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#2203543 - 12/27/13 12:05 PM What does it mean to play a piece with feelings?
Argerich5405 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/28/09
Posts: 172
I don't think I know how to translate how I feel into my playing. For example, when someone plays a sad piece well, is it because they really felt sad while playing and it translated into the music or can you fake it? I'm asking because I don't feel anything when playing and am wondering if something is wrong. This is not about the difficulty of a piece - even easy pieces, I can't feel anything while playing. Do you feel something when you play piano??

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#2203547 - 12/27/13 12:17 PM Re: What does it mean to play a piece with feelings? [Re: Argerich5405]
jazzyprof Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/30/04
Posts: 2621
Loc: Ann Arbor, MI
It depends on the piece. Some pieces have been crafted by the composer to evoke certain feelings in the player and listener if the performer plays the right notes at the right time, at the right tempo, with the right dynamics, and with attention paid to the expression markings. You don't have to put your feelings into it...just follow the composers instructions and you will feel something! So, if you play a sad piece properly, you will feel sad.

There's also a feedback effect. As you play the sad piece and it makes you feel sad, you will translate that feeling into the way you stretch certain notes, phrase certain passages, diminish your diminuendos, all to enhance that certain feeling the composer intended.
"Playing the piano is my greatest joy...period."......JP

#2203633 - 12/27/13 03:30 PM Re: What does it mean to play a piece with feelings? [Re: Argerich5405]
255 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/22/12
Posts: 92
Originally Posted By: Argerich5405
I can't feel anything while playing.

Then you don't like the piece.

Originally Posted By: Argerich5405
I don't think I know how to translate how I feel into my playing.

It's about dynamics, tempo variations, ways to play a phrase (more "dolce", with more passion, etc). It's automatic, you don't have to think about it. But you have to be able to play the piece well and you must like it.

When people say "feeling the piece" they just mean that you like the piece and so you can play it very well and in such a way that the listener can grasp the meaning of the piece and be moved by the music.

Originally Posted By: Argerich5405
can you fake it

Yes, you don't have to be actually sad for playing a sad piece, but it's important to understand the meaning of the piece and entering a state of mind where you can focus 100% on the music so to make sense of every note.

#2203662 - 12/27/13 05:05 PM Re: What does it mean to play a piece with feelings? [Re: Argerich5405]
anrpiano Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/05/04
Posts: 174
Loc: Chicago
I am afraid I will upset some people rather profoundly here. (And at the moment I am very calm and peaceful). Playing expressively has nothing to do with how you may feel at this particular moment. You don't have to become the "emotion" in order to project an "emotion". That is part of the craft of our art. Listen to a fine stage actor do their thing, listen carefully to the pace they say their lines, which words get said louder or softer, listen for the dramatic pauses; all of these are the components they use to create the emotional content of their lines. The subtle changes they make create the different emotional and meaning landscapes they project.

Take the sentence: "I didn't say she stole the money", now shift the accent from word to word. "I (emphasis on I) didn't say she stole the money" has a completely different meaning than: "I DIDN'T say she stole the money", "I didn't SAY she stole the money" and so on. Each differently accented sentence implies a very different meaning.

How you organize the phrase, what you choose to emphasize and what you choose to de-emphasize, where you linger and where you move through, all work to create the emotional landscape you project. All of the emoting so common to the younger performers really has nothing to do with musical and emotional communication. It may help them "feel" the music, but if all of the proper musical decisions hadn't been made in advance it won't matter a wit what face they make.

Instead of trying to "feel" the music ask yourself what was the meaning the composer sought to express? Where is the tension within the phrase, section, or movement? Where is the tension released? Where are the melodies which provide the key ideas? Where are the secondary melodies? etc. This will give you a more expressive performance than any amount of trying to feel "sad", for even if you have just suffered the greatest of all losses, you still must create the musical landscape which will project this emotion. Just because you "feel" it doesn't you will project it.

This will give you a much more in depth understanding of the work or art you are playing.
Andrew Remillard
Downers Grove, IL 60515

#2203667 - 12/27/13 05:14 PM Re: What does it mean to play a piece with feelings? [Re: Argerich5405]
rnaple Offline

Silver Supporter until April 24 2014

Registered: 12/23/10
Posts: 1986
Loc: Rocky Mountains
In the Book: The Art of Practicing by Madeline Bruser ... She talks a whole lot about this. You might get the book.
Your brain is a sponge. Keep it wet. Mary Gae George
The focus of your personal practice is discipline. Not numbers. Scott Sonnon

#2203670 - 12/27/13 05:16 PM Re: What does it mean to play a piece with feelings? [Re: Argerich5405]
JimF Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/08/09
Posts: 1674
Loc: south florida
Listen to a recording of Willhelm Furtwangler conducting Isolde's Liebestod, from Wagner's Tristan and Isolde. Liebestod is 7 minutes of pure emotion. I am sure you will feel it. Now you just have to put THAT passion into your playing.

