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The Emerging Artist
What Makes a Great Musician?
By Leon Olguin, Edited by Sheryl Olguin

2000, Leon & Sheryl Olguin. All Rights Reserved. Used By Permission

I've been around musicians for many years. I've known and worked with classical musicians, pop singers, folk singers, rock bands, jazz players, choral groups, church choirs and orchestras, stage performers, songwriters, rappers, you name the genre, I've probably worked with someone in it!

I've known some truly great musicians, and some who were getting there. Over the years I've developed some ideas about what makes a great musician. This is not an "ACME's 5 steps to becoming a great musician for only four payments of $9.95!" kind of thing, just observations I've made.

See if you agree...

A great musician has a passion for music, and sticks with it. This may seem obvious, but you have to really love music to stick with it. Many have started but didn't continue (how many folks can remember taking piano lessons and quitting, and then saying years later, "I wish I had stayed with it"?) Countless fledgling players have dreamed of a career in music, but were discouraged by the well-meaning folks who warned them, "You need to get a real job! You can't make a living playing music!" Those who stuck with it have either discovered that they could make a living, or that they could enjoy making music as a rewarding hobby.

A great musician has the right attitude. I rank attitude before talent, before technical ability, before practically everything else. I would rather work with a musician with slightly less ability, but a great attitude, than with a monster player who firmly believes that the world owes him stardom. Why? A guy or girl with a great attitude and less impressive "chops" can always practice and develop awesome "chops". However, a great player with a poor attitude? Well, apart from a ' get the idea.

What makes for a great attitude? That's another article in itself, but it includes respect for others, willingness to work at their craft and improve, and a sense of self-confidence. To those who may say, "Hey! It's a dog-eat-dog business! Ability counts more than attitude." True, this can be a tough business, but you're better off spending your time and energy on your craft than on eating dogs (at least according to Buddy our studio dog...). Which leads to the next point...

A great musician never stops learning. To be a great musician is to be in school forever. The great Beethoven, near the end of his life, received as a gift, the complete works of Handel, a composer he had long admired. (If you don't know whom Beethoven and Handel are, then its time to get some music history books!) When the 40 (!) volumes arrived in December 1826, Beethoven was lying ill and had not much longer to live. He would lie in bed and lean the books against the wall. As he read through the music, he would occasionally break into exclamations of praise and joy. Reportedly he said, "Handel was the greatest, most skilled composer who ever lived. I can still learn from him." No one to my knowledge has ever accused Beethoven of lacking anything as a musician, but he, one of the greatest composers who ever lived, still wanted to learn. What will you do this week to keep learning? Listen to a CD of a style you aren't familiar with? Try a different lyric form in your writing? Get out your instrument and practice, practice, practice? Whatever you choose, learn something this week to improve your art.

A great musician never stops growing as a person. To me, truly great musicians are often truly great people. They have learned how to accept constructive criticism and use it to improve and grow. They are filling their soul with good things and life experiences so when it comes time to write, sing, or play, they have something very valuable and real to express. They have learned how to treat others. A great musician is the kind of person who has a life, stories, and emotion that seem to just jump out at you when they perform, and it makes you want to hear more.

A great musician has talent. OK, I had to include talent eventually. But notice I didn't say they had to be "the most talented in the world." Some raw ability is needed, and not everyone in the world will be a musician (though all can be taught to appreciate good music). Along with that ability must come the desire to work and improve. And now we're back to "they never stop learning." Of course, when talent and raw ability is exercised and honed into great musical skill, the result is "Wow!" So, keep practicing your craft, maintain your good attitude, treat people right, and your talent will shine.

I have an endless appreciation for great musicians, and always consider it a privilege to work with them. My list of what makes a great musician is obviously not exhaustive. If you think of anything to add, let me know!

A short bio:
Leon and Sheryl Olguin are the owners of S.O.L.O. Productions, a music production and digital media company, founded in 1990.

Sheryl Olguin: Sheryl is a performing songwriter with three independent releases and several published and recorded tunes to her credit. She has an extensive background in digital media. She led strategic Internet initiatives at Harris Corp, and later was responsible for the interactive digital TV demonstrations on the Harris/PBS DTV Express nationwide tour to promote digital television.

Leon Olguin: Leon is an arranger, producer, and recording engineer with two independent instrumental releases and numerous published and recorded compositions to his credit. He's a classically trained pianist with a BA in music theory and composition. He's had extensive experience as a studio musician, live performer, and music minister/director. His song "White as Snow" reached the status of classic worship song faster than any other song in the history of contemporary Christian music.

You can learn more about S.O.L.O. Productions, and about our studio, by visiting us at

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