Technique vs Musicianship

January 13, 2011 at 07:56 PM ·

 A violinist with amazing technique will (hopefully) have the same standard of musicality. These two most basic components of playing the violin- or any instrument- grow together as we musicians develop ourselves. So which is more important? And is one of these, for you, stronger than the other...


Replies (30)

January 13, 2011 at 08:42 PM ·

I really dont believe in the relation you are stating.

Youtube is full of violinists with great technique but that are pretty poor musicians.

At the same time, one can easily spot lots of musicality in even those with low technical level.

January 13, 2011 at 08:51 PM ·

I think the musicality is more important. If the person has it and sticks through the learning (naturally love the instrument), he will also acquire the technique. Musicality is a bit too ambiguous to "learn" imho.


January 14, 2011 at 02:14 AM ·

For me, technique is "the means for producing musical ideas." So I view musicality and technique as intertwined rather than distinct (more on my blog). 

Perhaps you're using 'technique' to refer to what some of us call 'mechanics.' 

January 14, 2011 at 04:19 AM ·

Musicality comes first IMHO, then you'll realize you need technique. I love how Vengerov taught in his masterclasses, where you need to think about the musicality first, and the techniques come very naturally as you want to *hear* what you want inside the head, you need the ability to pull it off from the violin.

So in the end, both are equallty important. It means nothing without either. The reason why often many musicians, especially young ones, having fantastic techniques but not musicality, is that we can forget about what music is all about easily when we're presented a new piece of music sheet in front of us, IMHO. Very often we're trying to play the notes, without realizing we're playing the creation of the composer. Musical notations are just like languages, you can never describe a legendary painting, or a great piece of music, with words.

When I was appointed to a new piece of music to learn, I always listen to recording first, I find I learn so much faster that way and magically I can sight read better... ;-)

January 14, 2011 at 04:40 AM ·

 I think that technique is the most important to develop first as a raw framework to music, and once you have control of the notes an the rythms, then you can begin to color notes and employ rubato on rythms. As my teacher put it. "There's a difference between a virtuoso and a jackass that can't count." Over all, though, I'd say definitely musicality is more important. Most professionals have developed their technique to a pretty amazing level, and the way to differentiate between who sits in the orchestra and who stands in front of it is musicality. You can have as good technique as you could possibly want, but if you can't make a beautiful sound, nobody will listen to you.

January 14, 2011 at 04:40 AM ·

January 14, 2011 at 08:25 AM ·

January 14, 2011 at 02:30 PM ·

Well...but a beautiful sound is partially technical, and partially musical?

January 14, 2011 at 03:17 PM ·

 i am curious on this one.  there are enough youtube videos out there.  can someone point me to couple clips in which the violin player is able to demonstrate unmistakable musicality while being technically deficit?  i don't mean face twisting or body sway, just purely based on sound production. i simply do not know players can develop this way, but we do see the other way around where solid playing lacks enough musicality.  in fact, it happens to everyone, and that is why a good teacher can help to open minds and hearts, not just facilitate finger movements.  


January 14, 2011 at 04:05 PM ·

@ al ku: sound production is not the hwole musicality. i think, and i will try to find a couple such videos when i come home, you can find such videos where the intonation and rhythm are OK, but sound production itself is not so good. Yet in this videos, maybe you will discover that there is phrasing and dynamics and natural rubatos. There, you can see that technique might be deficit (sound production), but you the musicality might be seen via the phrasings, dynamics, tempo changes, etc.

More often, I think one finds players online with very good sound production and more or less OK intonation, but very little phrasings and dynamics...

January 14, 2011 at 04:37 PM ·

 lena, i would love to see that.  by  "sound production", i mean if i close my eyes and listen,  i can hear a disproportion between musicality and tech.  

i just do not understand how one can convey musicality without much tech ,,,,on the violin.  like, how can i look or listen beyond poor intonation and poor bow control? beyond those what is there left? :)   and even if that is the case-more developed musicality-- there is still work to be done, just like the other way around.  perhaps different type of work but nonetheless work.   i don't think there is evidence or study suggesting that those who show musicality first will necessarily become what and what.  

in fact, it may indicate some organic deficiency with the fingers or other neuromuscular units in the whole chain which may be even more challenging to overcome than the wicked mind:)  

i think in general, humans, esp youth,  have a stronger urge to get something done than to get it done well.  the urge is to run through the piece asap to see what it sounds like or if one can do it.  

we tend to eat on the run, chew and swallow, no  time to taste and savor.  most of us have to learn to rediscover what we are capable of :)

ps..i can see one instance where musicality already preexists, say a piano teacher is to learn violin.  but even with that background, i am not sure the piano person can manage to easily convey musicality on an instrument that can sound horrible so easily...


