Feeling the Music

Edited: October 11, 2017, 10:04 AM · As a Carnatic South Indian violinist, I know that the emotion and feel behind the piece is very important when performing, and I know that is the case with Western music as well.

I also teach and I know that many people can nail the technique, hit all the right notes, and get everything right, but sometimes it is quite robotic when they play.

What is the best way to transfer/achieve that feeling and emotion? (when teaching, how do you teach it to a student)? When does one achieve it? Also, how important is feeling the music (sometimes an artist may feel the music and get lost into it on stage, but may not be able to get the audience involved at all)? Please share your thoughts! Thank you!

Replies (23)

October 11, 2017, 10:03 AM · My suggestion is to try things and see how your audiences respond. Then you will know not only that you "felt something" but, more importantly, that they did. As a performer, that includes the visual part of what you do.
Edited: October 11, 2017, 10:25 AM · I believe that applying "feeling" to a musical performance is a matter of learning the techniques that transmit that feeling.

Sometimes attaching a story or scenario to the entire piece (or movements of it) can help the performer transmit the feel of that story to the audience. Other times, perhaps, you just want to express the feeling in certain phrases - so you have to decide what those feelings are and experiment with ways to transmit them.

This would be easier to teach to adults than children since adults have experienced a wider range of emotion to draw from, but even children could draw from stories they know or experiences they have had.

I like to recommend Roy Sonne's video for studying the Accolay violin concerto to work on this way of translated feeling into scenario into music. If you play for listeners a lot you can work on different techniques and gimics to see what reactions you get. Years ago when I was playing Christmas cello solos "around town" I loved getting tears from old ladies when I played the Schubert Ave Maria as a love song (at least the way I felt it when playing) - when their hankies came out and dabbed their eyes I knew it was working.

October 11, 2017, 11:16 AM · We are a bit like actors who try to induce the feelings in the listener rather than necessarily feel them at the time. Except for those special moments when everything comes together...
October 11, 2017, 11:34 AM · There are different takes on this topic.
Vengerov for once tries to tell a story to the music. He wants his students to think of those stories and the linked emotions.
Others like Perlman want students to play the same phrase with different emotions in mind.
My view is, that there are two major things to accomplish. The musical understanding to have fitting (I will not write the right, as I think this is rather oversimplified) emotions occuring. The capability to dig into the music.
The other part is the possiblity to transmit those fealings in a way others can hear it. This is mainly the technical possibility to alter the sound as you wish.

October 11, 2017, 12:37 PM · This is definitely one of the biggest challenges in teaching.

What level of playing are the students at, in question?

October 11, 2017, 1:29 PM · They are actually quite advanced in terms of technique and repertoire, but they sound very robotic
October 11, 2017, 1:30 PM · Also Adrian,

That is precisely what I am saying. However, whenever I perform, if I induce the listeners to feel, but I don't necessarily feel, then I just am very unsatisfied with the performance.

Edited: October 11, 2017, 4:06 PM · As Marc and other have already expressed, there is a big gap between feeling the music and expressing it in such a way that is effectively conveyed to the audience. It's the latter that is more complex, as it require not only clear concept and understanding of the piece played, it also requires the proper means to express them. For instance, I've noticed some advanced players who clear are paying good attention to the dynamic markings of a piece, but when asked what they think these marking means musically, beyond being soft or loud, they often give you a blank look. Telling stories like what Vengerov tends to do in masterclasses is only one of the many ways to express. It is also helpful to know the basics about the composer's life, when the piece was written, for whom it was written, etc.

I also suspect that an advanced student is unlikely to be entirely robotic when play a complex piece, say a concerto. (Most often the case that when it comes to fast scale or arpeggio runs or technically challenging passage, we play like etudes. This is how we practice these bits most.) If the musical moment does take place, let the student know and see if this musical moment can be extended further and further into the entire piece.

