Should musicality be taught?

September 4, 2011 at 03:41 PM ·

Should musicality be taught? Will the teaching of musicality take away from one's own talent? Should a teacher's role cover technique, preventative injury, control and unfolding creativity. If a teacher gets involve with a student's style, expressionism and musicality won't the opposite happen.

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach him to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime.

Would unfolding someone's creative sideĀ help them with all pieces of music ,whereas teaching them musicality only will help them with one.

Replies (78)

September 5, 2011 at 12:10 AM ·

 Yes, musicality should be taught, otherwise you really leave someone to flounder. Music is a kind of language, and certain gestures and conventions have shared meaning, otherwise music would never communicate anything. It's certainly important to talk with students about the fundamentals of this language and help them find ways to use it. Just because someone taught me how to spell, how to write sentences, certain specific ways to construct a paragraph or an essay -- this doesn't inhibit my ability to write the way I want to write and express what I'd like to express. Quite the opposite: learning those basics gave me a full range, and I think music is comparable. 

September 5, 2011 at 01:07 AM ·

Perhaps its better to say that musicallity should be acquired - that respects the individuals own expression (the critical nugget) while permitting expansion by purposive teaching.  Though I do see the contraditctoin or danger - too little formal teaching and you don't have the tools to express your innate musical message, too much and there is a danger of suppression of individuallity.

There are several topics on where posts bemoan the homogenized nature of many young violinists.  However, formal musicallity training is what defines a classical musician from, say a jazz artist or blue grass one.

September 5, 2011 at 01:56 AM ·

Great topic! My question would be can musicality be taught ? We've all seen performers who have all "the goods" but leave us high and dry emotionally after a performance. Yeah, it's important for teachers to teach the basics so that students can find their own individual musicality. The essence of who we are musically has to come from within ourselves a good teacher can help bring that out if it's in there to be found but I don't think that is the same as teaching musicality.


September 5, 2011 at 02:10 AM · forcing a particular interpretation for each and every piece is definitely doing the student a disservice.


September 5, 2011 at 02:11 AM ·

Yes, musicality can (and should) be taught.  The best teachers will talk with even the youngest students about what a piece is saying.  Is it happy or sad?  Sweet or spicy?  What color is it?  The kids who catch on to this are the ones who can give a compelling performance of Twinkle, while the ones who don't get it are the ones hacking through Bach and Beethoven with nothing to show but speed and technical prowess.  Bo-o-o-o-ring.

Not to say a student can't eventually disagree with a teacher on what the content of a piece is and how best to express it, but most students need some help developing musicality.

September 5, 2011 at 02:23 AM ·

Musicality can and should be taught - or rather, I should say, guided. With musicality it's rarely as clear cut as a particular teacher's approach to positioning the violin and bow. And ultimately, all teaching is leading the horse to water. The horse will drink or not. That said, there's quite a lot of musical guidence that must be given.

When you say "unfolding creativity" it's not entirely clear what you mean specifically, and how different that is to you from teaching musicality. But I have an idea. Early in a student's progress it's not the time for the student to do any old thing in the name of being creative. It may be considered very pc by some, but it will not develop a future artist. Dicipline is needed. There are paprameters of phrasing, nuance, historical awareness, style, etc. which, depending on the teacher and the level of the student, may be rather broad or narrow. But there is tradition and dicipline that a student must be exposed to for a long time, and gradually if the potential is there, a student will develop an individual voice. Some never do, and will always have to be spoon-fed. But no real musical talent ever suffered from musical guidence. Quite to the contrary. Heifetz, Menhuin, etc. etc. all had musical guidence - and all became artists with a strong individuality.

September 5, 2011 at 02:36 AM ·

 This may be tangential, but right now a lot of the ads on V-com are for String Studies at Juilliard, and there doesn't seem to be one of the students pictured in any of those ads with a smile, only  the most deathly-serious expressions.

Teaching musicianship/interpretation/musicality, yes....also remind occasionally that there is/can be/should be JOY in playing the violin, especially in performance, where (at least part of) the point is to give something to your audience.

September 5, 2011 at 02:38 AM ·

style/impressionism IS NOT the same as musicality.

people who are french speakers speak alike because they have a good command of the language,,inflection, intonation, grammar, diction, etc,,,

but no one speaks alike because of individual styles.

musically, an extreme example that comes to mind is the video clip where isaac stern was in china teaching possibly the best orchestra in china then on the fundamental musicality of a mozart piece.   due to china's closed door policy, the orchestra had no musicality to speak of. but when stern showed them, for the first time, the orchestra responded and quickly caught on. 

the same thing goes on in every violin class, day in and day out, one would hope:)


September 5, 2011 at 02:45 AM ·

I guess I'm not seeing what "musicality" means literally when it comes to teaching is it teaching students to "feel" the music or pointing out technical aspects, dynamic markings, articulations, tempo markings, intonation, etc. or all of the above? To me musicality is the combination of everything the technical and the emotional coming together in concert for the student but there has to be some musical self discovery along the way that's what the great teachers are able to inspire. Maybe I'm thinking "musicianship" not "musicality". 


September 5, 2011 at 02:52 AM ·

 i think great musicianship is to strive to reach high level of musicality:)

ps.  imo, I think raphael's post very nicely captured and defined different aspects of musicality.

September 5, 2011 at 03:22 AM ·

"i think great musicianship is to strive to reach high level of musicality:)"

Or Great musicality is the means by which to reach a high level of musicianship ;C)

And I guess it's semantics that's made it look like I was opposed to the original question should musicality be taught? I didn't say "no" I simply asked if it can be what I guess I should have asked is what is the definition of musicality as it pertains to violin pedagogy?  