(You can listen to the whole prelude first, or skip to the Liebestod at the 12 minute mark)

La Fille aux cheveux de lin - Debussy
Ma Mere L'Oye - Ravel
Mozart Sonata K545

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#2203695 - 12/27/13 06:12 PM Re: What does it mean to play a piece with feelings? [Re: Argerich5405]
-Frycek Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/06/05
Posts: 5921
Loc: SC Mountains
What arnpiano said.
Slow down and do it right.

#2203696 - 12/27/13 06:14 PM Re: What does it mean to play a piece with feelings? [Re: Argerich5405]
wouter79 Online   content
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/14/10
Posts: 3459
anrpiano +1. What matters is your interpretation about the piece and playing it to express your interpretation properly. To express it properly, you need to play technically good and keep concentrated. Emotions are probably more of a hindrance than a help.

Maybe emotions play a role when it comes to making the interpretation.

And maybe some players are good enough to change the interpretation on the fly during a concert, and that way add some emotions of the moment into the playing. It seems all rather tricky to me, I would think it's better to stick with a well-prepared interpretation and leave the experiments to the homework instead of the concert hall.

#2203697 - 12/27/13 06:16 PM Re: What does it mean to play a piece with feelings? [Re: Argerich5405]
Brian Lucas Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/04/11
Posts: 951
Don't think I could say it any better than this guy. Demonstration starts a little after the minute mark.

BM in Performance, Berklee College of Music, 21+ year teacher and touring musician
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#2203699 - 12/27/13 06:30 PM Re: What does it mean to play a piece with feelings? [Re: Argerich5405]
Saranoya Online   content
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/27/13
Posts: 579
Loc: Brussels, Belgium
Heya Argerich,

To my mind, arnpiano explained it *extremely* well. Just one thought I want to add: it is perfectly possible to make the same piece of music project sadness at one time, anger at another, etcetera, the same way a single sentence can have many different meanings depending on the way you choose to pronounce it.

You just have to decide on the "story" you want the music to tell (or try to gauge what kind of story the *composer* was trying to tell when he wrote the piece, though that might be more difficult to determine than you'd think at first blush), and then use the tools of the trade (dynamics, rubato, accentuation, well-timed silence, etc.) to tell that particular story.

If this does not come naturally to you, then just stick with what's written at first. In classical music, there are usually tons and tons of indications with regards to things like tempo and dynamics (and even where to linger on a fermate sign) that will get you pretty close to the composer's original intention (assuming you have decently edited version of the score). I think the ability to "hear" the story the music is trying to tell, even without looking at the score, will come over time and with practice (like every other pianistic skill).
Beginner with some priors since 9/2012

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#2203760 - 12/27/13 09:57 PM Re: What does it mean to play a piece with feelings? [Re: Argerich5405]
anrpiano Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/05/04
Posts: 174
Loc: Chicago
Benjamin Zander is quite a guy. He has rented pianos from us on a number of occasions when he was in town. He also wrote a very good book which this video clip reminded me about... now if I can just find it... in know is somewhere here...ah, the aging brain. If I find it by tomorrow I will post on this thread, otherwise, look for a new thread.
Andrew Remillard
Downers Grove, IL 60515

#2203762 - 12/27/13 10:09 PM Re: What does it mean to play a piece with feelings? [Re: Argerich5405]
piano_primo_1 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/25/09
Posts: 284
Loc: Pittsburgh,PA
If someone told you they don’t ‘feel’ your music, it could be that they don’t like the song tempo etc.
Originally Posted By: #2203543 Argerich5405
For example, when someone plays a sad piece well, is it because they really felt sad while playing and it translated into the music

No I don’t think so, the proficiency and accuracy mean a lot.
But feeling the song could help if it helps you add your own dynamics.
Songs are composed in keys and have a melody that evoke a certain mood or feeling; like “Moon River” for example.
Even though it is C maj the melody still evokes a bitterseet mental contemplation .
Minor keys usually evoke that feeling.
Another would be if you played say, “Taps” on piano.
It would sound quite vigorous and militant.

Feeling while playing the song May add more “panache”.
Also, being relaxed and feeling like you really “know” the song comes through when you play.
Originally Posted By: #2203543 Argerich5405
can you fake it?

Yes if that's what you call it.
Playing it correctly for one.
It’s hard to “feel” a piece while you learning it; but if the song has words, try singing them while you play. If it doesn’t, hum it the way you think it sounds best.
It’ll sort of let you know when you should play harder or to use staccato, or play softly to crescendo or not etc,
Those things are noticeable when someone listens.

