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Originally Posted by JB_PW
Lots of interesting comments, thank you all!

My previous teacher pushed the story thing pretty hard. It was basically an expectation for anything I played that was romantic or later. It never got any easier, and I came to dread that inevitable question: "Do you have a story for this one yet?"

I do agree that I need to start putting more thought into the music, and I should probably get in the habit of doing that right from the start. But I think the bottom line is that I need to figure out what works for me. It seems like the best plan right now is to think about the emotion and/or mood of the different sections, and if some images or scenes pop into my head naturally...great, but I'm not going to force it.
Of course! Insisting on creating a story seems quite silly or just plain bad considering a lot of pianists, amateur and professional, don't play that way. For some thinking about a story or pictures is automatic but for others it's just the opposite. And some are in between those extremes.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rNUNNNNj_Qw

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Does music hold and transmit intrinsic meaning aside from that imposed by the listening brain anyway ? For me it does not, the few counter examples occurring through social convention or habit. Nonetheless, whether listening, playing or improvising I always let my mind run freely and allow such images and associations as occur to run their course. Some may endure many years, some last a short time and some are completely transient, even from day to day with the same music. A large part of my playing, especially improvisation, involves what might be termed taking joy in abstract beauty and has no concomitant imagery. So I am forced to respond with the rather unsatisfactory answer of “sometimes”.


"We shall always love the music of the masters, but they are all dead and now it's our turn." - Llewelyn Jones, my piano teacher
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I love to research the backstory of a piece (if known), or genre of music. At least, I like to know as much as I can about the composer. I feel music very deeply, and often have to work to get beyond the emotional aspect to fully understand the piece.


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On this one:
Originally Posted by JB_PW
I do have trouble with abrupt changes in dynamics...that was the focus of the last bit of advice from my teacher.
Do you know how to do this physically. Like, do you know how to actually physically abruptly change dynamics - or consciously, how you are producing dynamics?

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Originally Posted by Nahum
2 examples with an interval of 5 minutes of a completely spontaneous free improvisation of a student, in his words "not able to improvise":
1) mechanically,
2) after an emotional scenario.


https://yadi.sk/d/S-qrTNpy3Wo3pz

https://yadi.sk/d/lbbKWx2y3Wo4Ak

https://www.nature.com/articles/srep18460

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Nahum - it's a very interesting topic. I did listen to the links you provided yesterday; quite a big difference between the two. Once, my teacher wanted me to play something with more warmth. She asked me to sit for a minute and vividly revisit a particular type of memory and then play the piece again. She claimed it really helped, although I have to admit I didn't notice much of a difference myself. Perhaps it would be an interesting experiment to record myself under different 'thought conditions.'

Originally Posted by keystring
Do you know how to do this physically. Like, do you know how to actually physically abruptly change dynamics - or consciously, how you are producing dynamics?

That's a solid....maybe. smile I understand it logically, but in practice...it's still not happening much. I have no problem playing a single chord at forte and above, but I can't seem to sustain that for a string of notes. There's still a bit of a mental block there I think, being uncomfortable making a lot of "noise," even when I'm home alone. I posted questions about this a few months ago. Unfortunately I have not improved much as of yet. I have a new teacher so I will definitely be exploring this more with her soon.

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The cognitive neuroscience of creativity


https://link.springer.com/article/10.3758/BF03196731

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Originally Posted by JB_PW
Once, my teacher wanted me to play something with more warmth. She asked me to sit for a minute and vividly revisit a particular type of memory and then play the piece again. She claimed it really helped, although I have to admit I didn't notice much of a difference myself. Perhaps it would be an interesting experiment to record myself under different 'thought conditions.'
My view is that just thinking about some emotion or memory or story has little to do with actually creating that in the music. To create a certain feeling takes skill, a lot of thought, technique, etc. The person playing the music might think their thoughts affected their playing but I think that's mostly just their imagination or, in the case of the part I quoted, the teacher's imagination. I am not surprised that JB didn't notice much difference.

I recall an example from a master class where the teacher described the opening of Beethoven's Sonata Op.31 #3 as a questioning motive. While this makes sense and seems important to understand, how does knowing that affect one's playing? Isn't the questioning motive built into the music?

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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Originally Posted by JB_PW
Once, my teacher wanted me to play something with more warmth. She asked me to sit for a minute and vividly revisit a particular type of memory and then play the piece again. She claimed it really helped, although I have to admit I didn't notice much of a difference myself. Perhaps it would be an interesting experiment to record myself under different 'thought conditions.'
My view is that just thinking about some emotion or memory or story has little to do with actually creating that in the music. To create a certain feeling takes skill, a lot of thought, technique, etc. The person playing the music might think their thoughts affected their playing but I think that's mostly just their imagination or, in the case of the part I quoted, the teacher's imagination. I am not surprised that JB didn't notice much difference.

I recall an example from a master class where the teacher described the opening of Beethoven's Sonata Op.31 #3 as a questioning motive. While this makes sense and seems important to understand, how does knowing that affect one's playing? Isn't the questioning motive built into the music?


Barenboim mentioned in an online masterclass that he uses images when he plays. Just FYI


"Music, rich, full of feeling, not soulless, is like a crystal on which the sun falls and brings forth from it a whole rainbow" - F. Chopin
"I never dreamt with my own two hands I could touch the sky" - Sappho

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Originally Posted by dogperson
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Originally Posted by JB_PW
Once, my teacher wanted me to play something with more warmth. She asked me to sit for a minute and vividly revisit a particular type of memory and then play the piece again. She claimed it really helped, although I have to admit I didn't notice much of a difference myself. Perhaps it would be an interesting experiment to record myself under different 'thought conditions.'
My view is that just thinking about some emotion or memory or story has little to do with actually creating that in the music. To create a certain feeling takes skill, a lot of thought, technique, etc. The person playing the music might think their thoughts affected their playing but I think that's mostly just their imagination or, in the case of the part I quoted, the teacher's imagination. I am not surprised that JB didn't notice much difference.

