionary app, "1) a person who makes music a profession, especially as a performer of music. 2) any person, whether professional or not, skilled in music."


We could go on a long thread about what being "skilled in music" means just in western culture. But, if someone thinks that he or she is NOT a real musician, even though they have some skill in music, they are right and can tell you why. They have told me why when I have asked, and they are not convinced when I give them evidence to the contrary. Certainly, there have been self-taught musicians who play guitar at levels I can only dream about, so I also know how the not-real-musicians feel.


What's at the core of the feeling of not being a real musician? I think it is our natural inclination to make comparisons about everything in life. Making comparisons is fundamentally a survival skill.


Making music is about relationships.


Instead of focusing on comparing skills between music makers, what happens when we focus on the relationships that music making embodies? What if, when we pick up an instrument and learn enough to make some sounds (organized in time) that we like or when we sing often enough that we find deeper pleasure in using our voices musically, we have set ourselves on the field of relating to others, ourselves, and the world? I think that is exactly what we have done. However, somewhere along the way, just like in so many ways in our culture, comparing ourselves to a standard and losing sight of the relationships can take away from the joy of the doing.


Not a real musician...a real "Musicker"


So, to those (and myself when I am with those who improvise effortlessly) who think you are not "real musicians" because of a Standard of Musicianship you don't feel you live up to, that's okay. Living up to the many standards of musicianship in schools, performance competitions, the music professions, and our culture is hard work, and some people do indeed suffer for their art. Let's give ourselves permission to stop asking ourselves if we are real musicians as compared to some standard. Let's call ourselves "Musickers."


What is a musicker? I am so excited you asked. Musicking is about relationships, and we'll explore that in the next post! Until then, what does making music mean to you? What is it really all about?


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