#2203927 - 12/28/13 09:07 AM Re: What does it mean to play a piece with feelings? [Re: anrpiano]
JimF Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/08/09
Posts: 1674
Loc: south florida

That was a great way of explaining it. Good post!


Did you notice in Isolde's Liebestod how it kept approaching the tonic chord but never getting there until the very, very end? So the groundwork for extreme tension and final release was put in place by Wagner, but it was up to Furtwangler and his orchestra to bring this out.
La Fille aux cheveux de lin - Debussy
Ma Mere L'Oye - Ravel
Mozart Sonata K545

Estonia L190 #7284

#2204108 - 12/28/13 04:35 PM Re: What does it mean to play a piece with feelings? [Re: Argerich5405]
Jaak Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/30/11
Posts: 224
Loc: Tallinn, Estonia
Dear Argerich5405,

Thank you for raising this interesting theme.
I think every person who playes an instrument has thought about that subject.

Probably everybody has seen people playing with huge emotion and musicality who just sound awful.

And often great musical passion without school is just very painful to watch as well. Tons of physical tensions and contradictions.

Some great masters have said: "The most vulnerable is a very musical person who has obtained bad (destructive) playing habits."

Did such people play with feeling? Yes they probably felt a great passion for music in general and while playing. But still something is very wrong here.

So lets take a closer look what is happening during the playing process, if you do not mind.

I would bring out some points that can be considered important.

1) What you feel about a particular piece.

2) How can you play the way that the piece really expresses what you feel.

3) How does it really sound what you play. (When you listen to your recording or other listen to your playing).

Usually the playing of a musical person without school and learning is not the nicest thing to listen to. Everybody can feel great ecstasy and bash notes like crazy, but it does not make the piece sound nice.

If the goal of the person is just to enjoy that selfish feeling inside while playing - why not, it is totally fine. But it is not the way that develops your skills and gives a long-term satisfaction, I think.

A long-term satisfaction needs intelligent approach, because pieces that used to create rapture once might not create it after being repeated over and over without development. And then often a new piece is grabbed into the repertoire to get a new "great feeling".

Ok, if the goal is really to play the piece musically and with feeling. What do you need then?

You need something more exact and clear than the "general feeling and passion".

I would name it "the musical imagination" of the piece. It is a mental sphere where the so called "feeling" is transformed into real musical picture in your head.

For example if I would ask you:" Could you imagine the piece that you play in your head?" and "How clear is your vision?"."Can you imagine the phrases and voicing and melody etc.?"

If your vision is blurry, how do you know what to practice if you practice the piece? (The question about difference of just playing or really practicing)

Doing something without knowing what you do can be defined as stupidity as well.

Now the next thing is the skill of piano playing. How to play so that you really express what you imagine in your head. (The imagination of the piece with all emotions and clarity)

The key to that is the level the quality of listeing. Comparing all the time as adequately as possible the real playing with your imagination. You can call it "contact with yourself" or just however you wish.

And of course the knowledge about piano technique. There are some things that work and some that don't. If you do one thing, you get the result that is exactly according to your motion on the piano. Piano never lies, it just faces you back how you move on the instrument.

It is not that "one person is dumb and stupid" and the other person is a "genius". It is more about "what one person does" and "what the other does".

Playing with a huge emotion, that is not expressed properly on the piano, just stays inside of the player. And it has nothing to do with playing a piece really nicely with emotion. (The emotion is the basis for a great musical vision of course)

And the craft is getting clear about the piece in your mind firstly. Then knowing how to transform your vision and imagination into music. And then mastering the piece that way.

It is like communication. Before saying something, you have to have something to say. Only then can you say it.

And after the clear idea what to say, there is the quality, your skill of retorics, how you express it to make others understand you and influence the surroundings.

If you would just make some noise on the basis of emotion, it would sound like some mumbling or screaming. (and that is what often happens when real beginners play with "huge feeling". That is not bad, because you have to start from somewhere. And every journey starts with the first step.)

This is an interesting subject.

Development is what keeps passion fresh, at least mine.

Thank you for reading smile

Best wishes,

Edited by Jaak (12/28/13 04:40 PM)

#2204217 - 12/28/13 08:33 PM Re: What does it mean to play a piece with feelings? [Re: Argerich5405]
RonDrotos Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/31/13
Posts: 58
Loc: New York City
Hi Argerich,

This is a GREAT question, and I think most musicians have felt as you do at some point in their lives. Reading through all the responses, I think that they all some good points, but for me, the real value of your question is that it's a lifelong study.
Some musicians get feeling from the piece, while others bring their own feelings to the music. Still others focus more on musical dynamics, etc., and let the piece speak for itself.
If you absorb everything that everyone's said, and then continually investigate the subject of musical feeling while you're practicing and playing, you're sure to have a long, richly rewarding involvement with music. (And yes, there will be moments of deep and profound feeling!)
Ron Drotos

#2204386 - 12/29/13 08:42 AM Re: What does it mean to play a piece with feelings? [Re: Argerich5405]
keystring Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11572
Loc: Canada
There are a number of things you can look at.

