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Can I Call Myself a Musician? Welcoming Amateurs in Music

Updated: Oct 29, 2021

"Just because I play the piano doesn't mean I am a musician." Why not? There seems to be a very strict conception of "being a musician" in this world. Reaching this title requests patience, hard work and great achievements although opinions about this profession reach from "useless with no chance of being profitable" to "very sophisticated and well-seen". Here is how a shift of perspective can change this artistic subject's stiff inclusion policy and give rights to the amateurs - especially children.



"I want to be a musician when I grow up"


Have you ever heard (or said) one of these sentences?

  • "You need to practice a lot to become a musician."

  • "Yeah, I play the guitar but I wouldn't say I am a musician."

  • "You want to become a musician? Better learn something proper."

But what if your son or daughter now mention:"You know? I wanna be a musician when I grow up!"?


In their article "How to Become a Musician: Steps and FAQs", the job website indeed.com claims that "...the actual steps it takes to become a successful musician require dedication and a commitment to honing your skills and making connections in the industry."¹

When you google "how to become a musician", there also appears a post by The Good Universities Guide which says: "To become a musician you usually have to complete formal training in a chosen musical field."²


In all of these statements one thing becomes clear: To be a musician to many people seems to be a profession. It's a high level of skill that you need to study hard for, it's a title or degree that you get from other professional musicians. And it's a job, meaning that you need to earn money with it to call yourself a real musician. (Ironically, many professional musicians would tell you that they hear all the time how being a musician is not a real profession that will never bring them enough money.)


We don't want to judge on calling music a profession here, since many of these aspects are true - at least in case you want to make music professionally and earn your living with it. What we want to add is something that we believe needs to be included in the domain of music and into its ways of thinking. You should be allowed to call yourself a musician from the second you engage with music. Also, being an adult or a child, you should naturally know that you are included in this group. Together with all the other musicians.


This way, your child doesn't even need to wait to be a musician until they grow up. They can become a musician in a flash!



Is my love for music not enough?


Now, of course we can say that people just starting with music or doing it as a hobby are simply amateur musicians. There is only one problem with this, which Ken Robinson summarises very well for us in his book "The Element":

"When we call something "amateurish," we use the word as pejorative. We're suggesting that the thing upon which we're commenting is nowhere near professional, that the effort is something of an embarrassment."³ (Robinson)

Here is how he continues later and thus gives us a new perspective on the term: "The word amateur derives from the Latin word amator, which means lover, devoted friend, or someone who is in avid pursuit of an objective. In the original sense, an amateur is someone who does something for the love of it."⁴ (Robinson)


Every child that shows interest for music shows the possibility for falling in love with it later and thus becoming an amateur. Children and adults alike do this all the time, be it talking about human relationships or falling in love with a new hobby or a job. Give your child the chance to love music by accepting and treating them as a musician early on. Right from the beginning.



The two classes in music

"The chasm between musical experts and everyday musicians that has grown so wider in our culture makes people feel discouraged, and for some reason this is uniquely so with music."⁵ (Levitin)

In music the difference between being an amateur musician and a professional musician to many people seems very clear: You become a professional when you make a living with it, better if you can prove doing so over some time.


The transition from the one group to the other seems very hard, also because friends, family and society in general make it hard. Being lost between a way of expressing yourself as an artist and a cold, hard money-making business, the domain of music is a rough place to be. To be able to call themselves musician many people don't even bring up the courage to think about themselves as musicians because it is "just a hobby". But are they not part of it? Don't they contribute, in their own way, to the domain?


If you then decide to pursue a career in music the outlook is still not very promising: Being a songwriter means doing business, doing music business means going away from playing music and more to selling it, wanting to play music means studying very very hard. What is the perspective here for children just starting out in music? Having the title of the low-performance amateur or the prospect of a tough future as a professional? It needs to change.



Music as an open space


Thinking about the musical domain more as an open space can help shift some attention to what's important: the creative side. Every musician, amateur or professional once started out with this initial spark for music. This initial interest that many times comes out of nowhere but doesn't let you go.


The numbers of people starting to learn about music and then quitting is very high though. If you ask around among your friends you will probably find more people who say that they "once learned instrument X but the lessons were boring and the practice schedule too tough". Not that many will tell you they starting playing as a kid and still play happily very often for the fun of it.


Considering music now to be open and inviting to everybody would for sure lower the expectations that people have towards themselves trying it out. If we treated the child that, bursting with joy, sings to her favourite song on the radio as a part of the musical field, what would that do? It would for one give her the confidence to further pursue her passion.


The second benefit this has affects the domain in general. Including more amateurs who "just" love to play music for it's own sake into the group of musicians leads to a much bigger pool of creative ideas. It leads to open, inviting paths to become better, learn more, create more and therefore expands music as a whole.



We need open music teachers and parents


A domain like music needs an attitude of openness to lay out an environment of creativity. It needs music teachers who first of all find it amazing when a child shows interest in music, not being mainly concerned about their level or speed of progress. It needs parents who see more than one way of interacting with music, who are a part of their children's music education and who keep the focus on the passion more than on the good performance.


What we also need is a more welcoming and appreciative perspective on people making music. We see that it's possible with other hobbies and professions, but in music the world seems to be more strict. Daniel Levitin in his book "This is your brain on music" describes it very well:


"Even though most of us can't play basketball like Shaquille O'Neal, or cook like Julia Child, we can still enjoy playing a friendly backyard game of hoops, or cooking a holiday meal for our friends and family." (Levitin)⁶

We would like to encourage you to engage with music in the same way. Sing some karaoke songs with friends, tap along with some tunes or try yourself out on this instrument you always wanted to learn. As a professional or an amateur. As a stay-at-home-mom, a retired grandpa, a business executive, a factory worker, a teenager or a child. You too can be a musician.




Sources and Links

¹ https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/how-to-become-a-muscian

² https://www.gooduniversitiesguide.com.au/careers-guide/musician

³ Robinson, Ken: "The Element", p.209 (2009, Ken Robinson with Lou Aronica, Penguin Group)

⁴ Robinson, Ken: "The Element", p.210 (2009, Ken Robinson with Lou Aronica, Penguin Group)

⁵ Levitin, Daniel: "This is your brain on music", p.194 (2008, Atlantic Books, London)

⁶ Levitin, Daniel: "This is your brain on music", p.194 (2008, Atlantic Books, London)


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Photo 2 by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

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