September 5, 2011 at 03:45 AM ·

 Of course musicality should be taught. I can't even believe that the question was asked in the first place. And so should harmony, intervals, and other basics.

Some students need more musical guidance, and some less.

A good example: almost without exception, violins students will accent the end of a classical phrase. Why? Who knows. They just do. It's our obligations to teach them to taper the phrase. You can call this style, or interpretation, but I'm not sure how one can separate those concepts from musicality.

September 5, 2011 at 03:48 AM ·

Aaaand the original question really asks if teaching musicality takes away from a student's talent? I'll focus on the word talent assuming we are dealing with a talented student and how are we defining talent a student with great "musicality"? Lol. Anyway, I think if a student starts to feel beat down and stops practicing or mentally checks out yeah it will take away from their talent but a teacher that teaches musicality (yeah I said it) but gives the student some musical personal space once they begin to develop their own musicality will help to keep said talent intact. 


September 5, 2011 at 05:24 AM ·

Teaching musicality never takes away from a student's talent.

In my experience, it's usually their own laziness that takes away from their talent!

September 5, 2011 at 10:17 AM ·

Gene - is that true?  What if a student has a unique feeling about a piece or a way of playing but it does not jibe with a single-minded teacher?  Surely after years of training the student may learn to suppress its own feelings and replace them with those taught by 'superiors'. 

I'm from England and there they do (did?) exactly that for virtually all forms of expression.... hence the 'stiff upper lip'...

September 5, 2011 at 11:55 AM ·

Thanks, Al. And I'll just add this. There was a thread some time back - wish I could find it - asking what it means to be musical, where I posted in some detail. Quitessentially, I think it comes down to this. There is a certain basic spark that an actor has or hasn't to make a script come off a page convincingly. There are also degrees of this spark. At the opposite end is the kid we rememeber in elelmentary school who, when called upon, read aloud everything in the same sing-song way, or the adult trying to act, who always sounds very wooden and stilted.

I think it's very similar in music. There is a basic spark that one has or hasn't to make music come off the page convincingly and really live. Otherwise it remains a bunch of black squiggles on white paper. Even with this spark one needs a lot of further education and guidence. But without it, one can can develop a lot of musical awareness, but but still give wooden and stilted performances. It's a certain gestalt that transcends or precedes the sum of the parts. Without it, the horse we lead to water won't drink much. But if one has it, we need not worry about quashing it with education. It will be further enriched, informed and nourished. With that spark plus a strong personality, nothing can stop it.

September 5, 2011 at 12:53 PM ·

A problem I see a lot is that students are helped so much with every note, every nuance, that they can pull off a given piece quite well, but once they have to do it on their own, they are floundering and have no idea.

The best thing a teacher can do is to open the student's minds and ears and then to be able to create and think for themselves.

September 5, 2011 at 05:10 PM ·


This depends entirely on the student. Some simply need coaching on every note--it depends on their exposure to different styles, to their capacity to emulate, their desire to emulate, and their degree of inhibition. It is possible to coach most of a piece while simultaneously giving reasons why. That is the important thing--to give them a framework on why things are done a certain way.

Another example: in etudes such as Wohlfart, there is typically a theme, a contrasting section, then a return to the theme. Many students will blow past the contrasting section and back to the return, while most mature musicians will do something, usually a ritardando. So they have to learn these basic musical devices that. It is the sum of all of these minor musical devices--ritardandi at the right places, tapering of phrases, keeping a line going, changing vibrato with a crescendo, etc. that add up to musicality. Perhaps I'm a reductionist, but it takes more than just closing one's eyes and swaying back and forth to be "musical."

Classical music is not really a creative art. It is an interpretative art. Individuality is not the be-all and end-all in this art. 

September 5, 2011 at 05:11 PM ·

 Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach him to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime.

Teach him to fly fish, open a fly shop, and YOU'LL be set for life!

September 5, 2011 at 05:23 PM ·

> What if a student has a unique feeling about a piece or a
> way of playing but it does not jibe with a single-minded teacher?

The student's "unique feeling" about a piece is not a bad thing at all, the issue is that there are many students who refuse to acquire the vocabulary of technical skills necessary to be able to express those ideas through their instrument under the guise of "I don't want external influences on my musicality."

There are many ways to play the instrument and all of the music available for it. I would think though that a number of students who do engage in private lessons with specific individuals have very specific goals in mind (like playing in an orchestra, solo performances, or teaching young children, etc.), and to make the in-roads to make that career for most people requires figuring out what the commonly-accepted "rules" for their chosen niche are before breaking them!

> Surely after years of training the student may learn to suppress
> its own feelings and replace them with those taught by 'superiors'.

I really don't like this. This is blanket assumption that all teachers attempt to instill their own musical values on their students to the exclusion of their individual identities, which is NOT true.


September 5, 2011 at 05:26 PM ·

Hi Scott

Of course I would not disagree with any of what you have said. It really comes down to the student and how they might develop under a teacher(s) and then under their own steam. Some can become idividual stylists (sounds like a haircut!) whilst others might just be good players that sound likemany others.


I would agree with that , as teachers should bear in mind that a pupil might have something different to contribute. Of course good teachers do just that.

September 5, 2011 at 05:38 PM ·

Peter, I almost err on the side of letting them do ridiculous and crazy things, even in performance. Sometimes, students need to run into the brick wall from time to time to understand that learning to scale it (or avoid it completely) need not be a bad thing. :P


September 5, 2011 at 11:50 PM ·


With more advanced students, I urge them to come up with their own fingerings. However, I tell them that they need to have a good reason for the fingering. If it works, I'll say "fine" because there are always usually possibilities for a fingering. But I also let them know that if it doesn't work, I will change it.

Fingering decisions are in fact one of the first decisions that one makes with respect to musicality. Advanced string players eventually learn to stay on one string for a phrase, while students usually cross strings, hit an open string at the wrong point,  or just stay in first position.

Do all teachers merely wish to clone themselves? I hope not, but few of us with our students to play in an illogical or unmusical manner in the name of individuality. If they do, we don't want them to tell everyone they studied with us.

People have lamented the individualistic playing of times past, and perhaps that is the end result of having such dominant teachers as Delay or Galamian, who trained so many thousands of violinists, and in the same manner. It's why my students don't use Galamian's Bach edition.


September 6, 2011 at 01:10 AM ·

As an intellectual pursuit musicality is not unique.  What are the thought processes and the technical tools that foster musicality?  They can be enumerated and they can be taught.  Do some students learn musicality more easily than others?  Undoubtedly, but that's true of organic chemistry too.  (Trust me on that.)

September 6, 2011 at 01:14 AM ·

> What if a student has a unique feeling about a piece or a
> way of playing but it does not jibe with a single-minded teacher?

G: The student's "unique feeling" about a piece is not a bad thing at all, the issue is that there are many students who refuse to acquire the vocabulary of technical skills necessary to be able to express those ideas through their instrument under the guise of "I don't want external influences on my musicality."

Hang on, I think you are confusing technical training with that for musicallity.  The former provides the tools for the latter and the more advanced the former is the more diverse and free the latter can be.  Indeed, we learn technique to be able to play without thinking about it. - just so that we can express our musicallity.  As I understand the question, teaching musicallity is about how to express an emotion through your music, not how to play the instrument.,

> Surely after years of training the student may learn to suppress
> its own feelings and replace them with those taught by 'superiors'.

G: I really don't like this. This is blanket assumption that all teachers attempt to instill their own musical values on their students to the exclusion of their individual identities, which is NOT true.

And I really don't like how you misread my post.  Please read the sentence again.  First, it says 'a teacher' not 'all teachers' - how could you read it that way?  I was obviously referring to one example, not characterizing the teaching of violin.  Second I said MAY not WILL - the word MAY was chosen on purpose to refer a possible outcome from a teahcer that is ridigid about how a piece is supposed to sound and insist the student plays it that way and may even punish the student for playing it (musically) 'wrong' I have experienced both.  As a child I had a teacher who 'knew' how a piece should be played and as far as they were concerned that was the only way to play it.  


September 6, 2011 at 04:50 AM ·

 But the teacher who teaches a student to play a piece one way and one way only is not teaching musicality. That teacher is only teaching how to play one specific piece. It's like teaching someone to recite a poem without sharing any thoughts about what the poem means, telling them they have to emphasize certain words or phrases to be more convincing, but never saying why they suggest doing so. It's possible that the student could go and recite the poem convincingly without ever having a clue about its meaning. 

September 6, 2011 at 07:01 AM ·


I think that is exactly what I was trying to get at a bit earlier. It's when the teacher is no longer around that the pupil then finds that he/she has no idea how to proceed. I've seen this a few times.

September 6, 2011 at 07:23 AM ·

Yes, I get you Laurie - teaching 'musicallity' should be by its nature opening to different possibilities and learning ways of expression.  I think everyone would agree that that is a great - and necessary - thing to learn.  Unfortunately, for some (a few?) teachers monotonic 'this piece is played like this' is in their minds teaching 'musicallity' and can be harmful.

All my teachers have, in fact, been very respectful of my interpretation of a piece.  I play it my way and they suggest other ways of treating the phrase.  I always try that out to see if it jibes for me - and it serves as a terrfic starting point to listen to violinists on recordings.  Once you have a specific method of playing something in mind its amazing how much variety there is.  I did this for the opening phrase of Beethoven's romance in F - it was astonishing how different players approached it - and very liberating too. 


September 6, 2011 at 07:28 AM ·

 "Manners maketh man", but teaching mannerisms isn't going to help anybody, actor, musician, poet ...... is it ??? I think the Romans defined the gestures associated with oratory in great detail, as if energetic gesticulating could make up for lack of content in your speech ! It's just possible that a teacher could impart cunning nuances without any idea of contextual implications.

Surely one should try to encourage receptivity in a pupil to the deeper wonders of our inherited musical language, but sometimes a mindless imitation of the quirks of the performers a pupil hears is all you are going to get. Kids will imitate, alarmingly well, especially those risqué pop video clips they see ! The "bigger picture" requires maturity, which cannot be forced, IMHO.

"It's the way I tell 'em" a comedian said. Kids will pick up from the tone of a parent's voice whether ot not he/she "really means it". Words + delivery  can be likened to notes + interpretation. There must be an element of the Suzuki "mother tongue" concept in the aquisition of "musicality". Teaching can develop an awareness, but I doubt that anyone can 100% "put it there". 

What is musicality, icing or cake ?? When I was young folk would describe Heifetz as "cold" or "unmusical". But I think his "icing" was just different from that of the previous age. Ensure the cake itself isn't half-baked !!

September 6, 2011 at 11:43 AM ·


I think that musicality is poorly defined.  Many of the elements of music should be taught, such as style, conventions of the period that may or may not be in a score, respect for the composers marking and the spirit they reflect.  Understanding is the key to anything.  Sometimes, students may have a natural instinct for a phrase that is in the spirit of the music and that should be left alone.  Some students are misguided and need to be reeled in.

