A week ago I was asked, “What is the difference between a musician and a classically trained musician?” For the life of me I couldn’t find a good, straight answer. It’s music…. maybe a different style but that knowledge could easily be transferred from one to the other. I learned how to play the classical guitar and have transferred that knowledge over to my electric. A pianist could do the same as with many wind instruments. Transferring the piano skills to keyboards or wind instruments to jazz and/or other genres.
After several days of contemplation I finally came up with an answer. Classically trained musicians learn music in a variety of ways. They typically have a better understanding of the “how” and “why” certain things in music work. In addition they learn to read written music as well as the ability to play off chords using a figured bass method. Many also go through extensive training to be able to hear chords and melodies and memorize them while either writing them down or playing them back on their instrument.
Generally Popular Musicians are self-taught or have some lessons here and there. There are a number of Popular Musicians who also learn to play by ear. The only difference is that it’s almost never formally trained. On a side note, that does not make it any less effective. It’s common to find a guitarist that reads only tabulator, a numerical system for playing the guitar. This only tells the person where to play but not how fast, for how long or any other form of communication.
Simple Answer: Classically trained musicians typically have a more indepth understanding of “how” and “why” music works. Also they have a wider range in what they can read/interrupt/reproduce music.