The Most Important Thing Actors Can Learn from Musicians

Actors, did you know you can learn a lot from musicians? Because the greatest actors make their craft appear lifelike and natural, it’s easy to forget that just like musicians, actors also need to learn their instrument and take plenty of time to practice. Acting teacher Matt G. shares his insights and has some great pointers to help actors improve their skills.

If I mention the term “virtuoso,” what pops into your head? If you’re classically trained, maybe Mozart is first – then maybe Rachmaninoff or Chopin. If orchestral movements aren’t your cup of tea, perhaps you’re thinking of Hendrix or Townshend. Maybe the songwriter is a great storyteller, so the first name in your head is someone like Joni Mitchell, Bob Dillon, Carly Simon or James Taylor. Maybe it’s hip-hop so maybe it’s Kanye or Macklemore (dude’s a genius!)

All of these names have something in common, and it’s not just mind-blowing talent. What these musicians share is hours and hours and hours and hours and hours and hours and hours and days and nights and weekends and holidays and birthdays spent laboriously honing their craft. That’s right, I said craft. Music is a craft. You know what else is craft? Acting. Actually, anything artistically creative is craft.

Skeptical? Think about this…

Yo-Yo Ma has done little else but play stringed instruments since he developed fine motor skills as a toddler. By age four he had already discarded the violin and viola for the cello, the instrument he has played so deftly for almost a half-century. The cello became an extension of him, almost an appendage.

Like Yo-Yo Ma’s cello, the actor’s instrument is his or her own body: the skeletal structure, muscular strength and flexibility, natural rhythms of the cardiovascular system, freedom of the breath, and resonance of the voice. Actors must know their physical selves like Yo-Yo Ma knows his cello. They must spend hours and hours and hours and hours and hours and hours and hours and days and nights and weekends and holidays and birthdays laboriously developing their instruments.

Like musicians, we (in a sense) “play our scales” by training our voices so that we may be heard in any performance space and by training our bodies so that we are ready to invest in the needs of distinct and compelling characters. We train our breath to flow effortlessly and without tension. All of this takes focus, determination, and repetition.

Consider Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Cate Blanchett, Dustin Hoffman, Judi Dench, Al Pacino, Laura Linney, and Kevin Spacey – all actors who not only cut their teeth on the stage but honed their craft in the studio, in the classroom, and in rehearsal long before they became household names. These actor virtuosos developed their skills with the same insatiable drive as Yo-Yo Ma, and now they are known as some of the most transformative artists of our time.

If you’re a new actor, consider taking a lesson from your musician friends and identify the practical, technical skills that will purposefully grow your craft. Then rehearse, rehearse, rehearse!

Matt G. teaches speaking voice and acting lessons in Smyrna, TN. He recently received his MFA in acting and joined the TakeLessons Team in June 2013. He has training in subjects ranging from stage-combat to Shakespeare. Learn more about Matt or search for a teacher near you!

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Stage Fright: Your New Performance Secret
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Photo by ISD 191 Performing Arts Program

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