The Musical Spectrum by Megan Wright

There is no such thing as worthless music.

Any work of music, of any genre, by any artist, can help you become a better musician. All music has a use and benefit.

Being aware and listening to all types of music not only makes you a better musician but also makes you more marketable. The more knowledge obtained about various genres of music, the more “tools” a musician has in his or her “belt.” A musician should strive to be a “jack of all trades.”

Some musicians may consider work by pop, country, and “mainstream” artists to be trash. Instead of disregarding these works, keep an open mind. You don’t have to like what you hear, but know that what you hear can be useful. Try turning on your radio or online listening app and look for variety—things you aren’t familiar with. Listen to the “top 10,” to country, Latin, jazz stations; anything of variety you come across.

Use these popular songs to sharpen and refresh your aural skills. For example:

• Brush up on hearing harmonic structure, chord inversions, solfège, etc.;

• Practice hearing intervals;

• Use the metronomic precision of Latino and rap beats to hone your rhythm . . . develop a “groove”;

• Practice melodic dictation in your head.

However simple, repetitive, boring, or unfamiliar songs may seem, use them to your advantage. Someone else out there in the world appreciates them, and it will be beneficial for you as a musician to be aware of them too.

Life is full of surprises and little unexpected windows of opportunity. A musician should be prepared for any opportunity presented to him or her. A gig is a gig, and you should never turn one down if you can take it. You are not “too good” for a gig. You are not above playing for any group of people or above any music that cannot be cataloged as “classical.” Experience is experience. Money is money. You never know whom you might meet and what he or she may want to hear you play. Being versatile, flexible, and proactive is key to being successful in any musical situation.


You have an opportunity to play for a wealthy donor who wants to contribute to your arts cause. This donor initially has no experience with classical music. What if the donor makes a song request, maybe a favorite show or fiddle tune, and you just look at him or her and say, “Uh . . . sorry, don’t know that one . . .” That won’t look too impressive on your behalf.

From personal experience, I can’t count how many times I’ve gone to visit my grandparents over the holidays, and my grandmother, wanting to hear me play, asked to hear Orange Blossom Special or Ashokan Farewell instead of the Bartók Concerto or a Hindemith Sonata. You may not know every popular song that exists, but you can start broadening your repertoire.

How may one increase his or her awareness of all music? Start with an open, proactive mind.

• Go through the iTunes top 10 every now and then;

• Buy a book for keyboard with classic songs of every generation. Look through it, learn the melodies, and get the harmonic structures of the pieces in your ear;

• YouTube

• Listen to mariachi groups; observe them and their style the next time you’re at a restaurant;

• Ask grandparents and elderly friends what songs they would like to hear you play some time. Listen to and arrange these songs;

• Research popular show tunes, Broadway, Disney, Latino music, Jazz, Asian music, American tunes, Hymns, Irish, Folk, Rap, Pop, Indie music, even commercial jingles; anything imaginable that someone could ever ask you to play;

• Take a class in improvisation

In order for our typically narrow musical field to survive, audiences need to be “hooked in” again. This may not be achieved through performing exclusively classical music. Having a musical awareness to create an initial crossover between musical worlds may be the key to connecting classical music with every facet of society. All that society needs to cross this musical bridge is a bit of positive, familiar exposure with instrumental music. Once you’ve given the “outside audience” something they are comfortable with and enjoy, people may be drawn back into the traditional concert halls out of curiosity, to perhaps eventually again appreciate classical works.

So to all those YouTube-orchestral instrumentalist-cover stars and violinists playing love songs on city-street corners: thank you. You give society the key to the gateway into a rare and masterfully crafted form of music; the music we practice in our universities and conservatories, “common practice period music,” music of the great masters, and works that will open the eyes, take the breath away, and bring hope into the world. It’s our duty to give back to society the kind of music we make as classical musicians. Enhancing our own awareness of every element of music is the most effective way to share the beauty that we create with the world.

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