Many people get the facts confused when it comes to the instruments that Michael Jackson was able to play. The reason is understandable and simple: MJ was not an instrumentalist.
Since Michael was the lead in the Jackson 5 at a young age where his brothers covered instruments, his talent focus relied on singing, dancing, and overall performance. All of which he obviously put in a lot of time and effort into!
But, this doesn't mean that Michael was not capable of playing an instrument or a few during his time as an overall musician.
Like many of those who sing (including me), we focus on vocals, but we like to dabble in playing instruments here and there. This was true of Michael Jackson, who was musically gifted to be decent at a few instruments without being an actually acclaimed instrumentalist.
In the ninth studio album by the name of HIStory that was released in 1995, Michael was actually credited for playing keyboard, synthesizer, guitar, drums, and percussion.
This is likely because he knows his way around the instruments at a basic level after years of being surrounded by talented instrumentalists, including his family members. He's especially good at beatboxing, as you can see in this clip with Oprah!
Don't believe photos like these all throughout his career where he's seen playing an instrument? I guess I can understand the cynicism since anyone can take a picture with an instrument, and you wouldn't know if they had a lick of talent.
But the clip above is him playing piano for a Pepsi commercial, and it's legit! I'm not at all surprised that someone as talented with his vocal instrument is able to learn the basics of piano, guitar, and percussion.
Michael didn't use instruments for his songwriting and arranging process because his musical ear was so insane. Rob Hoffman, a sound engineer and assistant on the project "HIStory", describes how magical it was to watch Michael write and arrange songs.
"One morning, MJ came in with a new song he had written overnight. We called in a guitar player, and Michael sang every note of every chord to him. He would sing us an entire string arrangement, every part."
"Steve Porcaro once told me he witnessed MJ doing that with the string section in the room. Had it all in his head, harmony, and everything. Not just little eight-bar loop ideas. He would actually sing the entire arrangement into a micro-cassette recorder complete with stops and fills."
Michael may have known some music theory basics, but reading music was not his focus. Many, if not most singers that lead a band or go solo do not know how to read music.
You would think that this is a must for someone that becomes famous, but it's not necessary when you are singing pop genres of music and not playing any instruments. Some pianists and guitar players even play their instruments by ear without ever learning music.
Most pop singers do not play instruments, but some that you think would at least play one or two because of their style or who they are around will surprise you.
Vocal legends Mariah Carey and Beyonce have some instrument knowledge, but they don't play. Ozzy Osbourne and Matt Berninger were two huge rock band leads that didn't know much of anything about playing an instrument.
Most rappers don't learn instruments. Many more names, including Mick Jagger, Christina Aguilara, James Brown, Rihanna, and Florence Welch, don't play and focus on their voice. The list goes on and on, so don't think badly of MJ just because he didn't spend time mastering an instrument. Let us not forget that the voice is the most popular musical instrument that there is!
As a session singer, writer, and producer that has worked with over 200 clients to provide high-quality jingles, singles, features, nursery rhymes, and DJ drops, she currently spends her time engulfed in creating and marketing new music and helpful resources for creators. Her most recent creative collaborations include work with PBS Sound Field, Tribe of Noise, and the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Check out Yona’s latest music releases on her Spotify, her Youtube and share the music if you like it!
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