First off, my apologies to you all loyal readers for the 8-month heitus ― it’s been rather difficult to choose the right content for the right time through the Covid-19 pandemic, ― and second, I hope you’ve had a good time educating yourself and others to make real difference in our lives.
Beethoven once said,
“Persevere, do not only practice your art, but endeavor also to fathom its inner meaning; it deserves this effort. For only art and science can raise men to the level of gods.”
Probably the most symbolic quote of all that best describes Beethoven’s philosophy of life in 32 words.
As always, I cannot stress strongly enough the primary importance of trying to discover the meaning behind the music and its context, however, today in this post I’ll talk about the scientific part. (I’m not going to bore you with complex analytical datas here) Are you curious? Good. Here we go.
When you play a certain musical passage, have you ever had a hard time figuring out ways of conveying the feeling/emotion that it requires? Or have you ever struggled to actually feel the emotion of the music? If so, then this post is exactly what you’re looking for.
It is totally natural that sometimes you aren’t immediately able to put the given emotion down on sound. We lead a busy day-to-day lives where one emotion turns into another, and so emotions are indeed supposed to be transient.
As musicians, we have two dimensions: the rational (having the ability to critically think about the music and the ability to control the instrument and feeling/emotions); & the emotional (understanding and relating yourself to the thought of the music).
When you aren’t yet assimilated into the feeling/emotion of the music, it takes a conscious effort to change your state of mind. This is the rational side.
So the real question is: “How can you change your state of mind?” And this is where the secret which I’m about to reveal comes in, point-blank:
Emotion is created by “motion”
If I only had one minute to give someone a piece of advice on a certain musical passage, this one would definitely be one of them.
A lot of people understand that our brains send signals to the neurotic systems which affect our attitude and our body movements, but what they don’t understand is that the reverse also holds true.
For instance, I was working on a passage with multiple vocal lines the other day. The musical intention was to play it as melodious and as smooth as humanly possible, but for some reason I couldn’t do it well.
Now, it wasn’t that I didn’t know what it should sound like. My brain didn’t have the feeling to dictate my hands to play that passage even though I knew exactly what I wanted.
And I asked myself, “What can I change to make it sound more legato and more melodious?” Then I thought of playing tenuto on the high note of the phrase to see if that would generate that sense of legato and I tried it.
The result was instantaneous and it was marvellous. I noticed that my hand movement was already different way before I played that note. My hand was moving slowly instead of fast as it was previously, and it was moving with all the right musical gestures. It was bringing the whole phrase together without disturbing the flow of music.
You see, the process is very simple: By changing your physical movement, you can trick your mind to be in the state you want to be.
You don’t always have to feel in order to be able to play in a certain way ― sometimes the brain sets you in the state after you’ve changed your body, because the brain cannot recognize the difference after all.
This secret is almost too powerful especially to people who never know this, and it may sound too good to be true. And overall it is shocking to see just how underrated the power of this knowledge currently is.
This secret is not really ‘a secret’ because there are people who know and undestand this. Tonny Robbins, an American author and motivational speaker, introduced this idea in the realm of business (although I’m unsure if he was the first to discover it). It seemed to me that it also played a pivotal role in our musical activities, so I took advantage of his idea and went one step further to explore ways of enhancing the level of musical expression. I’ve been personally experimenting a lot of things in this area for a few years and the research is still ongoing.
Why is the physical matter so important?
Most of us do not go through musical training in our childhood on this kind of concept or theory I mentioned earlier, presumably because teachers think that in general it is too difficult to explain it to children, and instead they choose to train them to simply model what teachers do.
This practical solution can be used any time you find yourself unable to get into the state of mind when executing. Sometimes it only does take as little as changing your posture. You could sound loud and clear just by standing boldly with your head up. All too often, we tend to think that in order to produce sound of large volume, we need a lot of force. The natural instinct of an average person is to immediately tense up the body, which is exactly the opposite of what one should do.
Out of hundreds of masterclasses, coaching sessions and workshops, millions of lessons and watching thousands of musicians perform worldwide, I’m confident to believe that almost 90% of problems that arise in musical performance have direct attributes to the functions of a human body. Does that mean we can stop thinking and ignore all mental aspects? Of course not. It is still the conscious brain telling you that you can’t feel something and rationalizing it later. But the subconscious part of the brain can be easily manipulated by little things. At the end of the day, everything starts with physiology, not ‘mindset’.
So there you have it. I hope this was a big realization for you because believe me, it was for me too when I first experienced it myself. Whenever you think you can’t work it out, remember to come back to this from time to time so you can ingrain in your subconcious again and internalize it for good.