Making Music When Performing

I have always thought that students can often be inspiring for teachers. After one of my clarinet lessons last week, I realised how relevant ‘making music’ is to me.

Performing music with expressiveness requires a lot of concentration, a state of mind that helps you transmit the most emotional feelings that lay in your soul. During this lesson – I should add that she was an adult student – I came up with a comparison that probably not every player would agree with. Anyway, here it is!

The state of mind needed for performing music is comparable with when somebody gives a speech.

– Firstly, there is a connection between the speaker (or speech giver) and the audience, and it is up to him/her to catch the attention of that audience by making an interesting speech. If we apply this to music, a performer also needs to create this relationship with his/her audience in order to communicate what that composer wanted to express with that piece.

– Secondly, in order to prepare a speech people tend to find useful following a list of ideas, a few points that mark your speech and help you memorise what you want to talk about. Musically speaking, a player needs lots of practise of the same piece, in order to be able to personalise the different parts and structure of it, as well as character and shape – phrasing – of that music.

Musicality is what makes players different from each other. When I was a child my clarinet teacher used to say to me: “Everyone can play the notes, rhythm, dynamics and articulation of a piece with a bit of practice. The key is what you can express with that music, what it means to you.”
These musical elements (notes, rhythm, dynamics, tempo and character indications, etc.) are obviously necessary to decode what music is meant to sound like, what a composer wanted to transmit with it.

‘How to make music’ is a very difficult concept to describe. It involves a direct relationship between composer and performer. It is essential to know about the different musical styles and periods, and being aware of the circumstances that the composer was surrounded with at the time.

In my opinion, this is one of the main reasons why technique should be mastered in advance, otherwise there will be too many things to concentrate on at once. Any audition, competition, etc. will clearly prioritise the way candidates make music, what they can achieve out of a score. I see this as the final state that complete the performance of a piece.

“Too much expressiveness can sacrifice the quality of the performance”. To this way of thinking I could say that every performance should have a balance between technique and musicality. I have suffered this experience in the past, but as Artie Shaw quoted once: ”If you don’t ever make a mistake you’re not trying: you’re not playing at the edge of your ability”.

With this post I invite you to try to find that perfection in your playing. Don’t be conformist with just playing ‘correctly’. If you don’t take risks you don’t win. 🙂


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