If you have been playing music for a while and you feel that your music lacks character, well, you’re probably right. Many amateur musicians find their music to be very square and lackluster, almost like they are just belting out notes with no reason, which certainly makes for boring practicing and annoyed parents or neighbors. However, there is a very simple way for people to be able to change their view on a piece of music. I’ve seen too many people try so very hard to concentrate on the instructions that they have been given by a composer, like dynamic markings and tempo markings. However, their music still seems, well, too textbook, if you know what I’m saying. The funny thing is, music shouldn’t be textbook, and no two people should play a piece the same way. Anyways, onto the tip. I once had trouble with expressing myself in music, but my teacher gave me this fabulous idea. Give the music you are playing a little story. Maybe even pretend like that music is the soundtrack for a movie, and imagine what the music would sound like if it was to go along with our imaginary movie. If this is confusing, I don’t blame you, but let me explain further.
Some music, believe it or not, already comes with a little story that you could expand on. Take the Maid With The Flaxen Hair by Debussy, for example. From the title, we could assume many things, but the first thing that comes to my mind is Debussy playing the piano for a beautiful girl who he is in love with who has, of course, blonde hair. You may think differently, and that is a sign that you are a musician and also nuts because only I’m right. Just kidding. Anyways, when I play this piece, I imagine this girl in a meadow, and I have my piano in front of me. Now we are not going to start banging on keys in front of a girl in the middle of a meadow. When I play, I want to play as softly and tenderly as possible, so that this girl could be, with the lack of a better word, lured over to me. Towards the end when the music tapers off, I imagine her finally coming over to me, and then you could only imagine what happens next. However, if you tried this technique and set a story, any story that you feel is right, to Maid With The Flaxen Hair and played it thinking through your little story, you’d immediately find that your music now has meaning and life to it, because now your music tells a story. After all, your goal in music is to put yourselves and others in a situation that they might not currently be in, or telling a story without using words.
Some music may not be so easy. Beethoven’s opus 13 sonata “pathetique” doesn’t seem to have any clear instructions on what kind of story to put to it. However, there is actually a way to help yourself conjure up your own little tale. First, do a little research on the piece. The most obvious question is: “What does pathetique mean?” If you were to look on the internet, you would find out that this means “pathetic”. Then, research the time period that Beethoven was in when he wrote this piece. You would find out that he was starting to lose his hearing, and he felt that he was a very inferior person. Then you could listen to the piece to get an idea of what you’re dealing with. From this, we can all make up a little story to go along with this piece. The story does not have to have a plot, it could just be some sort of imagery. For this piece, I imagine that I am Beethoven at the piano. My hair is very messy and my clothes are torn, because I just threw a fit with my publisher (yes, our friends at Breitkopf and Hartel did not get along very well with Beethoven until later years). However, suddenly I hold back and think happy thoughts, but then get angry again and bang on keys. With a little research on a composer, the time period he wrote your piece in, and the style he played in, you will be able to make your playing as stylistically accurate as the composer intended, and you will also add your own personal flair. Another example for the movie thing I mentioned earlier. Take, for example, Mendelssohn’s Venetian Boat Song. Every time I hear this, I imagine a movie with a man rowing one of those venetian boats down the river by himself, and he is singing about something very sad, which we do not know. With this in my head, I try to play the Boat Song as if it could be used for this imaginary movie scene. I would try to sing my notes like how the man is singing on the boat, and I would try to make my left hand wavy like the waves on the river. If you learned the song, you would know what I mean.
This trick works for all types of instruments, not just piano. I just mention piano because it’s the only instrument where I know what I’m talking about. However, you can apply this to any instrument in which you want to express yourself on. Instruments like saxophone, guitar, mandolin, didjeridoo, you name it, this trick will do wonders for the way to play music on any instrument. And of course, nobody wants to bore themselves out of their minds while practicing, and this is probably a pretty good remedy for that.