That said, I think that personality and communication cannot be taught, but one can and should help and guide a student in their unfoldment, helping them remove the obstacles that can prevent them from achieving a convincing performance.  Since in the end though, changes amount to choices and it all boils down to the person making these choices, I don't think that this can be taught.  You can make suggestions and tools, but the person has to make the choice.  Like they say, you can bring a horse to water but you can't force him to drink.  There is much truth in that.


September 6, 2011 at 12:18 PM ·

I'm not sure what a hard definition of musicality would be; but a "soft" definition for me would be something along the lines of thinking things out for oneself and taking on board what has gone before. The taking on board should entail thoughtfully considering those previous ideas, and possibly adapting, or even rejecting some, but always with good reason.

When, as a youngster, I started learning one of the Bach cello suites with a view to a performance, my teacher told me not to listen to any recording of that suite more than once – an important point – not that there were all that many of those recordings around in those days. Later, he explained that he didn't want me sounding like I was trying to imitate Casals or Fournier.

September 6, 2011 at 06:01 PM ·

 I also disagree with the idea that one should go  inside of some cocoon while learning a piece to protect against picking up on the habits of another performer or being infected with someone else's interpretation. I think it should be completely the opposite. I think that the true student of music should immerse himself or herself in every recording they can find, see every performance they can, look at every edition, try every possibility. They should explore so many ideas that their only choice is to make a choice

I understand the idea of not listening to the same recording 200 times, but actually I don't even know if that's really that much of a problem, either. If you are still at the phase of imitation, then you aren't ready anyway. How do great painters learn? Imitation, and there's really nothing bad about it. How did you learn to speak? Imitation. Seriously, I think this business if thinking that it's somehow "cheating" to listen to music you are playing is a major fallacy. 

September 6, 2011 at 06:40 PM ·

I agree Laurie, listening to many different interpretations of  pieces makes me feel more free to try my own ideas because it wipes away the notion that there's only one true way to play them especially when it comes to composers like Bach and Beethoven where the "violinistas" are more likely to scream "off with his head!" if the performance isn't deemed academically authentic enough. I do however have a tendency to back off of recordings when I have something ready for performance but it's not because I fear some kind of musical cross contamination it's not like I'm going to get on stage and accidentally sound like Milstein or Stern lol.


September 6, 2011 at 08:48 PM ·

Laurie, Maurice - that's another interesting point of view for me to think about.

September 6, 2011 at 11:34 PM ·

On the other hand, Trevor, if you can listen (more than once) to the recordings of both Fournier and Casals, start to define the differences, and then come to some conclusions about which one you prefer, and why, you are well on your way.  Develpoing a sense of musicality takes analytical skills, not just an ability to randomly emote all over the place.

September 7, 2011 at 01:59 AM ·

Wow , there a lot of responses for such a silly question. When I think of the act of teaching musicality I think of the teacher telling the  student how to play the piece so that it is musical, whether this is in a traditional or personal sense. So what's really happening is that the student is being controlled musically by the teacher instead of learning to control is own sense of musicality. This approach over time will suppress someones own musicality.  My concept for teaching musicality is  to get  my students to have full  control of the violin, and then  work on creative ideas so they can teach themselves to be more musical. I also think teachers fail when they are unable to teach technique properly but expect students play musically.

Unfolding creativity- I find that people generally don't respect their own self/musical worth.To stick with the horse sense - the grass is always greener on the other side. I don't need to teach my students how to be creative or musical , this is a natural instinct that is often suppressed. I  have to tell them it is ok to use it , get them to believe in themselves. I also have several learning techniques that booster musical creativity.


September 7, 2011 at 02:13 AM ·

interesting vid on creativity and it's supression

September 7, 2011 at 06:26 AM ·

There are "typewriter" pianists, but it's quite difficult to play a violin without "expression" of some sort, inadvertent or otherwise ! I think it's in the nature of the beast. But nowhere yet in this thread have we arrived at a one-size-fits-all definition of this elusive "musicality", IMHO. I think the converse of teaching "musicality" would be to impart a way of playing as if the pupil hated (a) every moment of playing the dreaded violin and (b) music in general. This would be deplorable, so the advisability of "the teaching of musicality" wins by default. 

Was it Michelangelo who thought the statue was already there in the marble block ? All he had to do was to clear away the extraneous stone. Easy !! If "musicality" is the ability to impart a human dimension to a dry set of notes, then I think it arrives in embryo form almost by default, if students hear examples of playing that appeal to them and which encourage emulation. The teacher is a facilitator, not a dictator; I agree that the imposition of a too-inflexible discipline can be stifling. Never say "do it this way" without indicating "why".

From limp-wristed luvvyism to the outer reaches of musicology, this nebulous concept of "musicality" has a huge range. Will the teaching of musicality take away from one's own talent? I guess it all depends on what exactly you understand by the words teaching, musicality or talent.

September 7, 2011 at 08:56 AM ·

- Never say "do it this way" without indicating "why". -

How does why make it any better?  How about ; play it at three different speeds, play it with three different fingerings, three types of staccato, and three different types of accents and for the advance students play it in three different time signatures etc... , then tell them to play it musically. You would be surprised at how musical it becomes.

   To be musical is to be creative ,imaginative. If your teacher is doing this for you , you are learning very little.

September 7, 2011 at 11:22 AM ·

 "How does why make it any better?  How about ; play it at three different speeds, play it with three different fingerings, three types of staccato, and three different types of accents and for the advance students play it in three different time signatures etc... , then tell them to play it musically. You would be surprised at how musical it becomes."

that IS teaching musicality to students.  one of the many ways out there.  3 ways is 2 more than 1, but 2 less than 5.

