Personality and playing

April 25, 2010 at 02:41 AM ·

A violin teacher I know recently said to a very shy friend of mine that it came across in her playing, and that you could always tell the personality of a person by how they play and how they sound when playing...

Do you think this is true? What else do you think influences your style/sound - in a personal way, not just how much you practise etc.?

Replies (28)

April 25, 2010 at 11:46 AM ·

This is one for Sandy!  I would think that there is some truth to this.  However I also believe that there are violinists who can get into the feelings and persona of the subject of a song (Meditation by Thais, etc.) or a composer, knowing what was going on in the composer's life (composisions by J.S. Bach when his wife died).

April 25, 2010 at 08:26 PM ·

Yes this one is for Sandy!

Yes I think we do! When I started with no knowledge at all about the violin (and thank god I had never listen to any solosist which was a good thing since I never got influenced by them in my first stages and could "try" to express my real personality) I developed the trademarks I still have now (hopfully with better technique now...)  (usually said to have energic playing with character and powerful sound (as a student, I'm not saying I have these perfectly lol).  But this always comes after much efforts to "kill" my natural sound/ability... Yes this is really weird...)

I can't explain why but my head has a different personnality than my body!!!    And no, it's not a complex of some sort! It's just a misfit of head and body haha  I like to joke about this telling it's like a St-Bernard head in a chiwawa (or with chiwawa possibilities!)  

Yes, (in my opinion) if you have a personality of some sort it will show. Also if you are cautious, perfectionist or not will show...  If nothing in particular comes out from one's playing,  well... be afraid (no no forget about this one ; )

But beeing misjudged is possible too! I have often been taken for a lazy/talented in exams and competitions. But I'm quite the contrary! Also, visually people all think I'm nervous just because I'm perfectionist, don't have a directive/leader voice/attitude in public and try to be cautious. 

Interesting topic! I can't wait to see other's answers on this!


April 26, 2010 at 04:42 AM ·

I don't play professionally, so my choice of music is the first expression of my personality.
Second, I emphasize what I am feeling when I play, so the sound coming out is a combination of the tune and what I feel.
Third, even without trying, any stress, tension, joy, tentativeness, etc. that I feel for the music tends to be exhibited in my playing; sometimes something is easy to caress through, somteimes it is work, and I can't avoid simple mistakes.

April 26, 2010 at 05:10 PM ·

You know, I think this statement has a lot of truth in it. But depending on the person, I imagine it can be both a very good, or a very bad thing. Or somewhere in between, for that matter. As for me, I've always been the perfectionist in everything, not just violin. And it always comes out when I play. I get so stuck on intonation, bowing, and other technicalities that I neglect what should be the most important thing about playing the violin: musicality. Yeah, I do have good intonation, but considering what I DON'T have, I think this is more of a curse then a blessing.

April 26, 2010 at 05:13 PM ·

well...I've heard my bluesviolin playing described as either dangerous or deadly, by more than one person on more than one occasion.

But other than that, I think I'm a fairly nice guy.

April 26, 2010 at 07:36 PM ·

Be an ACTOR. Actors assume personalities to play various characters. So why can't musicians?

And while we are going about assuming some new "personality" to play a particular piece of music, why not also create a scenario around the music and fit it into that along with our assumed personality. Play a love song like a lover, play it like a cheat, play it like you've been jilted. How do you make it different each time. Play solo Bach like a dancer. Play the Mendelssohn concerto like a forest spirit.

You can also experiment with personality when you travel by air, train, or bus. I'm sure many people do, and even more lie a lot more during such adventures!

Consider your teacher. Is your teacher's teacher personality the same as his/her social/parent/driver etc. personality.

Have fun!


April 26, 2010 at 08:07 PM ·

This comment seems to be very common. I wonder what's useful about it? Are all violin students shy or something?
I believe that performing music is very much like acting. During our preparation we should create a third personality, meaning, we mix our own psychology with the psychology required for the music. If being shy is not what is required for the music and is also not appealing in its self during the performance, then of course we shouldn't show that. That shouldn't be a too awful, scary thing to do, I mean, to get rid off our shyness. If you analyze your own personality, there should plenty of more things to find in it, apart from shyness (and shyness is SO dependent on the situation, who says you are really that shy?).
Anyway, I do believe that you can observe someone's personality in someone's playing. A third personality involves after all also a part of your own personality. But I really would feel quite helpless if a teacher gave me that comment...
Interesting discussion by the way, I am passionate about this kind of questions!

April 26, 2010 at 08:11 PM ·

Ha, Andrew, your post was just bit quicker than mine! I love the bit about 'creating your own circumstances' (or something, can't remember now exactly what you wrote)
Did anyone of you read Stanislavski? I read some of his books after I found in the Strad Magazine an article where Kurt Sassmanshaus said he adviced all his students to read Stanislavski. I can only agree with his advice!

