young woman playing a guitar


Musicianship covers many different things, from starting out and the creative process of songwriting to the relationship between musicians and the music industry. This requires a number of differing skills. Some of these are practical and creative such as the technical and interpretive skills vital to instrumental playing or singing or the creative skills relating to composing music and songwriting. Others are presentation skills such as stagecraft and the ability to present a coherent image and identity through performance. Musicians also need to master social skills as they have to interact with a variety of differing individuals and institutions in order to get their music heard by a wide audience.

There are lots of different routes into becoming a music maker and equally not everyone will develop their skills in the same way. To some becoming a musician is a hobby, while for others it is a career. Often a musician's development is closely associated with how they first became involved in music making, whether through family tradition, formal education or peer groups. This can set the musician off on a particular path that defines the rest of their musical life. For example, many of today's prominent folk musicians have a family background in folk music. This can be related to place, with strong folk traditions thriving within families from a particular place. For example, contemporary folk artists Rachel and Becky Unthank, Katherine Tickell and Liza Carthy all come from families based in the north east of England that were heavily involved in the local and national traditional and folk music scenes.

Most musicians have a variety of formative musical influences and many learn through both formal and informal channels. This may involve music tuition in schools, colleges and universities; jamming with and learning from peers; or simply listening to recordings and watching performances. Learning from these sources helps to introduce the musician to the conventions of different musicals styles, such as how songs are commonly constructed or how performance is commonly presented.

This section deals with all of these aspects of musicianship by looking at how musicians learn, performance conventions and the craft of songwriting. But in order to understand musicianship and what musicians do it is important to consider the contexts in which they operate. Musicianship is shaped, for example, by the relationships musicians develop with music organisations and the music industry. This section looks at these relationships and the ways in which musicians make a living through a variety of different types of activity

People often think about popular musicians as artists signed to a record label. In fact, most musicians will never sign a formal deal with a record company but will practice and perform in a whole host of other ways from cover bands to tutoring, and from composition to session playing. The majority of musicians who do sign a deal are only contracted to a record label for a short period of time and most are 'dropped' after a fixed period. So musicians often have to be flexible and may diversify and change their activities throughout their careers. While most musicians do not become media or industry 'stars', this does not mean that they cannot earn a living from music.

Follow the links below to explore these different aspects of musicianship: