What does it mean to be Musically Fluent?

Musically Fluent is an approach to keyboard musicianship training that develops real fluency and fosters powerful skills such as improvisation, playing by ear and fluent sight-reading – the ability to know what a musical score sounds like, on sight. It is a clear, simple and complete model of how music works rhythmically and tonally on the piano keyboard.

The skill of using this model to navigate the patterns of music requires focus and practice. To do this, you must work to let go of any other model of music – such as a list of notes carrying time and pitch values. Once you have internalised the model sufficiently, the rhythmic and tonal patterns of music become clear and intelligible. A full explanation of the MusicallyFluent model is available for free download.

The book is succinct and contains many clear and colourful diagrams: nevertheless, it is very comprehensive and in depth and cannot be digested in just one go. Use it as a kind of manual, revisiting it often it to clarify your objectives. The model is essentially simple and it is very important that your approach is practical and playful. Musical fluency only happens through playful practice: you must take a risk and experiment in a state of flow or deep curiosity. Being in this zone is the key: theoretical understanding alone will not generate fluency. A calm, uncluttered mind is necessary for the logical patterns of music to emerge. This is the best way to unlock your musical creativity and powers of expression.

I am Phil Best – creator of Musically Fluent. If you want to discover more about me, please visit my website and blog at philbestmusic.com

I offer the model for free download (after you have answered a few questions to see if you qualify) because I want to spread the word about this common sense model and empower people musically. My aim is to offer a refreshing alternative to conventional classical and jazz approaches to learning the piano but without any annoying gimmickry. The innovations used in this model are designed purely to generate clear and profound understanding and to provide a radical shift of perspective for people who may have learned in conventional ways already.

The Musically Fluent model is the foundation of my own musicianship and my approach as a teacher. It uses 2 underlying principles, one for rhythm and the other for tonality – the rhythmic matrix and the keyboard map – and 3 elements of musical ‘language’ that plug into those underlying structures – rhythm cells, tonal blocks and shape.

With practice, you will be able to understand and communicate music instantly in terms of this model which reveals the deep logic of rhythm and tonality. But first, you must be ready to give up the two common false models of how music works. You must NOT perceive music as: –

  • lists of notes carrying time and pitch values or linear structures like scales, intervals and chords (decoding), or
  • familiar melodies or pieces which are reproduced passively in two ways: either blindly and instinctively; or using aural/muscle memory after decoding the dots or working out by trial and error and repetitive rehearsal (karaoke)

Though normal and prevalent in our culture, these two common approaches to learning music are extremely limited. Even after years of dedicated study, they do not develop the core musicianship skills of a fluent keyboard musician for the vast majority of people. Only a tiny fearless and talented minority become fluent using this approach and often their understanding is far more intuitive than conscious. My view is that if you listen to music and understand it, if it makes sense to you, then you have the necessary innate ability to express yourself fluently.

Someone who is musically fluent on the piano has the ability to play by ear, improvise and sight-read.

  • Playing by ear is the ability to reproduce any music that you can remember.
  • Improvising fluently is the ability to play any music straight out of your head, without planning
  • Sight-reading fluently is the ability to look at a musical score and instantly hear it mentally without needing to decode the notes onto an instrument first.

If you can play by ear and sight-read fluently, you can learn new music incredibly quickly, you can also jot music down as you hear it (music dictation); and if you can improvise and sight-read fluently, you can also compose should you have the creative urge to do so. Just imagine how useful fluent musical skills are!