April 26, 2010 at 09:12 PM ·

I have always admired character actors and impersonators!  Especially musicians who capture the moment of the composer composing the piece!

April 26, 2010 at 09:42 PM ·

One advantage for us blues players is... we get to wear hats! I think sunglasses are stretching it a bit for violinists though, don't you?

April 26, 2010 at 09:58 PM ·

I've been told that I look "manly" and "confident" when I
If I can't play the right notes, the least I can do for the audience is look the part!

April 26, 2010 at 10:15 PM ·

Andrew, really nice idea and possibly it should work this way! But I have notice that often soloists can't really get out of their "style" ...    Let's say one is "just sugar", he/she will often sound "just sugar".  If one is "very virtuosic and technical", he/she will always sound like this. If one just wants to sound like him/herself even if this costs a few scatches or buzz, they will often sound very sincere with a few scratches...  Why would player have trademarks if they were all able to act in every piece they do to do?  (just my constatation and I'm not saying I'm right.)

  I personnally find it very attracting that someone can sound unique with his/her personality as an artist "signature" but, ideally, I know it's best to act the way the composer wants...

Have a nice day,


April 27, 2010 at 01:05 PM ·

"This is one for Sandy"  ??????

OK, since I'm Sandy, I'd better say something. But I think everyone so far has expressed themselves very, very well and convincingly. And, anyway, I couldn't claim to have the last word on this kind of topic.
However, I have a couple of thoughts about it. Music is certainly a medium that connects with our emotions. I can't think of anyone I've ever met or know about who doesn't have their emotions aroused by some kind of music (e.g., a song that reminds them of a certain time or event in their life).
The violin is such an expressive instrument that can present an almost infinite variety of sounds and nuances and articulations, that the capacity for individual expression is, I think, almost infinite. The better the violinist, I believe, the more he or she can express clearly what they "feel" inside or what their "vision" (auditorily speaking) is of what the music conveys.
But it has always fascinated me that some violinists considered unemotional or "cold" - the primary example of whom is Heifetz - could play some things with an emotional warmth that was unforgettable.

April 27, 2010 at 03:37 PM ·

i think colors and nuances are extensions of one's personality, esp if one is without close supervision for some time. 

2 people can wear the same exact dress, personality will dictate how the dress projects...

April 27, 2010 at 10:15 PM ·

Al, about the dress thing: personality and size... ; )

Put the same instrument between two different person's hands...  Exceptions? Well, my maker has two identical violinist twins and claims they are they are the only one of her clients who play absoluntly identical.  Identical emotions and identical bodies. With close eyes, you would never guess  ; ) 


I should test this with my twin sister... (would have to convice her to take up violin first...)

June 15, 2010 at 08:07 AM ·

 Sure, it has to! 

If you are a person that believe every word said by any authority (a "follower") your interpretation will an outcome of all the phrasings, instructions given by an authority, whether it is teacher or some of your idol, and maybe I can imagine you will be mimicking quite some too. I would expect this kind of violinist to achieve a great basic technique too if talented, with a modern wonderful, round sound :-) Or a good orchestral musician, because you do everything you are asked to.

If you are more rational, not a follower, but are a hard-core defender of the concept that "play as the composer wants it to be played", you will use all logics and many rules of the game to create interpretations according to all these rules. Every piece will be a puzzle with-- occassionally so many boundaries, that your interpretation will be in few aspects different from many others. (Depending on the nature of the piece.)

If you are interested and unmusical, a great teacher still can save you if following well.

If you are uninterested, you will say "whatever", and probably sound like you are just doing whats asked for you, nothing else. You will be on the other hand, probably saved from performance nerves :-).

If you are a interpretational boheme in the sense of not caring about what the composer wanted (can yet be technical perfectionist) and strictly intuitive, maybe you will play the piece in very different way every time you take it into your hands.

If you are an interpretional boheme (in same way as above) and artistic (and or not intuitive) maybe you will be "painting" the landscape for months and months, until you create an interpretation that matches your inner art work and feelings at different parts of the piece.

And if you turn out to be too shy, maybe all your efforts no matter what kind of personality you are, might be ruined from time to time when you perform it on public :-)

June 15, 2010 at 08:09 AM ·

 Actually, it could be a fun game :-) 

Shall we send each other some recordings and tell each other who we think they are based on the recordings? :-D

June 15, 2010 at 11:11 AM ·

I find the opposite actually! I am generally quite a nervous person in real life but when I play the violin I feel a lot freer and tend to be more relaxed.

June 15, 2010 at 12:05 PM ·

I find the question rather liberating in itself!  Playing the violin is such an ancient art its hard not to get the feeling that there are absolute ways to learn and perform.  To some extent both are true (e.g. you can't play classical in a fiddler style, well, not to a classical audience anyway) but maybe some of us feel we need to have permission to express ourselves.