September 8, 2011 at 12:50 AM ·

 To be musical is to be creative ,imaginative. If your teacher is doing this for you , you are learning very little.

Nonsense. I'll repeat myself: the learning of classical music is an interpretative art, not a fundamentally creative one. The composer is the one who was creative and imaginative.

The average student--we're not talking little geniuses, which few of us come across in our careers--absolutely needs guidance in all of those technical and stylistic pieces that, in total, equal "musicality." Some teachers need every note dictated, which is a reality at the beginning. If the teacher has done their job, the student needs less as they advance.

September 8, 2011 at 06:17 AM ·

As suggested by Laurie, so much of the basics of any subject of study are simply not "up for discussion", e.g. the alphabet, multiplication tables, even the harsh reality of the student's own name. Does the teaching and testing of these basics kill talent and creativity ? On the contrary, the door to the acquisition of further skills and knowledege is opened. Even poets learn to spell.

If someone tries to teach you "musicality" and you don't like it, what's probably happening is that either you are being told you aren't phrasing as well as you thought you were, or that you simply didn't get what you could or should be doing. You aren't getting it across.  A reality check. No-one likes to be told !

Where exactly "not making mistakes" ends and "musicality" begins hasn't been defined yet in this thread. Here's hoping. A line in the sand ?? What happens if the tide comes in ??

As Scott observed, the fiddler is the medium, not the message. But, like word of mouth, one needs to understand the message to avoid getting it wrong when passing it down the line. 


September 8, 2011 at 08:54 AM ·

I see Scotts perspective - but agree only up to a point.  In as much as classical musicians render a composers work they surely are interpretative.  But if that was all then we would insist that all performers have a single standard to play to - a single outcome.  Where creativity comes in is in how the music is relayed to the audienc - I've been listening to the same piece by over 10 different soloists and each rendition is truly unique.  Thus, each musician uses the music as a template for her or his interpretation - true - but also expression.

Every post on on the subject laudes these differences - I never read a post that says 'The way to play this is...'.  Thus the final music outcome is a mix of the creativity of the composer and that of the player.  If it were not I don't think classical music would exist any more - I certainly would not play it.

September 8, 2011 at 09:00 AM ·

I think if you teach musicality (wich seems in fact to be nuance in playing) you must give a reason for everything you tell the student. If someone just forces a student to play a certain way without giving a reason it is obviously not easy for the student to understand. There may be some situations where it can be important to stop a student from integrating his own ideas, but one has to give a reason for it. On the other hand the main goal of teaching in classical music should be: Making the student an honest and carefully reading interpreter of what is written. Even if you improvise you have some rules wich you have to know even if they are a little open. After you know the rules exactly you can start devoloping something from inside. 

September 8, 2011 at 09:40 AM ·

Every actor has a recognisable voice and sense of timing, but is nevertheless delivering scripts created by someone else, and their "talent" is not "stifled" by working under the supervision of a director. Quite the reverse.

Solo violinists, and expecially orchestral fiddlers, are united by a common discipline without which communication with the audience would disintegrate. This discipline is the springboard, not a straightjacket. Their individuality is rarely a deliberate, self-conscious, affectation. It happens.

Wagner's dictum was "not rule, but direct reaction to feeling" yet rather that invent a musical esperanto of his own, chucking out all those boring clefs, scales and key-signatures, he wrote in conventional, traditional, notation.

Afterthought ...It's said that opera singers have resonances where the brain should be. Stops them worrying whether their creativity is being compromised as they laugh all the way to the bank.

September 8, 2011 at 11:07 AM ·

 before going further, i think it is time to call into question the quality of instruction as it relates to musicality teaching.

if a teacher has no good idea what he/she is doing, then even trying 100 ways--fishing-- is no real help to the student.  like what i may be doing with my kid often:)

however, if a teacher is very sure about his/her own interpretation, there is no need to tippy toe into the subject.


the other thing is the worry that if i teach 10 kids suzuki book 1 page 1 exactly the same way that they will all sound alike, or, to be extreme, the same.

have you ever been to student recitals lately, haha?

September 8, 2011 at 08:31 PM ·


I certainly wouldn't want my students to be my clones, and I do hope that no two violinists would ever sound exactly the same (if such a thing were even possible). Injecting one's personality in the music is perfectly acceptable, but we teachers are responsible for helping the student figure out the where personal expression, style, and taste intersect. Personally, I tend to admire interpretations that sound inevitable over those that sound original.

September 9, 2011 at 08:38 AM ·

Hoping to put to rest any further confusion as to what this thread's all about I tried googling.



1. Tastefulness and accomplishment in music.

2. The quality of being melodious and tuneful.

    1. I don't understand how any teacher with half a conscience could do anything that did NOT impart "musicality". Talent can only be compromised by NOT teaching mu-si-cal-i-ty

September 9, 2011 at 01:59 PM ·

 You know, that is a good concept to ponder. I have over the years come to be on the side of "teaching how to fish" not only because this enables the student to express themselves as they wish, but because of a lingering suspicion that a burning desire to express oneself musically is more innate than taught. One thing that I am just starting to incorporate in my teaching of fairly young students (6-10) is vocally singing the melodies with text from folk song material in order to establish a more visceral connection for the young player. Don't yet know how that will work, only just started implementing the idea.

