Player, Musician and Artist

Anyone who has ever picked up an instrument can fall under 3 different categories. For all these categories, there are certain strengths and weaknesses. By knowing what category you fall into you will be able to discover the weaknesses in your own playing.

Ultimate Guitar

Anyone who has ever touched an instrument or sung falls into one of three general groups or classes.

By discussing these categories, I hope to open your mind to areas in your own playing that you might need to develop. By the end of this article, you will know what category you fall into. If you end up in the category you want to be under, great. If not, I will give you the knowledge to get to the category you want to be in.

The 3 categories are:

1. The Player2. The Musician3. The Artist

1. The Player

This is an odd stage. I bet a lot of you aren't even aware that you are in fact, a player. This category tends to belong to Beginners, hobbyists and the overall elementary through high school student groups.

People who stay in this category for a long time are not usually that serious about music. They often quit the instrument and move forward with the rest of their lives.

As the name suggests, these people are learning how to play the instrument. Most learn to read music at this stage as well, but that can differ depending on the instrument. Guitar players and singers usually don't learn to read music until later in their studies. Guitar students should never learn to read music right away, because it will kill their interest in learning. That is a subject for another time though.

Back to players. Players learn to play their instrument, read in their own specific musical staff and usually know a couple of scales. That's about as far as their knowledge goes.

Elementary students and high school students are perfect examples. The vast majority of student players will work on the physical act of playing the instrument and learning scales. This isn't necessarily a bad thing because that's all they really need to know. They play the music the conductor gives them to play. There's no real reason to get deeper than this.

You could say similar things about people who play guitar or sing.

The common guitar player knows some songs, chords and scales. Many of them don't even know how to read music.

The common singer just opens their mouth. They don't learn to really develop their voice. On top of that, most don't read music.

If you fall into this category and you don't want to be in this category, there is no reason to be upset. There are plenty of things you can do to get yourself into the category you want to be in.

2. The Musician

The musician is a step up from players. The typical musician knows some theory, many different scales and how to apply them together. They might even have some knowledge of basic harmony.

Most musicians are still primarily just playing the instrument, but to a much higher degree. Most musicians are obsessed with being technically proficient. Some are obsessed to such a degree that simple music is "bad music" or boring.

This is extremely common among guitar players in genres where technical playing has a higher value, such as classical, jazz and metal.

Common statements I hear from typical musicians are:

" - Oh that song sucks, it's only 4 chords" or "That song's terrible, the solo is so bad."

In a nutshell, musicians tend to ignore the emotional aspect of music and make it all about the complexity of the music.

Another common issue with musician, is they tend to neglect other essential area's in their musical development and they become lopsided players.

Typically, their visualization is poor and they don't recognize the emotion in music besides the basic sad or happy.

Strangely enough, their music theory knowledge and ears are usually solid, but those skills are useless because they usually don't apply them.

Last, but not least, most musicians can't write a song to save their life.

3. The Artist

The last stage I want to talk about, is the artist.

The artist tends to understand that emotional quality is important or at least more so than the complexity of the music. They also don't judge a song based off on how complex the music is.

Now I want to stop really quick and point out that the artist stage is not the ultimate goal of every person or the "final stage." If a person wants to be great, he needs a balance of both musicianship and artistry. 

That being said, there is no better feeling in the world than writing and finishing a composition, especially if it's a masterpiece.

To write at this level takes time, dedication and mastery of almost every musical skill. As an artist, you are experiencing the highest level of musical accomplishment and satisfaction possible. Many who don't compose are probably disagreeing, but how would know if you don't write?

I might sound hypocritical. If being an artist is so great, why is it not the ultimate goal or final stage. It's not the final stage because there are many people who call themselves artists and have poor control over the aspects of music.

Some people feel like technique isn't worth learning because they're artists. Speaking like they're above someone who has developed their musical skills.

Other artists lack a conscious control of rhythm, melody, harmony etc. They just play and use whatever comes out. This is a very primitive form of artistry.

When you have control over the elements of music, it's really easy to tell if someone else doesn't. For instance, their songs all sit in the 4/4 time signature, since that's the natural time signature for people.

All their songs tend to sound the same because they rely on similar patterns. They tend to write really predictable work. There may be a lot of music out there, but not a lot of great music.

It's great to be an artist, but without those musical skills backing you up, it really doesn't mean a thing. If I had to pick out a final stage, I would call it the musical artist.

The Musical Artist

True musical artists, love sophisticated music.

They love Music that shows off the artist's control of the elements, their style and a great control over the emotion being represented in their song.

They are a jack-of-all-trades. High level technical skills, ear training, visualization, theory, composition and any other skill you can think of.

Only a small portion of people ever reach this level of competence, but it's really not that difficult. You just need the desire to reach that level of competence and have a teacher who can get you there.

