Featuring Bob Kauflin Posted on April 8, 2010

Being skilled musically involves different components. One is technique, which simply means mastering the mechanics or building blocks of a style. It's having the actual ability to play or sing whatever is required in a situation. Developing technique is probably the most difficult and unexciting aspect of musicianship, which is why we tend to spend so little time on it. Depending on the instrument, it can include practicing scales, riffs, chord progressions, strumpatterns, different beats, or vocal exercises.

A second aspect of musicianship is theory—understanding how music works. Because music is made up of repeatable patterns and sounds, we canfigure out what the interval of a fourth sounds like, what the minor 6 chord is in the key of D, and how to modulate from F to G. Musicians who don't understand music theory are lost if they have a memory slip during a song.Theory is like a road map that helps us get our bearings and return to the right path. If you don't know the basics of chord structure, notation, and intervals, consider checking out the many theory courses on the Internet or taking classes at a local college. The benefits will far surpass the time and money you invest.

You can excel at technique and theory but still make music that's cold, boring, or inappropriate. That's why a third requirement in skilled musicianship is taste. Taste is knowing what fits. It comes primarily through listening to music purposefully and picking apart exactly what musicians are doing or notdoing. Taste involves dynamics, phrasing, rhythmic patterns, voicings, and instrumentation. Probably the most challenging part of good musical taste is knowing what to leave out. Great musicianship is less about what you play and more about what you don't play. I've been telling worship teams for years that “less is more,” but when I listen to a recording of my own playing, I stillprobably play twice as much as I need to. If I'm not the only member of the band, I shouldn't play like I am. More notes rarely equals greater effectiveness.

Sometimes we try to grow in multiple areas of skill at once and become discouraged. Don't go down that path. Focus on one or two areas at a time. If you're a pianist wanting to learn to read music better, try sight-reading a hymn or two every day. If you want to grow in technique as a guitarist, practice chords from a chord book or riffs you've picked up from listening to CDs. If youwant to grow in playing by ear, find a CD you like and start copying what you hear.

Diverse musical skills give us more tools to choose from. My background as a trained classical pianist enables me to choose songs out of songbooks without having heard them, to write out lead sheets and vocal parts, and to accompany soloists. Playing by ear helps me play chord charts, use creative musical transitions, and respond to a spontaneous direction during a meeting.Both skills have been valuable in my role as a worship leader.

If you want to grow in a particular area, private lessons are often the best option. Many community colleges offer music training and courses that are well worth the price. Training videos are another route, and they're getting better every year. Bookstores also offer a wide variety of helpful music books.

How much should you practice? It depends on what else you do and whatyour goals are. At the very least you should be able to play the songs you need to play without any interruptions. But that's a minimum. A higher standard is to continually add to your skills so you can serve whatever needs arise.

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