September 9, 2011 at 08:12 PM ·


interesting connection to Hubermann who was adamant the onlyway to understand the music of a particular country was to study the respective folk musics,



September 10, 2011 at 12:25 AM ·

 I tried·si·cal·i·ty1. Tastefulness and accomplishment in music.2. The quality of being melodious and tuneful.


I'm not sure Googling something would really qualify as "trying," and nor should answers rendered from such "efforts" be considered definitive. After all, one can be considered "accomplished" in music yet still lack musicality, and a piece of music can be inherently melodious regardless of interpretation. On the other hand, much music contains little melody or tunefulness, a good example being Bach (E major Preludio is almost all harmony with little melody).

This is my definition: A manner of performance which elicits an emotional response from the listener. That is, after all, what we are trying to accomplish.



September 10, 2011 at 05:23 AM ·

 Anyone care to google "accomplished" ?? No-one wants to listen to a wooden performer. Such a player is hardly "accomplished'. Fundamental communication skills need to be addressed. Otherwise, Hamlet in a monotone ! Don't call us, we'll call you.

I imagine that Paul Huppert's approach is very "Suzuki", aiming to encourage the formation of an impression in the pupils "mind's ear" of what to aim for. The "mother tongue" approach. But since pupils, almost without exception, will have heard songs and broadcast music anyway, some "musicality" will tend to enter by means of imitation and emulation. Stealth !  Teachers fail to tap into this at their peril, I guess. The little VSO under the chin has to be connected to the outside world of music. "From the known to the unknown" was the dictum of the music educator, Curwen.

September 10, 2011 at 10:03 AM ·


I can`t help feeling this discussion needs to be nudged towards a more concrete dimension so her eis an example of innate musicality although it may have been put to a a somewhat nefarious purpose



September 10, 2011 at 10:21 AM ·

Buri - great link.  Dudley was truly an amazingly tallented pianist and all round comic performer (How many have seen the movies '10' and Arthur?).  He came to prominence in Beyond the Fringe (from which your clip started) but attained stardoom in England iwth a brilliant satirical writer/performer (but sometimes too dry for popular taste) Peter Cook.   

Thanks for the memories...

September 10, 2011 at 12:35 PM ·

To make it easier to get to Buri's link :-

Dudley serious ? The Moore the merrier.

September 11, 2011 at 12:33 PM ·

If you look at my list of musical expression, you would find that teaching will be at the bottom of the list.


improvising- notes

improvising - dynamics, ornamentation, fermata,.rit .,  bowing's, fingers etc....




coached, taught,


Usually when I think of things that are innate ,we don't really need to teach them , we need to open them. IMO the teaching of musicality is more about controlling the student's music then opening it. To make things clear, when we teach someone musicality we are showing them how it is done. When we open musicality we are making them think for themselves.


September 11, 2011 at 01:15 PM ·

 with 9-11 in the background--actually the forefront today- i cannot help but marvel at how people going through this human experience invariably look at the same thing from decidedly different angles...

charles, if you are a teacher, it will be illustrative to hear or see how your students play under what you have proposed, teaching vs opening musicality.  i would like to appreciate if your approach is a philosophical ideology or a method with practical pointers for better outcomes.

you said "when we teach someone musicality we are showing them how it is done. When we open musicality we are making them think for themselves."   i am not sure it is appropriate for you to define "teaching" by others in such a narrow range.  for many good teachers, teaching also includes your so called "opening" musicality and consequently students thinking about everything, including for themselves.

in a nut shell, i feel that you have been quite insistent that you are different and your way is possibly superior.  but the fact is, you simply do not know how readers of teach and therefore you have no way to determine the quality of their teaching/opening.  '

i think you are coming across with a great message, but to polarize your vs others' ways are too simplistic and possibly inaccurate.

September 11, 2011 at 01:18 PM ·

 I'm finding this conversations fascinating, because I am the bad student. For literally decades I was a big music fan and sort-of musician. I play quite a few instruments good enough to play in bands. But it was only about ten years ago that something clicked, and my listening changed, and then my playing. The incident was minor, but it leaves me wondering two things: why did I never get it before, and why didn't any teacher ever point it out?

The specific incident was watching someone trying to teach someone who wasn't learning, but I got the point, and it opened a whole new range of thought. In my work I get to see a lot of teaching, and I don't think, in general, that teachers do enough explaining instead of demonstrating.

If one doesn't "get it", one isn't going to get the demonstration, either--what's going on needs to be specifically pointed out and explained, perhaps multiple times so that the student doesn't simply imitate, but understands what he's doing on another level beyond the ears. I suspect that many teachers can't do that, that they don't, themselves, understand what they do on a intellectual, verbalizable (is that a word???)  level, and that's where the gap opens between teaching and learning.

I teach a summer class in violin making, use that process extensively, and it really makes a difference. Now I NEVER say "do this", but I fully discuss the visual rules and background that lead to the desired results. It's much more effective. Once they understand my rules and how they work, then they can make their own. If they don't understand anyone's process of creating something, how are they supposed to generate their own?

September 11, 2011 at 01:55 PM ·

 I suspect that many teachers can't do that, that they don't, themselves, understand what they do on a intellectual, verbalizable (is that a word???)  level, and that's where the gap opens between teaching and learning.

I think I agree. Many pedagogues get into teaching, often at a high level, because they are excellent players; but my own experiences of having been being a pupil leads me to suspect that many have forgotten HOW they got to their skill level, and indeed are largely unaware of how they "do it". So they find verbalizing tricky. The more gifted the players, the less they seem to recall of their learning processes, indeed, a less "naturally gifted" player, someone who has had to struggle, can make a better teacher, IMHO. Some practitioners, at the top of their tree, seem to find the only way of communicating with a student is to parade their own ego, rather than engaging with the students needs.