I am by nature rather outgoing, independent and creative - and I seem to love a challenge.  The violin certainly satisfies the last of these but I'm still feeling around as to how much I can express the first three.  I do get a strong 'calling' as to how a piece should sound - but maybe only when I really engage with the music.  And I am one of those in the list above where a piece never sounds the same twice (I don't think I ever do the same fingering twice either).

June 15, 2010 at 12:28 PM ·

But if there would be absolute ways of learning and performing, maybe it would be a technology/science, not an art? 

June 15, 2010 at 03:11 PM ·

Yes - but things have a way of evolving from pure art (no one knows how to do it anyway) to pure technique (someone figured out the perfect way to do it).  And I think music is the same - which is probably why we get these sea-changes like from swing to rock - the former is getting close to being exhausted as an 'art' (as in creative) form...

This is the case for sciences too I believe - one could argue that physics (a quantitative science) is to a large extent 'done'...

June 15, 2010 at 09:19 PM ·

Do you mean all the pure, beautiful formulas in physics already are written and only the ugly approximations are left? 

I cannot believe physics being a puzzle with static frames that do not expand over time, which would be the case if one argues that it is already "done". I still do not know whether the Higgs boson exists, whether there is any supersymmetry, whether there exists any dark matter in the Universe at all or not, how proteins are folding, if there exists any asymmetric flow of baryons in the Universe...Would you really say physics is done, when we encounter more and more questions for every step we take? 

June 16, 2010 at 03:03 PM ·

If we are talking in the realm of, "Art as Exspression" then yes, most definitely!  Quite often by understanding what a composer was going through at the time some pieces were composed at times we may can understand the piece in a broader and or deeper way than before.

I know that my playing has revealed my moods & emotions.... and it comes out in any piece I am playing at that time!

June 16, 2010 at 03:32 PM ·

At Lena  - no there are no bounds to a science and there are amazing things to discover.  Its just that the issues that need to be addressed have become so technially demanding that physics is for the few with the (very) big toys.  I am a biologist - I can litterally think of something original to test, go in the lab the same say and discover something fundamental.  There is still enormous scope in biology.  There was a time when a physicist could easily do the same - such as align a laser beam or analyze heat out put - (obviously there must stil be some examples but they are rare) - he must use a cyclotron or a radiotelescope to make a similar advance.  Thats all I meant.

To bring it back on topic; can such a day arrive for the violin?  its unlikely but not entirely impossible.  Someone could create a synthetic (and hence stadardized) violin that is superior in all capacities of playability, tone, projection etc.  In which case a standard could also be developed for how that violin should be played.  [And before one dismisses that think about how it has become standard to edit recordings to eliminate any mistakes as a step in such a direction.]  The reasons its unlikely is us and the audience - each of us has to play the violin in a different way and we all strive for a different output (presuming of course that our teachers do not homogenize us - another recent topic) - and audiences differ too culturally (I doubt music in Japan has the same expectations as in, say, England) and form (classical has a different standard from folk).

This is way too long but perhaps I've put it better?

June 16, 2010 at 05:46 PM ·

Ah yes, now I understand what you mean.

Well, concerning physics: as when doing x-ray crystallography or NMR of proteins to study their structure, very much similar catalogue work is available also in material theory (that is physics). In astronomy, you have huge databases that can be explored inside and out.

At the same time, there are tools that are cheap and available for everybody, namely simulations. These simulations (even though always based on assumptions) will get much easier with the improvement of computers (hopefully quantum computers some day). And physicists have theory :)

What concerns music: well, there might be another outcome also, a certain technical feedback. the day such a super-violin as you mention would be created, I would assume that it could be counter-productive for the training of new professionals. maybe this would lead to that the interest to become virtuoso or professional musician would decline drastically, in order to make the violin-playing becoming a hobby among people, rather than an occupation. when this happens, it could again starting feeding rather the composition as an expression of artistery, rather than performance. suddenly, we would have a lot of wonderful new violin music written :)


June 17, 2010 at 09:48 PM ·

That's the only time my personality shows...

June 17, 2010 at 10:11 PM ·

I take it you like to express that personality?  Else, I'm guessing, you would not play.  Then why not show it all the time :)

June 18, 2010 at 12:30 AM ·

I certainly hope that my personality comes through when I play! Music doesn't play itself or interpret itself. It's a symbioisis of the performer and the composer. Of course our personalities will be filtered through different styles of music, but something of ourselves should come through. And it's not just my musical sensibilities or my practicing. Every important book I've read, painting I've seen, relationship I've experienced, etc. etc. finds a place somehow in the mix. It's my whole life that I bring to my music!

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