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  • Lim Shi Han

Are You A Musician?

Pianist playing the piano

It is difficult to pinpoint the exact definition of a “musician”. Is someone who plays soft background jazz at a restaurant a “musician”? Must a “musician” be someone in a cool rock band? Or does a virtuoso with a fancy tailcoat or tuxedo basking in the spotlight come to mind instead? Is a musician simply someone who learns or play an instrument? I shall hereby give a possible suggestion (credits to my piano teacher Ms Lena Ching) of the meaning of a “musician”:

A musician is someone who is in the (1) right relationship with music, and is someone who seeks to (2) respond correctly to the music (3) for a lifetime.

1. Right Relationship

Why the choice of the word “relationship”? Well, because it is literally, a relationship. Like in a romantic, family or any relationship really, there are two parties. Both parties are equally important in this relationship. However, in the relationship between a musician and music, there is no give and take on both ends, only one - which is the musician. Music does not “give” you something in return, rather it is the process of the musician giving to music that he or she receive something in return; a lifetime of spiritual fulfillment, for example.

Thus, it is may be harmful to constantly preoccupy yourself with the amount of give and take in this relationship. A thought such as “if I practice 4 hours a day from now on, my skills will be twice as good as they are now” is dangerous in the long-run.

The formation of expectation in itself is a foundational crack a relationship. Unlike expectation in other areas like your schoolwork, your personal goals etc. having expectations in relationships is not always healthy. If your goal for learning the piano is the pleasure it can give you, then more often than not, you will be sorely disappointed. This is because your mind is so goal-oriented that you may instantly be discouraged by the setbacks along this journey, or even, why your 4 hour long practice session seemingly yielded no improvement. Let go of that expectation, because when you do not expect anything from the relationship, you would start to appreciate many more things that will come along the way. Imagine if your significant other turning out to be a gold-digger; your relationship most probably would not last.

The point I am making here is that motive does matter in a relationship, even with a seemingly non-physical thing like music. What you must be regularly asking yourself is: are you learning music because you really enjoy it? Or are you doing so because of duty or pressure (the most common source being parents)?

2. Responding Correctly

“Response” is something that ties in with “relationship”. If you are in a right relationship, you will respond to it. Response can be measured in several ways. When someone is performing on stage, “response” can obviously suggest how the performer reacts to the music, his or her body language and facial expression being one of the most important measurements. Is the response a reflection of the music he or she is playing? Is the response over the top or non-existent (both being equally unfavourable)? Behind the scenes, a response can refer to how much the musician weighs the relationship in his or her heart. This translates to physical and emotional investment into the relationship, as mentioned before.

3. Over a Lifetime

As with any relationship, one hopes that it can be long-lasting. The same goes with a musical relationship. Many start learning a musical instrument when they are barely the age of 5, but how many of those people do you see persevere to the age of 70? Time spent, no matter where, if with a purpose and whole-hearted dedication, will yield results. One cannot expect oneself to reach the summit of artistry in 5 years of learning the piano or unlock all the secrets of piano playing by watching a tutorial on YouTube; for there is never an end-goal in music (or rather any aspect of art). Patience is another key value that musicians need to have. It is this lifetime journey that is so fulfilling, encompassing all the triumphs and setbacks along the way.

In conclusion, anyone can be a musician; a concert pianist, a band member or the person who plays background music in a French restaurant, if they are in a right relationship with music and are seeking to respond well to the music over a lifetime. Again there are many factors that constitute a right relationship and it is up to your own judgement for what those factors are. Thus it is not really accurate to adhere to the common stereotype that musicians are single pringles; in fact they are in the most rewarding relationship ever known.


Lim Shi Han is the 1st prize winner of the 3rd Steinway Youth Piano Competition (Intermediate Category) 2016 and the 1st Nanyang International Piano Competition (Intermediate Category) 2017. She is currently under the tutelage of Ms Lena Ching at the School of Young Talents (SYT), Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA). She loves writing, reading and above all, music.

Want to be a musician? Find a piano teacher now :)

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