Many of these highfliers will have to say, in effect, "do as I do" because they lack the ability to explain how to work through the various stages, or to understand why a pupil has gotten stuck. Sometimes teaching can fail to reveal the value of technical work, that's to say, the "light at the end of the tunnel" which should draw the pupil onwards is delivered "batteries not included". 

The big problem I have with this thread is an idea that seems to lurk beneath, that "musicality" is an isolated thing, hiding in a little box by itself until a teacher says "open sesame". To me, it's more of an elephant in the room !!

September 11, 2011 at 02:08 PM ·

 david, that is a great analysis.

perhaps we can look at teachers on a "talent" scale as well.

some teachers have hidden talent, meaning they know what they are doing, but cannot effectively communicate to the students.  thus, it is a hit or miss with students.  those who are intuitive can get the real message from the teacher, but others may have a hard time.  since they are in the authority position, it is not easy to "open" them up. perhaps they can benefit from attending some master class of the top teachers of the field.

other teachers are more communicative.  they have many tricks in the bag for many different student personalities, or learning abilities/disabilities.  they are not method teachers per se because they have many methods at their disposal and they teach each student differently with a melting pot approach.  whatever it takes for the students to get it.  but they are hard to find!

September 12, 2011 at 05:24 PM ·

 I like to think of musicality as something each of my students possess, but that my job as their teacher is to either unlock it or rein it in. Either way I have to go at it, I find my job is to provide a distilled list of performance practice norms and rules that go a long way in our craft and provide about 80% of what goes into the recital performance. That mysterious other 20%, which comes straight from each student's personal vision, then is free to shine -- and is what I look forward to each recital!

September 12, 2011 at 06:24 PM ·

 Buri, I loved that link, the end had me falling off my chair!

September 12, 2011 at 11:26 PM ·

Yeah what made it work is that Moore could actually play the piano.  I wonder if there's a transcription out there.  For a few bars I thought he might have been going fugal.

September 16, 2011 at 01:17 AM ·

 I like to think of musicality as something each of my students possess

An unfortunate PC lie with its origin in the "everyone's a winner" American self-help world. Many people do NOT have innate musicality and have to be spoon fed. There are also people who can't serve a tennis ball, hit par in golf, or run a 100 meter sprint in under 30 seconds, no matter how they try.

September 16, 2011 at 01:24 AM ·


>One of the Brahms Rumanian Dances seemed to me should be a portrayal of a drunk on the way home.I was surprised to hear it played dead pan and straight one day. Do you know the one?


But John,  I am always deadpan and straight when I head home drunk.

Cheers hic,



September 16, 2011 at 05:36 AM ·

Scott:  An unfortunate PC lie with its origin in the "everyone's a winner" American self-help world. Many people do NOT have innate musicality and have to be spoon fed.

Which begs the question is the excersize futile.  That is if the person has no innate musicallity is spoonfeeding simply a waste of time?  I think it is - stressing the point that there really is no such thing as teaching of musicallity (meaning here the ability for individual expression), the best a teacher can achieve is to allow it to blossom.

I am blessed with a wonderful teacher who never tells me how it must be done and, more important, seems to be more interested in how I wish to play a piece than how she would do it.  Nonetheless, she teaches musicallity - and she does it by example.  'You could play that section like this',  'My favorite way to do this is to...'  What happens is that I get this amazing sense of discovery and growth - and I also get to choose whether her interpretation is an improvement on mine - if it gets to the heart of the music better.  Mostly it is (she is a fine violinist) but sometimes its not.  The outcome is that exploring the musicallity of a piece is truly collaborative - we discover it together, even in cases where she knows the piece extensively and may even have performed it. 

Is this 'teaching' of musicallity?  Perhaps but I think musicallity (again individual expression) is actually beyond teaching, its more in the next realm of 'mentor'. 

September 16, 2011 at 05:49 AM ·

 There are also people who can't serve a tennis ball, hit par in golf, 

I was a terrible golfer but enjoyed getting out there, come rain or shine. Guess I had golficality.

September 16, 2011 at 06:41 AM ·


I'd say that the ability of people to be musically expressive on their own probably, like most other phenomena, lies on a bell curve. Most people can do it with coaching and maturity, and few are gifted, and an unlucky few seem not to have it. Even with those few unfortunates, no, I don't think it's an exercise in futility, especially with kids. It's difficult to predict just when and if they'll break out. Sometimes they surprise us.

September 16, 2011 at 09:42 AM ·

 now there was a guy with talent....

September 16, 2011 at 11:32 AM ·

 some people may not possess strong musicality but enjoy music listening and making nonetheless.  that is the beauty of not being a star!

September 16, 2011 at 03:18 PM ·

I agree with Scott Cole that musicality, like every other human quality, lies on a distribution curve.  Some kids just "get" math or spelling, others struggle along.  Years ago I remember seeing a stunning collection of watercolors painted by a four-year-old child.  The only explanation one can give is that the larger the population, the more likely one is to find data points that are very far from the mean.

Where children are concerned, however, I think that even if one discovers that one's child does not have profound innate musicality or "talent" for the violin, there are still good reasons to stay with music lessons.  A reasonable level of skill (and therefore enjoyment) can be realized, and the other benefits (discipline, concentration, accountability, socialization with other decent kids) that attend the study of music carry over into other areas of life.

