Playing out of your head

May 6, 2005 at 06:42 AM · My teacher was telling me to play outside of my head, and to just feel and let the music be expressed. Without my brain interfering too much. I try, I'm fairly expressive, but no, my brain isn't absent in my playing lol. Does anyone have any advice for just feeling the music rather than thinking it? Can advice be given, or will it just come eventually? I hope that is somewhat clear.

Replies (12)

May 6, 2005 at 08:10 AM · Hi!

Think about how the music makes you feel and why. I often find that when I learn a piece very well that I can colse my eyes and just "feel" the music when I play. By telling you to feel the music I think your teacher is telling you to let loose and not worry about reading the music but instead just relaxing and playing as if there is nothing else in the world. Move if the music moves you and let the phrases be your main guide. Block out everything else in the world, all other thoughts and worries and most of all enjoy what you are doing!

Hope this helps, but I'm just a student myself so maybe not?!? What is the piece that you are playing by the way?

Best wishes and good luck,


May 6, 2005 at 07:24 PM · As an 'ex' dancer (was once on track to be a professional before I switched to music), it often helps for me to 'feel' the music physically...I don't know if that makes any sense, but I allow myself to feel the emotions I find in the piece as physical sensations - similiar in concept to oh, say, the feeling of physical illness you might get in your stomach when you're really dreading something, or 'butterflies' of excitement, or similar. I sort of feel the music in my gut, so to speak. Sorry if that doesn't make any sense. Just the experience of a lowly student.


May 6, 2005 at 08:00 PM · The brain is part of your heartfeeling body and soul. The only way to master emotions in performing arts, is through relentless practicing,commitment,will of power and a tremendous amount of sacrifice.

And of course,a considerable high level of talent.

Only then, you'll see your brain merging with your music. Your teacher was trying to take your mind off the technical difficulties, so you could surface on the other side.

May 6, 2005 at 08:50 PM · Lauren, it is Dvorak's Sonatina that she told me to "feel". Its the one romantic piece I'm doing right now. I think that I do feel the musicto a degree, but she also wants me to work on the enitre performance aspect. Showing facial expressions, descriptive breaths (if that made sense), and also physical movement of course. My teacher is a bit dramatic lol. I do all of that to a degree, but not to the one that she wants from me.

But your comments are helpful. Thanks.

May 6, 2005 at 11:53 PM · I used to get really frustrated when a teacher would tell me to "feel" the music more; I just couldn't get to the meaning of that. Not that I did not "feel" music; it's just that the whole process of learning the violin had become so complicated, that it was hard to simply add this element along with "pronate your hand" and "move your thumb when you shift," etc. I mean, am I supposed to feel sad while playing certain music? Even if I had a date with some fabulous looking guy (like Robert) who wanted to take me to a Joshua Bell concert?

I realized something, though, when taking a rather academic class called, "A Philosophy of Music Education" by Bennnett Riemer at Northwestern:

You don't have to feel "emotion" while playing, you have to feel the music. What a relief!

And the "feelings" in music can be broken way down, they are not as complex as "emotions." For example, here are some "feelings" that music can convey:




something going really fast without a breath


question and answer





slowing down

The list goes on and on. If you really climb into each individual "feeling," they may well add up to convey an "emotion." It all depends on how good the composer of the music was! But t they don't have to add up, just like your feelings during the course of a day don't always add up. Convey these "feelings" well, and you are communicating something.

And when you learn to communicate using the violin, you are reaching an new level.

May 7, 2005 at 03:45 AM · Try conjuring up a list of what the music reminds you of. It could be things you love or hate. It doesn't matter. Whatever you think of must be a strong enough feeling to make you think of it while listening to the music. When you play, just think of these things. :]

May 7, 2005 at 11:23 AM · The more I think about music performance the more I think technique is nearly the whole thing. In an adult, at the point where you have a second nature command of the piece from a technical standpoint, there's a void that I think is automatically filled by musicianship, and its characteristics depend on a lot of factors - your personality or talent, how you interact with the piece, and probably ultimately the sum total of your experiences and processing.

If you go to Peter's site and listen to his snippet of Mozart, you could apply adjectives from Laurie's list, and those are the kinds of things a teacher says to try and steer a student. A listener might use the same words to describe some performance, incidently. At that point you realize you can't take the words too literally. In the same way they fall short as a description, they fall short as a source. The sources are abstract and come from everywhere; what you just heard yourself play, what you planned a year ago, what you think you'd like to do in a few minutes, vague shapes and impressions your imagination translates into sound.

When you think you "feel" something emotional, at least if you're inexperienced, I think it's almost always only an internal thing and is not coming out of the instrument. Check it with a recorder and you may see. In my own violin playing when I would listen to a tape and hear an especially emotionally effective thing, I had not been thinking about it at all, and as often as not didn't realize it as I was playing it, yet it fit in context. In fact listening to the tape I might realize I couldn't have thought of it if even if I'd tried. Great players have more conscious control and can execute stictly according to plan, but I have to think the same mechanism also happens with them because sometimes you hear things that nobody could have thought of and consciously created; just too much complexity. The technical demands are so far behind them that they are very powerful "conduits." I think this is where most, perhaps all, of the genuine emotional content comes from.

May 7, 2005 at 11:02 PM · Hi Aisha,

Another thing you might try to practice "feeling" the piece is singing it, without the instrument. Pay attention to where you take breaths and how you shape the phrases. Chances are that what you do while singing will be a bit more natural, without all the complications of manipulating a violin and bow as well. When you do pick up the instrument, try to imitate what you just sang.

You could also try exaggerating all of the dynamics, to a ridiculous extent--when it is piano, try to play with one, thin hair of the bow, and when it is forte, really feel the weight in your bow arm, as if you're sinking into the string like a comfortable couch. When you actually perform for real, you won't go to such extremes, but you'll have a better idea of where the limits are and how far you can go.

It's great that your teacher is trying to help develop this side of your playing. I don't think that making "facial expressions" that are forced is all that helpful; playing with feeling is not about acting.

When experimenting with this side of your playing in general, just try to let go of your self-consciouness and inhibitions, and have fun. The more freedom you allow yourself, the likelier you might be surprised with yourself, in a good way. Hope this helps.

May 8, 2005 at 03:27 AM · Another thing you might try is imaging. For example, some music calls to my mind elegant ladies in long skirts gliding across a highly polished dance floor; or the smooth surface of a pond on a cool, clear morning; or tall pine trees reaching to the sky; or a proud man swaggering and boasting.

May 8, 2005 at 06:08 PM · Laurie, thanks for your post about feelings that music can convey. That gives me a completely new perspective.

May 9, 2005 at 01:28 AM · I wonder whether your teacher might have been referring to a mental process which I access with my students by means of a little experiment as follows: Sometimes a student will play out of tune to an extent that might lead one to think that he has poor pitch discrimination. However, I know from working with the student, that his ear is good. It's his way of concentrating that needs training. So, after the student has just played a passage with many intonation errors, I tell him: "I will now play this section of the piece to you. I want you to listen to my pitch very carefully. If you hear the slightest off pitch note, call it out immediately, but call it out in a constructive way--If I play a note too flat, don't say: "flat", rather say: "higher". This way your immediate response will be of a constructive nature. You'll be telling me how to properly repair the pitch." I then play the section of the piece with intentional off pitch notes scattered throughout and, what do you know, the student, who a minute ago had played it badly out of tune, is now catching the smallest infraction of my performance!! I then say: "Now play it again, but rather than making yourself responsible to play it in tune, instead make yourself responsible only to *hear everything*, just the way you did when I was doing the playing!" When the student plays it again there is an immediate and dramatic improvement in his pitch! He modeled a certain kind of concentration while he was listening to my pitches. Then, in his second play-through, he focused on the listening, rather than the effort of playing in tune. This is what I believe is the meaning of the phrase: "Play out of your head". The books: "The Inner Game of Music" by Greene, "The Inner Game of Tennis", by Galwey, "Drawing On the Right Side of the Brain", by Edwards and "Zen and the Art of Archery" by Herrigel all speak about a mental process similar to the one I describe here.

May 9, 2005 at 01:38 AM · Thank you everyone for your comments. I really notcied a big difference in my playing. I was much more relaxed and everything seemed to flow just right. Music just came.

Oliver , what you described is somewhat like what my teacher was talking about. She talked about hearing yourself play, like almost there is a seperation, and the musc is just made.

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