Navigating Musical Success

The Interplay of Competency and Adaptability 

By NAfME Member Derris Lee

In the vast expanse of musical expression, the dynamic interplay between competency and adaptability serves as the compass guiding musicians through the ever-evolving landscapes of the modern creative economy. Beyond the confines of technical proficiency and artistic expression, this editorial seeks to delve into the nuanced relationship between these two pillars and unravel the mysteries of marketability in the world of music.

Competency Unveiled: Crafting Artistry through Technical Mastery and Artistic Expression

Competency, the cornerstone of musical excellence, unveils itself in the delicate balance of technical mastery and artistic expression. From the intricate weaving of scales, modes, and timbres to the rhythmic complexities that breathe life into a composition, musicians explore the subtleties of dynamics, melodic passages, improvisation, and showmanship. The symphonic question persists: What elevates certain musicians to a level where their artistry transcends mere proficiency and resonates with a broader audience?

Cropped image of a musician playing drum set on the stage.

Photo: tylim/iStock Getty Images Plus Collection

Beyond the technical intricacies and artistic finesse lies the essence of musical transcendence. The elevation of certain musicians to a realm where their artistry resonates universally involves a profound connection with the emotional core of the audience. It is the ability to infuse every note with a compelling narrative, making the listener not just hear the music but feel its emotional weight. Those musicians who ascend to this elevated plateau understand that their role extends beyond being skilled instrumentalists; they are storytellers crafting a sonic narrative that resonates on a visceral level. This transcendent quality emerges from an innate understanding of the emotional language of music, where each dynamic shift, melodic contour, and improvisational flourish serves as a brushstroke on a canvas of feelings. In essence, it is the fusion of technical excellence with an emotional narrative that allows certain musicians to create an enduring impact, forging a connection that withstands the test of time.

Decoding Marketability: The Fusion of Competency and Adaptability

The enigma of marketability unfolds at the crossroads of competency and adaptability. In an era dominated by fleeting social media showcases, the true litmus test lies in a musician’s capacity to adapt seamlessly to the unpredictable terrain of live performances and recording sessions. Why do some musicians captivate audiences beyond their technical finesse? The formula emerges as a guiding principle: Marketability equals Competency plus Adaptability.

Adaptability takes center stage in the current musical landscape, where artists traverse traditions, styles, and contexts with fluidity. For percussionists like myself, marketability extends beyond technical proficiency to the nuanced ability to navigate the intricate tapestry of live performances and studio sessions. The formula becomes a mantra: Marketability equals Competency plus Adaptability.

The Formula for Success: Marketability through Versatility

Marketability, the elusive treasure sought by musicians, reveals itself through a formula that weaves together technical mastery and the capacity to adapt seamlessly. As an arts entrepreneur, the journey with Derris Lee Music LLC is a testament to the success born from being multi-faceted in live performances. From the rhythmic pulse of drum sets in funk and jazz to the ethereal tones of marimba in orchestral settings, adaptability emerges as the thread stitching together collaborations that resonate.

Hands of a girl playing the glockenspiel

Photo: Furtseff/iStock Getty Images Plus Collection

Illustrating this symbiosis are narratives of musicians who defy categorization. A drummer effortlessly transitions through funk, jazz, Latin jazz, neo-soul, and more. A marimbist navigates the intricacies of original compositions, avant-garde improvisations, and grand orchestral performances. The narrative unfolds, revealing that musicians proficient in various styles and instruments possess an unparalleled level of marketability.

Theoretical Framework: The Three Pillars of Artistic Success

Aspiring performing artists seeking to strengthen their foundation in the ever-evolving music industry can adopt a comprehensive approach encapsulated by three key pillars: Competency, Adaptability, and Artistic Transcendence.

  1. Competency: Mastering the Fundamentals

– Technical Mastery: Acquire a strong foundation in scales, modes, timbres, and rhythm. Invest time in refining dynamic control, melodic passages, and improvisational skills.

– Artistic Expression: Elevate your artistry by understanding the emotional nuances within each note. Craft a unique musical identity by mastering showmanship techniques.

  1. Adaptability: Navigating Diverse Musical Realms

– Multifaceted Proficiency: Embrace versatility by becoming competent in various musical styles and instruments. Develop the ability to seamlessly transition between genres, ensuring readiness for live performances and studio sessions.

– Contextual Awareness: Navigate the dynamic landscape of the modern creative economy by staying attuned to emerging trends and diverse musical traditions. Cultivate adaptability as a core competency.

  1. Artistic Transcendence: Creating Lasting Impact

– Narrative Crafting: Transform technical proficiency into storytelling. Infuse each note with a compelling narrative, ensuring that your music resonates on an emotional level.

– Connection Building: Forge a deep connection with your audience. Understand the emotional language of music, allowing listeners not just to hear but to feel the profound impact of your performance.

Application in Professional Growth: A Holistic Approach

– Balanced Integration: Strive for a harmonious integration of Competency, Adaptability, and Artistic Transcendence. Each pillar supports the others, creating a well-rounded and resilient foundation for success.

– Continuous Development: Embrace a mindset of continual growth. Regularly revisit and enhance your technical skills, stay adaptable to industry shifts, and consistently seek new ways to convey emotional depth in your music.

By embracing this theoretical framework, aspiring performing artists can navigate the complexities of the music industry with a robust foundation. Strengthening competency, fostering adaptability, and achieving artistic transcendence collectively empower artists to create a lasting and resonant impact in the world of music performance education.

A Crescendo of Success in the Harmonic Nexus

The amalgamation of competency and adaptability stands as the cornerstone for success in the music industry. To navigate the ever-changing landscape with assurance and success, musicians must cultivate a dual mastery, transforming themselves into indispensable entities sought after by prospective collaborators and clients. This pragmatic approach to professional growth underscores the vital importance of understanding one’s artistry, embracing technical proficiency, and seamlessly adapting to the evolving demands of the music world. It is within this balanced equation that musicians pave the way for a resilient and prosperous future in the industry.

About the author:

Derris Lee playing percussion smilingDerris Lee, a Master of Music in Percussion Performance student and Graduate Assistant of Music Business & Entrepreneurship at the University of Florida, is a highly skilled producer, drummer, and composer. As Founder of Derris Lee Music LLC, Lee has an impressive track record, including being recognized with a Latin GRAMMY® Award Winner’s Certificate for Best Latin Children’s Album and receiving five Global Genius® Awards. His exceptional talent as a drummer, keyboardist, and composer has earned him the prestigious Communicator® Award for Best Use of Music in Film & Video from the Academy of Interactive and Visual Arts. For more information, visit

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April 2024 Teaching Music

Published Date

January 23, 2024


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