September 16, 2011 at 08:46 PM ·

Love scott's point.  Elise raises a good question: so if not everybody is innately gifted with musicality, what do we do with the ones who don't have it?  I'm a firm believer that EVERYONE can learn it to some level!  Of course for some it will take more time and effort and it's worth asking if it's worth the priority to them!  But I have seen people who thought they were tone-deaf realize that they had just never learned how to hear musically but they could!  I teach a lot of kids who have grown up on canned music and commercials and when I ask them what music they listen to at home they give me blank looks.  Music is just not part of their culture.  Some of them get it faster than others.  Some need modeling; some need word-pictures or style cues--those probably fall more into Elise's term" mentoring" which I love; some need the concrete of dynamics and principles of phrasing which I don't think can be called anything else but "teaching musicality"-- but once they start to observe and follow those mechanics they begin to hear how the music can come alive!    I have seen this over and over again including one student whose expression has just been dead almost since we started.  examples didn't work.  Word pictures didn't work.  Trying to get her to open up her inner expressive musicianyness didn't work  :)--in other wrods, I couldn't get her to find her own way toward musicality.  so I finally just started getting specific and concrete.  Play the forte.  Play the crescendo.  This phrase needs to relate to that phrase more softly.  Took a few months to get her to actually play that way.  Then one day she came in and performed her newest piece and it CAME ALIVE!!!  Now we're working on Vivaldi; I've given some style guidance, but she's going beyond that; she gets it!  So, in other words, yes, musicality can and should be taught and that doesn't mean everybody's going to become an automaton  :)

September 17, 2011 at 05:00 AM ·

 Not to be scientific (better than scientological..) about it, but much of what we call"musicality" can be taught as broad principles. So if someone just adheres to these simple things, they'll sound reasonably "musical." These include very general things like: tapering phrases, vibrating on long notes, using rubato when just before a theme returns, keeping a singing phrase on one string instead of crossing strings, playing dynamics.  Unfortunately, with many people, we teachers have to keep beating these principles in, even after years of study. Sometimes I think maybe it's not so much a question of "musicality" but of simple awareness of what one is doing. 

September 17, 2011 at 06:12 PM ·

To a certain point I agree with Scott that there is an inventory of time-honored devices that we use to impart "musicality," such as rubato leading up to the return of the main theme of a piece.  This notion explains the relative ease with which an accompanist can follow a soloist even on the first run.  When should the rubato start?  How deep should it be?  Even these aspects are fairly consistent -- but they're not necessarily intuitive, because younger students won't have figured that out yet.  Rather, they're taught how to do it, initially by the teacher's example, later by listening to recordings.  Eventually it clicks.

Harder to pinpoint are the features of a mature artist's performance that make it truly special and original from a musical standpoint.  I've been studying the 3rd movement of the Franck Sonata and listening to various recordings.  In my opinion Anne-Sophie Mutter's recording is uniquely beautiful, partly because I believe she brings fresh insight to the piece.  "Vibrato on the long notes?"  Not necessarily!  There's no vibrato at all a few of the key passages in Mutter's recording -- when the vibrato returns it packs an even greater punch.

By the way, as a professional scientist, I don't see why one would avoid a "scientific" approach.  Remember Godel-Escher-Bach?  There is beauty in symmetry, in patterns, and recognizing them helps us enjoy even more the departures therefrom.

September 19, 2011 at 07:07 AM ·


that was also Casal`s position.  I have often thought Heifetz understood this point extremely well.  His interpretations often demonstrates a climactic point which supersedes all others and everything else is in proportion.



September 21, 2011 at 10:00 AM ·


This is an excerpt from the book  "Composition for Dummies"  that I was just checking out from the how to compose post.

 As a music teacher, Johann Sebastian Bach, like other great composers of his

day, trained his students to be not just impressive little robotic pianists, but

to be improvisers and composers. This is something that’s not often taught by

music professors today. Back then, learning how to read scores and perform

other people’s music was not a separate or independent skill from learning

about the creation of music itself. The music of the masters was presented to

students as something to improvise on — and possibly even to improve on.

 and was not the end itself. Students were encouraged 

to alter scores by adding notes, reducing the time value of notes, dropping

notes, and changing or adding ornamentation, dynamics, and so on. One

couldn’t even get into Bach’s teaching studio without first showing some

rudimentary composing ability.

If you’re a classically trained music student who has just not had a lot of

opportunities to spread your wings and write your own pieces of music, this

book is especially designed to help you find your own voice, both by drawing

from what you’ve learned in all those years of rote memorization and mining

your own feelings about how music should sound.     

@ Al ,this way of teaching has been around for a long time ,we have lost the art of teaching this to intermediate students. This may be taught to students in Universities , but in my opinion it's to late. It's needs to be learned like everything else, at an early age.

September 21, 2011 at 11:18 AM ·

charles, i think you have hit the nail on the head with this find and suggestion.  imagine how much mental/emotional/musical input/processing one has to put into making new composition or rearranging or just playing around with the notes, sort like musical reverse engineering,,,it is a real and practical way to introduce musicality.  your post is therefore possibly the first post on this thread with something concrete and constructive, instead of our usual yakking:)  perhaps now i see where you were coming from with your initial assertion, that if the children were stimulated in this fashion very early, it is much more effective and efficient, as if musicality comes from within.  

the only limiting factor i see is the quality of the instructors.  they really have to know their chops and have the time and patience... 


September 21, 2011 at 07:12 PM ·


>your post is therefore possibly the first post on this thread with something concrete and constructive, instead of our usual yakking:)  

Nope.  The question wan`t how how to teach musicality. It was =should we =which is equally significant bu requires a diversity of probing.  Not all questions can be answered at a fast food counter.

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