In everyday life, if you are sad while you talk, people will know it. Your voice will be a lower pitch, more quiet, with less volume, and less variety in everything. You may trail off in sound, and speak more slowly. This is instinctive. You don't think "I shall now expel a small quantity of air, and limit the range of pitch at a low pitch, in order to convey sadness." that instinct is part of the arsenal that you already have.

You also have the instinct of phrasing, unless you talk in a monotone, non-stop staccato. You may say "GUESS what I saw! (dramatic pause) The most aMAZing hat!" That's another part of your pre-existing expression which you also use in music.

This does not mean that you "should" be able to feel things in music, or that you will be able to express "feeling". It just means that you happen to have those things, in case you can use them.

What goes into playing expressively so that the listener feels things is something that is learned. You study and analyze the music, as you advance, and find which notes to play louder, what note you might slow down a titch in rubato, and other things. The expressive musician who sweeps away the audience may be doing deliberate things as cold as a cucumber. Some of the devices have already been listed: volume, emphasizing certain notes, crescendo, rubato and more. You work with volume, time, and articulation (legato vs. staccato for example). A teacher should offer guidance. Unfortunately some of them just say "Play expressively." without saying how. frown Or they demonstrate how expressive it can sound, but you won't know what they did specifically. You just catch the feeling. frown

If you are going to play expressively, you also need physical control. If you are going to "bring out a voice" by playing it louder, you have to be able to physically make that voice louder. That means we need to learn technique, and that does not happen overnight. It is perfectly ok to not be expressive in the beginning while you are laying down the basic layers. In fact, many well-formed musicians will begin new pieces unmusically, in order to get the structure solid, though opinion is divided. Do what works for you, and depending on where you are at.

You can start listening to playing that grabs you with an emotion, and try to pick out what that player is doing specifically to create that emotion. What is he doing with time, volume etc. Compare it with someone else who lacks emotion to see what is missing.

#2204393 - 12/29/13 09:11 AM Re: What does it mean to play a piece with feelings? [Re: Argerich5405]
keystring Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11572
Loc: Canada
I ran into a bunch of masterclasses where composer Sondheim guides singers in expressing the emotion in his music. It's not piano, but it may still be useful because he suggests specific things like pauses, slowing down, speeding up, choice of volume.
(There are more)

#2204505 - 12/29/13 01:07 PM Re: What does it mean to play a piece with feelings? [Re: keystring]
lautreamont Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 12/07/13
Posts: 16
Think of it as speaking or reading. You can read something all in one voice, to just get through it, and a lot of information will come across, but, to speak well, you have to both understand what's being said and that you're communicating that to someone else. You don't want to just hit the right notes, because that, while an accomplishment, can be monotonous. Try to understand the text (score) and focus on the musical phrases. They are the sentences, and it's your job, as a pianist, to pronounce them.

Try playing just the melody of a given piece. Play it at one dynamic level, and you'll see, that, although you get the notes across, and that it's understandable, it's kind of like being a boring speaker. Play a phrase of it again, and toy around with it--what if I emphasize the high b here, so when I get to the c a couple quavers later, I don't just reach an end of the phrase, it feels like release? If say a melody seems to hover around c major one moment, then d minor the next, maybe you'll want to lower the dynamics slightly, like a veil has been thrown over the warm c major mood, and doing this will make the next major chord feel almost relieving.

The important thing is to A) understand the music, why these notes are arranged in this order and B) sympathize or empathize with the emotions involved in it. So figure out, harmonically, what a melody is doing--ask yourself where it is and where it is going harmonically. Then ask yourself, on a human level, why is it going from here to there, and what you can do to get that reason across.

Take something as simple as Bach's 1st Cmajor prelude from WTC1. Is there a measure where a diminished chord is sounded? What was the measure before the chord? What was the measure after the chord. If the tension of the chord is quickly turned into an inverted major chord, the effect you might want is perhaps to play it more softly or on the same level as the measure before--as if a shadow fell on water (it's not going to cause waves, just momentarily darken the surface). But if the next measures are minor chords, you can tell that these "waters" aren't just shadowy, but they might be troubled, and it might make sense to emphasize the notes more to get across this newfound tension, which, later on, will make the return to a major chord that much more enriching.

A good melody holds us in suspense and has us wondering what's coming next. It's hard to do that with monotonous touch.


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