15

For example, instead of saying "play [certain musical instrument] casually", is there a verb that can be used in place of of the word "play"? In my mind, "casually" means playing the instrument in an informal way - it may not be the correct way to do it; the person does not intend to learn how to properly play it; the person is only doing for their own enjoyment.

Somewhere in my memory I have the phrase "fiddle around" that somewhat resembles the meaning I want to express, but I'm not sure if it is accurate enough., which means

Fiddle around: to spend time in activity that does not have a real purpose

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fiddle%20around

Some other words I know that have similar meaning but they don't seem to be appropriate to be used with musical instruments:

Doodle: an aimless or casual scribble, design, or sketch

Tinker: to repair, adjust, or work with something in an unskilled or experimental manner

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/doodle
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tinker

Is there a better word/phrase to use?

  • Do you mean the person has no intention of taking lessons and getting concert good that the person is playing purely for pleasure and can play happily at home for others to listen to, or the person isn't very good and doesn't play well at all? – WendyG Nov 20 at 16:19
  • The person would have no intention of taking formal lessons. He/she would just enjoying listening to the sound of the instrument makes, not necessarily playing it for others to enjoy. – Alic Nov 20 at 19:18
  • Ironically, your first example of "fiddling" could mean the exact opposite - if the instrument you're playing is a fiddle... – Darrel Hoffman Nov 22 at 19:11
  • 1
    @DarrelHoffman, the way it was once explained to me is that when you properly play the instrument, it is a violin, but when you are simply goofing around, it is a fiddle. That was clearly from someone who did not appreciate the finer points of Texas Swing, like Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. – Ron Maupin Nov 22 at 19:32
  • "to be a mediocre clarinet player" would be the common verb. – Adonalsium Nov 22 at 20:26
55

Such a performer would be noodling. Merriam-Webster for "noodle":

intransitive verb

: to improvise on an instrument in an informal or desultory manner

He was just noodling around on the guitar.

Noodling is especially casual, and often entails breaking form in some way (not holding a guitar right, not practicing common chords or progressions on a piano). Some musicians deride it as a desultory practice, but others emphasize that it is beneficial for creativity.

Examples:

We're sitting with Hots Michaels. If you want to noodle at the piano you can, fine. ("'Working' Then And Now: A Hotel Piano Player Frustrated By His Future." NPR, 30 Sept 2016).

It was, like, pick up and noodle on a guitar. A cool thing that I get to do live with Fall Out Boy is embellish. ("Joe Trohman on the Damned Things’ Return and Fall Out Boy’s Future." Rolling Stone, 16 May 2019.)

  • 1
    "Desultory" was the first word that sprang to my mind. – nigel222 Nov 21 at 17:06
  • BTW: I think this is AmEng only, not BritEng. – Nigel Touch Nov 21 at 17:36
  • @NigelTouch Do you have more info on that? My initial research suggested it was also BritEng. See OED, "noodle, v.5": 1994 Sunday Times Mag. 10 July 24/4 Jagger, Richards and Watts spent a leisurely six weeks.. noodling song ideas in the sun. – TaliesinMerlin Nov 21 at 18:01
  • And here's Sir Paul: "So then he wrote a song called Only One when I was just noodling around on the electronic piano." bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-39351710 – TaliesinMerlin Nov 21 at 18:01
  • 2
    "Noodling" doesn't necessarily imply poor technique or lack of skill - someone who is skilled and normally quite disciplined in their practice may still do some noodling from time to time, perhaps just stringing together a bunch of riffs and licks because they're enjoying the tone of a new guitar. Having said that, I don't think noodling necessarily produces something musical. – nnnnnn Nov 22 at 10:45
14

The first word to come to my mind was dabble.

Dabble : to work or involve oneself superficially or intermittently especially in a secondary activity or interest

Merriam Webster

Although this can be used for any hobby or activity, not just music.

9

The word you are looking for may be plunk

Plunk means to play a musical instrument without interest or enthusiasm

It also means to play a musical instument not well but to play often loudly

  • I really enjoy plunking away on the guitar.

(Cambridge Dictionary)

See also:

https://www.macmillandictionary.com/thesaurus-category/british/playing-performing-and-arranging-music

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/plunk

  • Typo: It should be plunking away on the guitar. See Dictionary. – Peter Shor Nov 20 at 15:04
  • 3
    I have the feeling plunking is used exclusively with string instruments. Or I am confusing it with plucking, perhaps.. – Joachim Nov 20 at 17:53
  • This one has the (requested) connotation of lack of skill that "noodled" and "strummed" do not necessarily. – mattdm Nov 22 at 19:38
6

The verb tootle springs to mind, if a whimisical and non-serious footling about on an instrument is what you’re after. Here is the relevant section from Collins Cobuild English Dictionary accessed 22/11/2019, where we are interested in definition 2:

enter image description here

In my experience, this verb is used most frequently with wind instruments, where the word has a kind of onomatopoeic effect.

4

In addition to the generic terms, there may also be useful ones relative to specific instruments, e.g.:

  • He strummed the guitar casually
  • She tickled the (piano) keys idly
  • They rattled the maracas briefly

for some instruments this may seem inappropriate unless you are deliberately attempting to create a striking or paradoxical phrase:

  • Edgar squawked out a few trumpet blasts on the way to the break room
  • Allen gave an absentminded thwack to the gong as he sat down
  • Poe's drumsticks unleashed a brief cavalcade before he stood up
3

There is a word for the playing an instrument casually. When an individual or group of musicians, professional or amateur, play through a piece of music for fun rather than as serious rehearsal or performance.

They hack their way through a piece of music.

I happen to be married to someone who has been a professional musician and at times has also played in amateur string quartets. She found it at times frustrating that these groups were content to hack their way through (say) Haydn string quartets rather than practicing them more seriously. The idiom is probably derived from something like the popular sport of pony hacking.

Also, when jazz musicians play together for fun, they are said

to have a jam session or to be jamming

  • 2
    I like Jamming, though it's usually improvisational which may not fit with the usage – Ruadhan2300 Nov 21 at 11:53
  • @Ruadhan2300 Jazz is improvisational, whether in concert or just for fun. However, Written music is part of it, and professional players do rehearse. So jamming is different from ‘concert’ performance. – Tuffy Nov 21 at 17:13
  • 3
    Surely jamming implies several players performing with neither written music nor rehearsal? – David Garner Nov 21 at 19:23
1

The word you are looking for may be plunk

Plunk means to play a musical instrument without any interest or enthusiasm

It also means playing a musical instrument not well but loudly

I enjoy plunking away on the guitar.

See the links.

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/plunk

https://www.collinsdictionary.com/amp/english/plunk

  • 2
    You can plunk a piano or guitar, but not a trumpet or a flute. – Jim Nov 22 at 4:26
1

Perhaps applicable more to keyboards (particularly piano) and drums - I like to tell people

Any damn fool can bang on a piano - so I do.

:-)

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