Using Musical Training In The Business World

Ever since the Chicago Tribune wrote an article discussing how enrollment to music programs is on the rise, I have been thinking about the skills I developed as a musician and how they translate into the business world.  One of my Twitter friends, Amber Naslund (@AmberCadabra), discussed a while back some of the musical skills that apply the in social media marketing world.  Her post hit the mark, but the fact is musicians develop skills that can be applied within the business world, not only social media.

Since graduation season has arrived, it seemed appropriate to revisit this idea as graduates prepare to enter a grim job market.  There are certain skills that can and should be highlighted on resumes and talked about in interviews.  I don’t have the stats to prove this, but I am certain that musicians are hurting just like any other business entity.  If people don’t have money for food or to pay for mortgages, then there is certainly little cash flow for things like music lessons, attending concerts, buying music, etc.

John Holmquist, my former professor at the Cleveland Institute of Music, once told me that “playing a musical instrument is the hardest thing anybody can learn to do.”  Or, at least it was something like that. Bare with me, it is going on ten years since… (Yikes!)

The following is a list of some of the skills I have found that translate in one degree or another into the business world.

Detail Oriented

Musicians are some of the most detail-oriented people out there. We have to plan everything out.  From the finer details of writing down what fingers play what notes with what hands to understanding the historical context of the work. There is nothing more involved than learning to play a musical instrument and interpret a musical composition.

Time Management

Musicians have to manage time and plan activities accordingly.  A typical practice session could include time to warm-up, studies and exercises, review learned music, rehearse problematic sections in a work, learn new music, etc.

Outside of the practice room, there is scheduling normal everyday activities around practicing.  Everything like cooking dinner, doing laundry, running errands, teaching lessons and a whole lot more is planned out to ensure it all gets done.  If it takes 100 hours to learn a new musical work, those 100 hours are split over the course of time across weeks of preparation.

In addition, many musicians teach and have to manage practice time against teaching time.


The ability to breakdown data is an ability musicians learn very early. By data, I of course mean music.  Musicians analyze music ALL the time.  A musical score is kind of like data in the sense that information needs to be dissected and made sense of. While this type of analysis usually guides interpretation, there are a number of businesses the require the ability to evaluate information/data. The ability to evaluate, synthesize and develop a finding (musical interpretation) is the process that can be applied in daily business activities.

I can speak from personal experience the daily analysis I have to do.  Musicians are also very thorough.  I even have a mug to prove it. And, my account managers have criticized that I can get too analytical.


Every musician is a creator.  Musicians constantly have to think “outside of the box” to often interpret a musical composition that has been performed HUNDREDS of times by others and make it sound unique.  Composers search for something that makes them unique.  Instead of designing using something like Adobe Photoshop, our instrument or a blank music sheet is the program that allows musicians to shape musical compositions.  Designers may end up with something more tangible like a colorful box; musicians end up with a creative output in the form of music. Musicians are the artists of sound.

Marketers always talk about ownable positioning for a brand.  Developing artistry is much like creating an ownable position, but instead it is an ownable sound.  All great and memorable musicians have qualities that stick out from all the others.  I could spend a whole post on this idea. Suffice it to say, businesses look for creative people, and musicians are naturally creative.

Ability To Meet Deadlines

The concert is the deadline.  As Fred Mercury from Queen once sang, “The Show Must Go On.”   Musicians deadlines aren’t that different from any other project deadline.  Every composition we learn or write is usually associated with a goal – the concert. The concert is our moment to shine or to fail.  Either way, they show must go on.

I think most musicians have endured late night practice session before a performance.  Well, the same happens in the business world.  Like it or not, when a project is due, extra hours of preparation are required to meet the deadline aka performance.


Completing a music degree has many challenges and trials that require a combination of persistence and patience.  I combine these two characteristics because they play off each other. When a musician sets out to learn or write a composition, a plan is established that usually requires weeks of practicing; everything from analyzing the work to learning the notes to deciding on an interpretation.

There is a usually a deadline for learning a work, but it takes time and patience to learn/compose it. Especially for a work that pushes technical boundaries for the performer and stretches the creative mind of the composer.  At the same time, it requires persistence, which translates to MANY hours over SEVERAL weeks, to learn new techniques in order to perform the work well.  Just as it patience is needed, it takes persistence to go back and review musical sections, play scales and practice new techniques daily for hours, weeks, or months.

The process required for achieving the desired result can often test patience and demands persistence to push mental, physical and emotional limits.  I think every musician can attest to that.  It takes persistence to succeed in today’s marketplace, just as it requires patience to manage and work through difficult job functions.

Event Planning

Most concerts don’t happen on there own.  There is usually a planning process, and most universities require students to plan their own recitals.  Preparing a recital is the same as preparing for any other event.   Granted, some musicians have an easier time planning a recital, but the motions are still the same for everyone.  Here are some of the questions that go into planning as I recall: What is the date and time of the concert?  Where will the concert take place?  What will I perform in the recital?  Are there events that conflict with the times I have in mind?  Who should I invite to attend?  Who is preparing the program?  Who will work as my stage manager?  Will my recital be recorded?  Etc., etc.

These very same questions are pretty much the same questions that go into preparing a non-musical event.

Public Speaking/Getting in Front of Crowds

Ok, so this might be a bit of a stretch, but I think Public Speaking is something musicians can easily develop the skills for.  After all, most musicians, especially performers, have to get up in front of a crowd and …well… perform.  It really isn’t much different from public speaking.  The major difference is instead of speaking, most performers are playing an instrument.  Vocalists might have an advantage.

Regardless, musicians understand the mechanics of getting up in front of crowd.  Musicians work to control their nerves, prepare their mindset, maintain their composure, have prepared the “presentation,” rehearsed it a few times, etc.  I am no public speaker, but these seem like skills that transfer to public speaking.   If not, then please let me know.

Congrats to New Grads

I hope I have highlighted a few skills that we learn while becoming a musician which could translate into helping you find the next sad paying job. (I had to check if you paying attention.)  I congratulate all the grads of 2009.  In particular, my cousin who just graduated from St. Mary’s this year.

Cheers, good luck, and comments are always welcome.

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