January 14, 2011 at 10:20 PM ·

 For me, "musicianship"--sound, interpretative depth, etc.--is the end, and technique the means to achieve it.  That's why it's called 'technique,' no?

When my technique lets me down it's because I can't achieve the musical result I want, not the other way around.  

January 14, 2011 at 11:07 PM ·

I like to say that I think technique is most important to develop first because the music is in your heart. It's not gonna go anywhere. And while musicality is integral to learn, you can't adequately express what's in you without a good technical foundation.

January 15, 2011 at 08:38 AM ·

I see very little releation between technique and musicallity.

If you take an enormously musical flute player, sit her down by the piano and let her sit there for a few minutes she will be able to play melodies that she already knows, one note at the time, so musical that it will make you cry.

Or listen to all the folk fiddlers that can make your heart go boom on a simple melody.

But I also believe that it is not so easy as to say that one is more important than the other. A player with a solid technique and a decent musicallity can be a super teacher for, something that is not always true for those that have a faulty technique, no matter how musical thay are.

And what is most important in an orchestra? To be brilliant musically and shape the phrases in a unike, spell bindingly beautiful way, or have the techniqual means to realize the vision of the conductor?

It is not black and white :)

January 15, 2011 at 09:33 AM ·

The concept that has been missing from this discussion is taste, and style.

There are (and one in particular) famous players who have fine techniques and can also display good musicianship, but in certain areas (of certain music) lack taste. So although I can admire their technique and at times find them musical with a good sound, their playing unfotunately lacks taste, and/or is stylistically wrong to my ears.

January 15, 2011 at 02:30 PM ·

 "If you take an enormously musical flute player, sit her down by the piano and let her sit there for a few minutes she will be able to play melodies that she already knows, one note at the time, so musical that it will make you cry."

what if we give that enormously musical flute player a violin instead?

January 15, 2011 at 03:42 PM ·

@ Peter

Is it Glenn Gould you have in mind?

January 15, 2011 at 04:11 PM ·

 To me there equally important. There can be no real musicality without proper technique but technicality only leads to a very poor musical experience. I have listened stony faced to a performance of Ysaye´s solo sonatas where the violinist had incredibly good technique but very little musicality. That performance failed to impress me. I have listened to a performance of Rachmaninov´s 2nd piano concerto where the pianist (a world famous one) performed with such musicality and flawless technique that the performance is still vivid in my mind two years later.

So to me neither can exist without the other. It´s sort of like as if musicality would say:"Technique, can´t live with it, can´t live without it". :)

January 15, 2011 at 04:43 PM ·

"@ Peter

Is it Glenn Gould you have in mind?"


No, in fact it was Perlmann, who I admire sometimes but often find wrong in some music. He did a very fine Tchaikovsky concerto,  but then he plays everything else like Tchaikovsky!

January 15, 2011 at 04:52 PM ·

And which is more important?  The chicken or the egg?

(one) Answer: depends if its breakfast or dinner......

January 15, 2011 at 06:33 PM ·

A synonym of 'musicality' is 'expression'. A violinist ,or any musician for that matter, must learn technique first and then they will have the ability  to express the emotion they desire to convey.

January 15, 2011 at 11:08 PM ·

I wasn't being entirely fascetious.  If you are playing gypsy music in a gypsy band, technique (or at least what we see as pedagological technique) isn't important at all but musicality is crucial. OTOH if you are playing in an orchestra (please don't shoot me for this, its just a hunch) I suspect technique is more important than musicality.

If however you are going to play beethoven's violin concerto I don't think you would get very far without an equal smacking of both....

Thus, it depends on the meal...

January 15, 2011 at 11:22 PM ·

If you're referring to me, I won't shoot you! lol! I don't play in an orchestra and probably never will. I'm just an ordinary guy who loves the violin. The challenge in playing is trying to express what you feel in your soul.........

January 16, 2011 at 02:05 PM ·

Going back to the original statement / question "A violinist with amazing technique will (hopefully) have the same standard of musicality."

I think this is very true, looking at today's virtuosi. Peter's comment about playing tastefully (depending on the musical style) is quite relevant too, I think.

To me, playing with great musicality requires great technique in order for it to shine through. Levels of technical ability are objectively measurable, and we can set a "minimum standard", but musicality is such a subjective issue, therefore it's much harder to quantify.