Just because only a small portion of people reach that level doesn't mean you can't. Those who don't reach the musical artist class either don't see the whole picture, don't care to reach that level or haven't gotten there yet.

You get what you focus on in life.

So don't send me hate mail about how you disagree. If you don't like the category you're in, then put the time and effort into building your craft to the level you desire.

About the Author: By Chris Glyde.

32 comments sorted by best / new / date

    I disagree so bad with this article. For me the player is someone who plays his/her instrument, be it well or badly, technically or not, but is unable to really feel or understand (not in the technical way) music. The player may be able to shred at +200bpm, know every human known scale, but will always fail when he/she needs to be creative, be it in an improvisation, songwriting or whatever. They're usually the ones who rate music by their complexity. The musician is someone who can be creative, can understand the nuances of a song and, most importantly, are able to understand and feel the instruments they don't know how to play (something the player usually can't). The musicians will be able to listen to something they've created and feel joy in it. He/she is usually not a complexity addicted and knows that sometimes less is more and that other times more is more, he/she doesn't care if something is complex or not, only if it sounds good or not. The artist is someone who plays for other people, be he/she a player or a musician. He/she can be a showoff player, or the person who wrote that amazing sounding masterpiece (which would be the musical artist). None of them is better than the other, differently to what the article's author said, and none of their characteristics are a hard rule, one can be a complexity addicted musician for example. Agree or disagree with me, I don't really care.
    We shouldn't really have to put labels on people, but this is a lot better better than this article itself. I fit exactly into your description of musician. IT'S LIKE YOU SEE INTO MY SOUL
    Also, the end of the article sounds like "TRUE music fans like COMPLEX music like ME, not just Top 40 hits and pop-punk, we're not plebs (^: (^: (^: (^:" True musicians listen to whatever the hell they want without being worried what other people think about it. And we don't try to put other people down for liking different music, even if we view it to be less complex.
    Yeah, I mean, I prefer 4/4 time, just because it makes it a lot easier to work with other people, and honestly, I could not give less of a shit. Still, there is a certain truth to this, though not in the way the author intends, ultimately concerning attitudes toward playing music. I've met plenty of "musicians" who are totally up their own ass, and some real hapless "artists." Still, this is just silly and trying to define something that should be left well the **** alone.
    Wow 4/4 is so bad I need all of my songs to be in AT LEAST 7/8 time and change time signature a MINUMUM of 6 times during the chorus (if it even has a chorus, song structures are so passé)
    Yeah, I went through a phase of being a pretentious **** and making stuff in odd time signatures on purpose, ruining riffs just to add an extra few notes in to make it 7/4. In doing so, it just boxed myself in musically though, Now I find it is best to do it in whatever time signature sounds better. Probably most often 4/4, but the cool 11/8, 7/4 and 5/4 melodies do show up by themselves though.
    I actually sometimes like forcing myself to write in an odd time, it can work extremely well at times. I had a basic idea to make an AAL inspired riff based off of a F#m11 chord and I wanted it to be in 9/8. Trying to fit that time was hard and took me multiple days to perfect it, but now I can honestly say it is the best riff I have ever written, it sounds sick as ****, especially with polymeters added into the mix.
    Floyd Phoenix
    Notice he didn't say complex and used sophisticated instead... The words have slightly different meanings, and 4/4 3 chord songs can still be sophisticated in a way.
    Sounds like you thought this up in the shower and then decided to post an article about it to feel good about yourself.
    These terms are complete BS. I consider myself a guitar player, a musician and an artist, and none of your descriptions fit me. And what, musicians judge music by complexity, and artists by emotion? Even if the terms themselves are irrelevant, no one thinks like that. Sorry if I'm harsh, but this whole article is just a mess that doesn't seem to have any purpose.
    If I say I am a musician, people will expect I am able to write a proper song, as well as play proficiently enough to play songs in my genre. Also, musician - somebody who is able to, and does, express themselves with music, and artist - somebody who is able to, and does, express themselves with certain imagery, be it sculpture, picture, music, etc. So a musician is at the same time an artist (at least the way I view it). Saying you can be a musician, but not an artist, or an artist (musically) but not a musician is BS. The writer should not try to alter already well known definitions, and neither should he say "don't send me hate mail" when he deserves some, because he doesn't understand some basic instrument player/ musician psychology and yet has the nerve to charge people for his lessons. His level of ignorance is borderline Tom Hess.
    You can be a great player ( master your technique), a great musician (being able to use your knowledge of music and using it naturally) and a great artist (the creative part in opposition to perform)
    The thing you're missing is: musician includes all the stuff from player, artist includes all the stuff from musician and player.
    "Last, but not least, most musicians can't write a song to save their life." Wut?!
    The Judist
    I've met them. Can shred and tap impressively, but literally couldn't write a whole song from start to finish.
    Yeah, nothing grated on my nerves back in high school when somebody would claim to be an amazing musician and then play nothing but GnR, Led Zepplin, and. . . Goo Goo Dolls covers. Oye vey!
    So much wrong with this article. How do you judge a 'well-written song'? Is it based on how much money it makes? It's standing through time? How complex it is? How innovative it is? How many people like it?
    I don't get why this is so downrated. I mean, it is probably going to hit home on a guitar tab website, so people would feel uncomfortable with it.(And using tab is a "player" thing).Sure, you can't rat on guitarists who are hobbyists and like to jam around blues in pubs on the weekend, they enjoy it, why hate?. I could easily group musicians I've met into these categories. Most musicians wouldn't really venture out of their comfort zone, which in a guitar players case, is hard rock/metal, indie, or blues. Maybe stick to acoustic for people who use it as an accompaniment to their voice, and throw punk in between those genres, but it really does boil down to that from pretty much every musician I've met.The really rare ones, that you described as an "artist", are the ones I've found who are most interested in music as a whole, rather than a very narrow focus of it, and having that broad view is essential to any musician who wants to make a living from music. (And no, you aren't going to make a living from your pub band, so stop posting on Facebook complaining about how musicians are underpaid). Once you become versatile, open minded, and have a broad skill set, you'll find bountiful employment opportunities abound. If you ever find yourself studying a degree in music, you don't have to be able to play Paul Gilbert's discography, but you'll have to have some decent level of skill (grade 6-8 ABRSM) and about grade 5 theory. Which in the grand scheme of things, isn't THAT much. What will get you ahead though, is a combination of technique, open mindedness, being able to work with other people, creativity, theory knowledge, and general musicianship. tl;dr Nothing wrong with being a "player", "musician", "artist" or "musical artist", it just depends on what your goal is. Obviously, it'll be a sliding scale between hobbyist and professional. A hobbyist wouldn't need to learn advanced theory, sight reading etc in general, especially on rock instruments, which is the beautiful thing about rock in general: It is so much more accessible musically than anything else. And of course, working in high end work such as composition, professional songwriting, teaching, you'll have to have an immense amount of musicality and artistry as well as technicality.
    There's nothing wrong with choosing how much you will dabble in music, yes, but it is wrong when you completely misdefine the terms player, musician and artist. Mind you, the most technically proficient guitarist in the world can still be on the level of player, because he doesn't write his material but only imitates exercises and songs he gets in tab.
    "(...) By discussing these categories, I will provide the framework for an elitist game of Us vs. Them. (...)" There, I fixed that for you...
    I don't know how things are in Rochester, but having dipped my toe into musical scenes across a good part of the US, I can say that you didn't quite think this one out. You're straddling the line between not enough 'groups' and too many 'groups' and you seem to have gotten some definitions mixed up. I would go about it by lumping group 1 & 2 into a single group and calling them 'Good Musicians vs Bad Musicians'. By definition, a Musician is just a person who is musically talented or plays an instrument. Getting into pretentious attitudes and technical skills seems redundant and there's plenty of people who are happy and/or successful playing other people's music and developing that side of music. Hendrix was a 'Good Musician' up until he was 24 years old and began writing his own tunes (see: Stone Free). Before that? He was still a monster guitar player with an amazing ear for music. Having a good ear and knowing what made good music good music, helped him to start off as at a better place when it came time to write. Groups 3 & 4 can be lumped into 'Good Songwriters vs Bad Songwriters'. There's most certainly a technical side to composing good music that has enough interesting/technical elements but stays accessible enough to be 'enjoyed' by more than your mother. Good songwriters get that, and have likely spent the time learning/studying how great writers like Lennon/McCartney, Dylan, Gershwin, and Simon/Garfunkel did it. They're paying attention to how melodies are constructed and the what kind of emotions are generally associated with certain ideas in music. They also write. A LOT. Bad songwriters go at it blind. They probably have an amazing song or two that everyone they show them to does, in fact, like, but they won't be bothered with figuring out the how and why their two great songs sound good. Instead they attribute it to some 'higher inspiration' and they sit in their bedroom and smoke pot instead of improving themselves musically. Anyway, that's how I would break it down. Good luck selling your lessons, and you can totally work off of how I restructured your argument if you'd rather use mine to sell your lessons. I never forget a face though, and I saw yours on your website, so if I run into your hippy ass, I want some cash (if you use this).
    I hate it when people talk about 'hearing the emotional side of music.' Not because I can't hear it, more because it is a personal thing, not some measurable medium but a thought.
    As someone who considers himself a musician, this article makes me look like self indulgent elitist twat.
    Oh I'm glad to spur up some comments and discussion. Nothings ever really perfect and everyone has there own opinions on them. The article was not made out To be offensive or down grade anyone, just share in some common ground I've noticed. For now I made a bit of a ruckus, so I'd say it was well worth it!