The Elements of Style for Musicians

musings resources Sep 07, 2016

The Elements of Style for Musicians
(And We Are All Musicians!)

Music is a language and language is used to connect and communicate, to express and convey and to tell and be told stories. Language is a powerful tool. It is can be both constructive and dangerous. Through language we can elevate or degrade, soothe or make suffer, sanctify or defile, gather or divide, testify or discredit. How do you use language? Remember music is a language.

Remember William Strunk Jr.’s guide The Elements of Style? For my generation (and my parents’ and grandparents’ as well), it was the Bible for how to use language correctly and well. It instructed us to omit needless and fancy words, to not overwrite or overstate and to avoid affecting a breezy manner. It also directed us to place ourselves in the background and prefer the standard to the offbeat.

What do Rules of Usage, Principles of Composition and An Approach to Style have to do with music? Aren’t artists expected to push back against and break rules?Are they not charged with seeking out the edges and manipulating form and function?

Sure, but to what purpose? Is it to create a spectacle and make a quick buck or is it to express a more profound truth or challenge an outdated assumption? And what of the artist that creates something remarkable within an established form and set of expectations?

What is the music you make or listen to for? Does it require your engagement and attention or is it a formulaic sing-a-long? Is it crafted by an artist or is it manufactured based on metrics? Why should you even bother to think about such things?

Because intention, creation and meaning matter. It defines who we are, who we hang out with and what we wish to be. Remember, language is both a profound and precarious agent. Music is a language and we are allmusicians. What kind will you be?

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