October 11, 2017, 4:39 PM · Can you be more specific about how advanced they are? Like perhaps a piece they're working on?
October 11, 2017, 5:15 PM · With really advanced students, it is quite possible that they've had a teacher(S) inject so much of their own feelings, that they can't find their own in the music anymore.
October 11, 2017, 5:22 PM · Lieschen, you mean they are traumatized by their emotional teacher(s) in the past? Based on your profile picture, I figure you are a soap-maker, yes? I made soap when I was feeling in need of emotional support too. And I play with a lot of feelings when waiting for a good batch to saponify ;)
October 11, 2017, 6:36 PM · It must come down to the desire and understanding to be an artist. If an accomplished pianist can stir emotions by pushing a bunch of keys....
October 12, 2017, 8:23 AM · No, not necessarily traumatized, but perhaps some students have had teachers who have wanted their students to sound just like them, inhibiting emotional expression. I am not a soap maker. I have never made soap. I just saw this soap at the supermarket and thought it looked pretty, so I snapped a picture.
October 12, 2017, 9:39 AM · With great music the feeling is endemic and shouldn't need to be consciously expressed by the player as long as she or he follows the composer's instructions. But in addition to that, remember that every note, every phrase and every movement have a beginning, a middle and an end.
October 12, 2017, 9:12 PM · I think it's about personal/emotional development - it's a rare young person who can do it.
October 12, 2017, 11:42 PM · I can't really offer good advice without knowing the situation of the specific student. Advancement, age, and disposition would be useful.
October 13, 2017, 6:14 AM · Sorry for the delay in response. I cannot talk about advancement, because the style of music is Carnatic South Indian music, so the pieces we play are quite different; however, I can say that they are good concert performers between the ages of 15-20.
October 13, 2017, 6:16 AM · Yixi, Marc, and Andrew

I completely understand what you are saying. It is definitely one thing to be able to feel the music yourself, and another thing to be able to transfer it effectively to the audience. My only question is doesn't feeling get lost the second you start to make "conscious" efforts to transmit that feeling to the audience. When you stop playing for yourself, rather play for the audience?

October 13, 2017, 8:19 AM · That chimes with my previous point. An actor doesn't "feel" the emotions of a character, neither does the audience. The one is transmitting an intellectualized emotion, while the others are experiencing and hopefully enjoying an imagined one. Who would want to participate (on either side of the curtain) if they actually "felt" that emotion? I believe the same applies to music where what is required isn't "feeling" but "musicality", whatever that means.
Edited: October 13, 2017, 12:24 PM · In the past I've performed the same music for weddings and for funerals/memorials. I play it with different emotions for each situation - but I have worked out the way to do that ahead of time: how to end phrases, how to subdivide certain beats, where & how to use portamento and how to use "expressive intonation."

Obviously if I am performing for the "celebration" of a dear friend or family member I will have different emotions than for a stranger, but the stranger still deserves the same experience as a situation that is more intimate for me. It has to be worked out in advance. When it is a performance, it is "theater" and we are actors trying to get the audience to feel a certain way. It is a show as surely as is a violinist playing the most showy Paganini or most difficult Ysaye - just a different show.

October 13, 2017, 9:50 AM · I'd say it's a form of acting; if you are really good at it, you convince yourself. But the "feeling" is not the way in; good technique and a strong desire to communicate something pecific - that is the way in.
October 13, 2017, 10:17 AM · Yes, different styles of "acting" may be appropriate for different audiences and of course different music. I'm getting very fond of Franz Drdla's little salon pieces, that really respond to a little Viennese schmaltz. My favourite is "Ivresse" which starts in full bierkellar-song mode and ends with a snooze.
Edited: October 13, 2017, 12:13 PM · I too like Laurie's advice on communication is the key. Some players are emotional players, some are descriptive, some are academic... I don't care what approach one takes, as long as they can convey the cool stuff they have grasped. How? First, you have to have a clear idea what you want to "say", then do whatever in your power to get your point across. It is no difference whether you say something in music or in English, Italian, Hindi, Urdu, or what have you. It's a lot of work and feeling may not even be part of it.

To answer your question, Kamalakiran, does feeling get lost the second one starts to make "conscious" efforts to transmit that feeling to the audience? I can only speak for myself. I don't know if I genuinely feel something, I will stop feeling it when I convey the feeling to someone. On the contrary, the quality/intensity of feeling might even be enhanced when the listener(s) seem to get it once conveyed successfully. That's the most rewarding part of communication -- you expand your internal experience into the universe, then see its effect: silence? smile? nod? shock? tears?


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