Humans listening to sounds in nature from animals like birds may have been the first instances of mimicry or creating music. The earliest evidence of a musical instrument in the world is a 43,000-year-old bear femur found in a cave and declared by experts to be a flute made by Neanderthals, located in now modern-day Slovenia. Humans using sticks or stones to pound grain or as tools to build shelters may have done so in a rhythmic or set pattern. Professionals and experts believe music and playing music brings humans together as a group or family of people.
Over the years, I have worked directly with and published books for musicians, garage bands, local bands and artists across genres as well as arrangers, studios, singers and music executives from big-name record companies. (I myself also play the banjo and have hadplatinum top 10 selling songson the reverb charts. It is recognizing and understanding these musical basics that helped our company publish and distribute books globally during the last couple of years.)
When I meet and work with professionals in the music industry, I have always asked the question, “What made you become a musician?” along with many other questions. I have learned about people and music and have developed insight into what I believe could be “the spark” that turns a person into a musician.
It varies from person to person, but from what I have seen and heard in my experience, music always starts inside the individual’s personal life, in the thought processes. Music can express love, fear, joy, appreciation, intimacy, anarchy, relaxation and so much more. It’s an art and a skill that often becomes a memorable part of society and history.
This article presents the question or concept that made the Neanderthal turn that bear bone into a flute: What makes a musician?
What makes a person decide or want to become a musician? What makes a musician? Is it something biological in the physical makeup, the endocrine system of a human? Or is it the radio or TV that makes them want to become a musician? Could it be genetics, environment, happen-stance, a hot love affair, a broken heart, a brain blessing or plain old predestination?
Musicians play music typically because they must; they can’t not play music. This “must play” attitude seems to apply to all levels and parts of music making: singers, arrangers, producers, agents, inventors and marketers. Music controls the person, and if they are lucky, they can also control some of their music. Let’s look at some early parts of what I believe makes a person want to be a musician.
Did you know some parents sing to their unborn children? Some mothers will sit and play all kinds of music just for their yet-to-be-born kiddo. What if you’re in a band and you play music for days before you go into labor? Does any of this affect or cause an 18-month-old child to start singing, humming or beating on a highchair while waiting for their dinner? It might.
Having listened to parents, teachers and educators — and published millions of children’s books during the last 40 years — we’ve seen that the learning process highly animates right after birth, especially for the children of art and music. Think of the behavior of a child with a developing vocabulary that might indicate musicality: always jabbering and making sounds, beating on pots and pans, or smacking their spoon on their plate. If that creative spark is there, you can’t remove it — you can only nourish it, protect it, feed it, and accept it.
For example, a child might understand at 18 months they may like drawing because they can recognize that pushing their finger through their gravy and mashed potatoes creates a line. When they make that second line, it helps them recognize creativity, art and even direction.
Music Is Life
In asking experienced musicians when it was they recognized that they wanted to play music, most have said to me something along the lines of, “I always knew I wanted to play music,” “Music chose me, I did not choose music,” “I changed my life to play music,” “I am good at it,” “My boyfriend knows better than to get in the way of my songs,” or “Give me that giant house or let me play my music? Now that’s a stupid question.”
Creating music adds a perceived value to a musical person’s life. Whether or not “true,” musicians know this to be true no matter what their personal price or cost. Genre is irrelevant. From punk to pop, country to jazz, emo to classical, it matters not. In each musician, there is something that guides them — be it a voice, a feeling, an emotion or a spirit of the night. In some instances, it’s a feeling that seems to mandate them to play music above all else.
Music is a mystery and it’s within this mystery that people become musicians and play music. It’s a calling like none other. This is the mystery of an industry, of universities, of countries — of an old man sitting on the street playing his banjo with his dog.
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For me, music is self-medicating, no matter how I feel. I can grab my instrument and that makes me happy. It makes me feel good. It affects my hearing, my sight, my mood, my feelings and my sexiness; I am calmer and more relaxed. It puts me in touch with myself and how I want to live my life.
Artists and musicians devote themselves to their craft as if it’s their born duty, embodying the mindset: I must play music or else I will not exist.