It's a very uncomfortable fact for some of us that all playing is reducable to mechanics (ie level of technique), and sometimes apparent lack of musicality is really a lack of proper technique (if it's not a misunderstanding of the way the music should sound). An example would be a skilled player with excellent technique, having the major classical repertoire under his belt, has played for many years, well repected for his technique and interpretations. He now starts to play gyspy jazz, after listening and learning some pieces. All the notes are there, perfect intonation, but there's something not right. The phrasing is wrong, it doesn't flow properly. He has the feel for the music when he listens to it, he's got it in his head, he feels it, he's memorised the notes and doesn't need printed music any more, he's totally confident in what he is doing - but he still can't manage to produce the authentic feel, or get the phrasing right. It's not a musicality issue - it's entirely a technical one. Phrasing, bowing patterns, timing - the lot. Needs to step back and re-visit the whole thing.

Peter mentioned Mr Perlman earlier. That man's technique is phenomenal, as we all know. Have him apply it to some of the Bach solo sonatas, and to me it doesn't sound right. Too fast. Phrasing odd. I can find half a dozen people of that calibre who, to me, do a far more "musical" job. Now, that's musicality, or is it subjectivity, or what? They are all still playing the notes faultlessly.

See how confusing it all is? :)

January 16, 2011 at 02:20 PM ·

 i think in the case of perlman it is more of a case of interpretation than a case of musicality.

that, i think, is not confusing or at least should not be confused.

January 16, 2011 at 07:22 PM ·

 I think this discussion is quite similar to driving a car. 

It's like saying, which is more important, being able to drive the car, or having an idea where you're heading. 

If you don't have any destination in mind, then driving the car could be quite pointless. However, without any driving ability you won't get there either. They are both important in my opinion. 

January 17, 2011 at 03:55 AM ·


But one must work very hard to learn the technique to express that music they hear in their head.

Technique should be to the service of music, no? 

I also see no reason to write a peice just for a technical sake of virtuosity???

May 15, 2011 at 09:21 PM ·

Think of them as breathing in and out or the two sides of the same coin. Only together they can keep you alive. One is technique, the other is musicality. They are really interdependent and separating them into opposing units is rather artificial and quite contrary to the goal of music making.

Think of technique as the foundation and inner structure of a building and musicianship as the form, proportion and harmony between the shapes made by technique. Music and architecture share much more than superficial semblance.

May 16, 2011 at 09:08 AM ·

As for the Perlman - style - taste issue: I am not sure, if there is any musician, (say violinist), who is able to understand and convey all styles, time periods and composers on the same level. If we mention from early baroque, Bach, classicism, all romatic styles and compositors, than various and  diverse 20 century styles, compocers, like Bartok, where the origin and nationality was crucial, all the Russian composers, e.t.c.

Czech filharmonic orchestra is a bit frustrated, they has to play Dvorak New Wolrd Symphony with each concert tour in Japan. They would like to play another composers too of course, byt Japans ask for Dvorak every time. It is quite obvious and logical. To be honest, I never heard anyone playing Shostakovich or Prokofiev concerts on the same level as good Russian violinists use to perform.

I just came form the jury of a violin competition for children. In one age category there was a Bartok Romanian dances as a obligatory piece. Hungarian participants played it obviously better. Thus we were curious if they stamp theirself as favorites in the second round with the differnt pieces . They didn,t. My colleague form the jury, who has a Hungarian roots asked me: "Bohdan, do you think it is really so difficult for other European nations to understand such a simple music (Bartok)?" I really don't think so, however there was a huge difference. Other nations mostly tried to find and convey some content, which was never part of Bartok's music.

I know, we should aim to be able to understand and play each music, and we have to teach our students such way. However, if one wants to achieve really the highest level, it is really difficult without any specialisation.

May 16, 2011 at 12:29 PM ·

 one can argue that it may go beyond musicianship because it indeed requires more specialized and deeper understanding.

let's say an european judge is invited to asia for a competition and one round is purely regional asian music.  does the judge need to have a crash course on that type of music to properly serve as judge?  it requires more than the usual sense of musicality that the judge is familiar with.  different accents and nuances and inflections...

the same thing applies to students learning new pieces.  some pieces require more specialized understanding than others.  the best way to learn spanish is to live in spain.

i remember vividly this competition that i have served as the judge and the cameraman.  i gave this kid a copper prize and left the gold, silver and bronze spots vacant, for the 3 invisible hungarian kids:)

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Silent Violin
Yamaha Silent Violin

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Find a Summer Music Program
Find a Summer Music Program

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases Business Directory Business Directory Guide to Online Learning Guide to Online Learning

Dominant Pro Strings

Antonio Strad Violin

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases


Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Metzler Violin Shop

Leatherwood Bespoke Rosin



Johnson String Instrument and Carriage House Violins

Potter Violins

String Masters

Bein & Company

Annapolis Bows & Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine