This isn’t a quest after a prescriptive way forward, more a curiosity about what those who might respond have experienced.
Did you have a turning point in your playing, before which you struggled to play expressively and after which you were able to play with “musicality”? Do you remember what changed?
(Was it that your technique became good enough to do what you wanted, or did you play technically well for a while before you unlocked your expressive abilities?) (Was it a change in your ability to perceive what you were doing when playing?) Don’t want to give too many suggestions! ;) Would love to hear your thoughts!
I'm pretty sure I played expressively on my first attempt to do an open string. I have a lot of limitations but this is intrinsic.
I am probably not a particularly expressive player, but when I have played music for an expressive reason I tried to express an appropriate human feeling such as love, loss, joy - etc. Or sometimes I try to have a story or scenario framing the entire piece or movement.
Expression = technique
I disagree deeply with Elise.
I feel like there will always be a gap between what I want to do (in terms musical expression) and my ability to create it (technique).
Lydia - not speaking for Elise, but I interpreted what she said to mean that we have to have the drive to play the music a particular way. Which, for me, is informed by listening to a lot of music, thinking about the music, and feeling the music THEN applying the range of techniques that are in my toolbox (for me, my toolbox feels too limited still, but I am getting there!) to then create the music/sound that I desire (with, of course, input, redirection and guidance from my teacher) - as you stated so well.
Quite. If you go back and replay pieces that are now easy for you, you will play them more expressively. If you push your technique to its limit, your expressivity will suffer until you have mastered the new technical difficulty.
Technique is essential-no matter how "musical" a person is "naturally", without the means to express music without impediment, such "musicality" cannot be even proven (although sometimes one can pinpoint learning students who have advanced musical sensibilities.)
I guess you can call it technique, or skill, or something else. For me the ability to play "with expression" came from simply "playing with" my violin trying to elicit tones and aural-colors that I had heard other violinists create. Over time I could, on demand, produce more and more subtleties of tone and color and from that came the ability to use those skills to communicate how I feel about a particular piece of music.
Adalberto - not to hijack the thread, but what are "advanced musical sensibilities"? I've always wondered about this, and figure now is as good a time as any to ask.
It seems to me that one of the ways to translate "feeling" into "sound" is in the realm of a certain flexibility with rhythm, volume, vibrato, shift, bow movement, etc., in ways that seem so minor and quick that they almost go unnoticed.
Re: Playing Expressively
To ~ Sander Marcus
I agree with AV, Roy Sonne has many examples of how to play expressively. I particularly like his tutorial for Dancla Air Varie No1.
Another vote here for Roy Sonne's videos. He is a man of great wisdom.
"Technique permits Expression". No doubt whatsoever - but it begs the question whether you have any emotion to express.
Technique in and of itself cannot make expression. I've heard some very technical players play inexpressively and some very untechnical players play expressively. Technique has to serve expression, not the other way around. There has to be some concept in place as to what that expression might be when working on the technique to accomplish this. Having said that, I think that you don't need a vast amount of technique in order to be expressive.
I agree with Lydia. "Expressive" playing does not come by itself; it must be learned (though it presupposes I suppose some "raw talent").
I also think it's easy to overthink expression, overdo it or feel that it's something that you can analyze into components. If you wanted to tell somebody "I love you" with feeling, do you plan exactly your inflection? Your word emphasis? Your facial expression? Never. You just say it because you feel love!
I have to agree with Elise's first comment. I've always been able to play expressively, from the very first time I sang, messed around on a piano, or later when I played the violin/viola.
I think that I had a predisposition to play expressively from an early period in my studies. Part of it was a certain sense of timing that I heard in great players in recordings that I felt I could develop in my own way with certain phrasings. But it had to be developed, educated, matured and assured in many ways. Some pieces seemed to lend themselves more obviously to expressiveness: a case in point that I remember was performing the Meditation from Thais for the first time in 8th grade. And some other kinds of pieces seemed to take care of themselves, such as the motoric outer movements of Baroque concertos - or so I thought. In 9th grade I learned the Bach a minor concerto. At a certain point in playing the 1st mvt. for my teacher, he stopped me and said "You're playing it like a machine". I thought "Hmmm, I AM rather playing it like a machine! But I don't think Isaac Stern plays it much differently on my record - yet he doesn't sound like a machine." I went home and listened to the record again for the first time in a while and paid careful attention. Then I started to notice all sorts of subtleties that had eluded me before. That indeed was a turning point for me.
I am usually too mentally busy while playing to also think about Trying to be expressive. I have always thought that the emotional reactions are the Audience's job. I still really don't know what the word "interpretation" means, but then, I am also a third-tier player.
This is utter nonsense, excepting Joel Quivey's professional on terra firma views re What is Required & his last few sentences, Thank God!, to over analyze Technique as if it were a Deamon!! I've Never read such odd ball comments as Elise Stanley questioning the Truth of a Musically Expressive Artist as Jascha Heifetz! Google the name, Jascha Heifetz, & fall in Love to discover emotion, dear lady . . .
Well, you can have the view that expression is only from those that "possess Concert Artist Olympic Level Technique", or you can believe that expression is something inherent in all humans...
I'd go with... musical expression is a 'faculty' inherent in all humans, but one that requires development. It doesn't need "olympic level technique" or whatever, just technical comfort with the material you are playing....
Oh goodness. There have been so many discussions on this forum about whether true emotional feeling or "life experiences" are need to convey "feeling" in music.
A standard way of approaching improving musical expression is to sing then imitate on the instrument. This can be helpful, but I find a more direct and effective approach is to work on the individual techniques required for musical presentation.
Thank you Adalberto - that explanation works for me.
This has been an interesting discussion!
I once disappointed friends by saying that if I felt the same intense emotions as they did while listening, I should probably be unable to play!
I compose music and I play music. When I play music which I have composed myself I can be surprised that the music can evoke emotions which I didn't think of when composing it. If someone else plays it I can be surprised by new aspects which I didn't think of when composing it. It is really amazing.
I'm sure there are as many different and valid perspectives on this as there are people, but I'll offer you mine.
The bridge between inner feeling/emotion of player, and to deliver it to the audiences, is to master "legato" bowing.
I started becoming a lot more expressive once I was out of school and taking lessons only intermittently - because I finally realized that is was all up to me. Once I realized that commitment to expression actually makes your technique grow not the other way around, it got better to. And lastly, when I realized that is makes performing so much more enjoyable and reliable - but the expressive work has to be done in the practice room. What has often done wonders for me (and continues to this day) is to play with others who are very expressive. It inspires me, it washes off on me, it makes me forget technique.
So I guess my rant didn't contain a concrete suggestion. My suggestion is to watch carefully how violinists execute their expressive moments. Try to mimic them with your violin. If you can only hear their sound, say, on a recording, then you've got to experiment with how to make the same thing happen with your own hands. Once you discover a new expressive element, tweak it. Play with it. Explore its boundaries. Revisit your existing expressive elements. Combine them. Have fun.
I have to agree with Elise, at least for certain people who are particularly sensitive to aesthetics, have an amazing ear for music and languages and have a deep well of inner emotionality, if that's a word. Half Hungarian, half Italian, I grew up listening basically to the Hungarian hour and heard a lot of Gypsy music. But I don't feel that it particularly influenced my style of playing at all. Everyone in my extended family had amazing ears (most of my paternal aunts and uncles learned to play piano completely by ear) and could sing beautifully, but they nor I I had never really listened to classical music either. When I first approached the violin with my bow, I "felt" the open string rather than tried to play it or stroke it. It was just a natural thing. I always felt like I was playing "feelings" rather than notes and I think my technique followed the desire to make a particular kind of tone or "sing" in a particular way on my instrument. I later found out I have perfect pitch, but aside from helping me and demanding me to play in tune, that didn't affect my playing expressivity. Technique was always second to expression in my playing. Like Elise, I felt like I could and should play expressively on an open string as much as in a piece. My teacher was big on exaggeration and would enthusiastically yell "More FIRE!" or some other exhortation for more passion, but I innately knew exactly what "more fire" meant. He coached while I played so I always produced results instantaneously. For me, at least, expressivity came naturally, as it did for Elise. It doesn't with everyone. In Pamela Frank's master classes, I've enjoyed the ingenuous methods she uses to elicit character and color from the students she teaches, so it seems that expressive playing doesn't come natural for everyone. I don't think of technique as an end in itslf, but only a vehicle by which to more effectively express music. Perhaps too much concentration on technique, or seeing it as a goal in itself, hampers expressive playing. I would think it most definitely would.
I have to comment on Raphael Klayman's expansive comments and agree with him as well. To say "technique PERMITS one to play expressively" is absolutely correct. But one has to have the innate capacity to feel emotion before one can appreciate the spectrum of emotions written in a piece of music. And, as Mr. Klayman wrote, it can be "guided," but I don't believe it can be taught any more than one can teach someone how to feel compassion or empathy. Playing, after all, is a reflection of our personalities, which are unique to each of us. So no matter how much one "immerses" himself or herself in the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, some people will practice it for years and not play it expressively. As for technique, of course a violinist must use technical methods to manipulate bow pressure, speed and the like to achieve the expressive ends, but he or she must first FEEL where the music should go. Artists most definitely have disagreed on the fine points over centuries, but one must have an emotional understanding of musicality and phrasing and learn how to bring it out of the instrument in order to play expressively. That's why we study. To be "guided," as Mr. Klayman suggests. We've all heard technically accomplished violinists and other instrumentalists who play "coldly." After years of study and immersion in works, they can't change their personalities and haven't learned to fully express the music they're interpreting.
As a viola maker, from the point of view of the instrument, in order to play expressively you depend of the instrument dynamic range and capacity of creating colours.
To think one "has more emotion to express" than anyone else is a sad example of the human ego.
Has anyone considered that maybe some people (with full technique) are expressing their music fully, but others disagree with their interpretations? See, for example, Hilary Hahn or James Ehnes, whose playing has been characterized as "cold" or "robotic" by some, yet "thoughtful and sensitive" by others.
No it probably just means he needed to listen more. Lots of people want to learn to play jazz on the piano. Then you ask them who they listen to, and basically they don't listen to anyone. They listen to pop radio. Well that's not going to work.
I think that was the point. :) Of course Perlman has the capacity to and in fact does most of the time play quite expressively, he just hadn’t “learned/absorbed/understood” how to be expressive in that musical contex (klezmer)...
Paul, while I disagree with your overall assessment of the necessity of real emotion behind music making, I think this is one of the funniest things I've read in a while:
Erik, it's really a very interesting question, isn't it? Perhaps "feeling sad" while you're playing "Meditation" facilitates your mind processing certain expressive elements. Otherwise how does real emotion actually help? I mean, what's the mechanism? Ultimately your muscles have to move a certain way, and your brain, a highly refined biochemical computer, is directing them. Just because we don't understand the mechanism doesn't mean there isn't one.
So here's the thing: I think the big gap between the understanding of the people here largely comes down to the definition of "emotion." Emotions are rarely as simple as just "Sad" or "happy." They can be the feeling you get when reminiscing about the smell of a campfire. Or perhaps the intense terror that you recall as a child seeing something horrible. I personally use emotions as a sort of "macro" or heuristic for getting all of the physical movements in place.
Obvious differences between a computer and a human being are emotions and expressions. The computer plays back whatever was typed into a music program, but the computer is not emotional and does not care about expressions. When a human being plays the music he/she puts life into the music by playing it. Even if the musician is "cold" or mechanical/robotic it still is a live performance which means sparks of life are present.
I prefer to think in terms of energy rather than emotion. When I say energy it doesn't really mean physically energetic performances but varying energies - different feelings. Other styles of music have terms like groove or vibe - you can't always say exactly what it is but you know it when you hear it - you know when you are moved. Classical music doesn't really have those expressions typically but the same applies. Sometimes these things are difficult to talk about but I would suggest that those of us who are teachers should constantly push a student to aspire to play with feeling, to connect to the audience in way that they resonate with that energy rather than serve the technique as the end in itself. Not all music is Programme music - describing some extra-musical narrative, and we don't always need to be actors in that sense but that is certainly one valid approach amongst others. I don't play so much classical music these days - mainly jazz - and I feel that for me at least the feeling and energy is a more in the moment thing and the energy isn't just about me and my expression - it's the whole energy of the band and everyone in the room, at least when it is working at its best.
The most important thing, as others have noted, is to listen to recordings and go to concerts and, as you mature, play with fine musicians.
A Word ~
Any professional musician will tell you that there are plenty of pros that play beautifully but are jerks or otherwise terrible people in some way.
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