Music is – very literally – a complete language, so you need to learn the vocabulary, grammar, punctuation, pauses, and inflection, just as you would with any other language; only then can you speak fluently and get across to people what it is you are trying to say. Of course you have to know the basics: scales, arpeggios, chords, and phrasing, so that they are second nature. And that is why we spend so much time in the practice room working on those tools.
Music is the language of emotion, and you want to have no barrier between you and the listener. We all know how difficult it is to understand a speaker who stutters, for example, or says continuous unnecessary fillers such as: “like”… “ya know”….”um”… “I mean…” etc. If you think of music as a TRUE language, which it very much is, you can become quite eloquent in its use.
I always remember, as a child, practicing the piano while my mother was washing the dishes (or doing whatever mom’s did to keep the house running so that I could practice piano and be irresponsible) that no matter what she was doing, she was always listening. Her mantra was: “I want to hear the melody. If I can’t hear the melody, what’s the point?”
And I learned very early on that all the embellishments in the world are useless – or worse, annoying – if you lose sight (or sound) of the melody. Believe me, that has been the one premise that has guided me in my piano arrangements through out my artistic career. You can use plenty of pretty musical decorations; as long as you keep in mind that they are there only to support the melody and to convey the meaning of the song. If they don’t contribute to that, then out they go.
I often think of that principle as a metaphor for Life in general. Never lose sight of the melody – that is what it is all about.