I recall an example from a master class where the teacher described the opening of Beethoven's Sonata Op.31 #3 as a questioning motive. While this makes sense and seems important to understand, how does knowing that affect one's playing? Isn't the questioning motive built into the music?


Barenboim mentioned in an online masterclass that he uses images when he plays. Just FYI
I'm quite sure a lot of top professionals use images/stories when they play. I certainly don't think there's anything wrong with that. My question/comment is more about whether that is something that is actually helpful or whether it's just something that's natural for many people.

There was an interesting video with, I think, Trifonov playing parts of and discussing Ravel's A Boat on the Ocean. At one point he described a section as representing some big waves which sounded perfectly reasonable. But does that help him play the piece or would the piece sound the same if one just follows Ravel's score and indications in the music?

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The idea is somewhat alien to me. I try to take all of my cues from the music, its tensions and trajectories. But this needn't be the case. I recall reading Bowers' biography of Scriabin, and as a professor Scriabin would try to get his students to envision images as they played, to get into the emotions of the music. An interesting case for me would be for when the title of a piece contradicts the music, the sort of irony a composer like Alkan or Sorabji might use. In this case the extra-musical might inform the musical and influence the way I play it, coloring and contouring the piece differently than I would if the piece was untitled or simply given a generic title.

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Originally Posted by lautreamont
An interesting case for me would be for when the title of a piece contradicts the music, the sort of irony a composer like Alkan or Sorabji might use. In this case the extra-musical might inform the musical and influence the way I play it, coloring and contouring the piece differently than I would if the piece was untitled or simply given a generic title.
I once played Trois morceaux en forme de poire with a friend (OK, we just sight-read them).

But try as I might, I couldn't imagine any pears toddling along when I played them. My friend, on the other hand, claimed she saw nothing but pears and pear-shaped forms (including, apparently, the torso of a statue by Michelangelo) in her mind when playing them.

On the other hand, last time I played Vexations, I was so vexed that after three repetitions, I finished with a ffff LH tone cluster col pugno.......


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
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Originally Posted by bennevis
pear-shaped forms .......

It resembles something, and not Michelangelo ...

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Originally Posted by JB_PW
Originally Posted by keystring
Do you know how to do this physically. Like, do you know how to actually physically abruptly change dynamics - or consciously, how you are producing dynamics?

That's a solid....maybe. smile I understand it logically, but in practice...it's still not happening much. I have no problem playing a single chord at forte and above, but I can't seem to sustain that for a string of notes. There's still a bit of a mental block there I think, being uncomfortable making a lot of "noise," even when I'm home alone. I posted questions about this a few months ago. Unfortunately I have not improved much as of yet. I have a new teacher so I will definitely be exploring this more with her soon.

I'm inclined to think along those lines rather than a "story" and would like to explore it.

One example you gave was "abrupt change of dynamics". So I've got a section with given dynamics, followed by a section with suddenly different dynamics. Dynamics are degrees of loudness. So I'll want to know, how loud do I want this section to be? How much quieter or louder do I want the other section to be? I also want to be able to physically produce the degrees of loudness that I have in mind. Those are my first tasks.

If you are not able to produce a string of notes at a desired loudness, then you probably need to sole that first. Do you mean a string of chords? Or individual notes? If you can do one chord forte, then can you do just two? What happens between chord one and chord two? If it's a series of notes, say C, D, E, F, G where you'll probably use fingers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 - then how do you do that? Like - say your first passage is forte, and next passage is abruptly piano - how can you even begin to do this unless you can play forte, or play piano - for more than one note or chord?

Another question may involve method of practising. If you are trying to play a whole piece; or a larger section, musically - that may be too much. Hence my example of "just two notes" to start.

I'm familiar with "picturing a story" and have even done that at times in my early days from time to time, but personally I prefer the nitty gritties which then give the impression of the story.

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@Keystring
My experience is ‘imagery/story’ vs ‘working on the nitty gritty’ is not an either one or the other. I initially work on the fine details of the music and then the imagery evolves the more in depth I have studied it. That’s just me.


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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
My view is that just thinking about some emotion or memory or story has little to do with actually creating that in the music. To create a certain feeling takes skill, a lot of thought, technique, etc. The person playing the music might think their thoughts affected their playing but I think that's mostly just their imagination or, in the case of the part I quoted, the teacher's imagination.

So you are saying it takes a lot of thought...but not thinking about a specific image/emotion while playing? Maybe you mean thinking about how to phrase, how to shape the dynamics, etc? As an intermediate player who does not yet possess great skill/technique, I am trying to understand how I can go about putting more emotion/character into my performance. Based on feedback I have gotten from teachers, I don't believe I play mechanically...but there's obviously still something missing, and their suggestions so far haven't clicked. Or maybe I'm just not at a level where I can do it well yet.

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Originally Posted by keystring
If you are not able to produce a string of notes at a desired loudness, then you probably need to sole that first. Do you mean a string of chords? Or individual notes? If you can do one chord forte, then can you do just two? What happens between chord one and chord two? If it's a series of notes, say C, D, E, F, G where you'll probably use fingers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 - then how do you do that? Like - say your first passage is forte, and next passage is abruptly piano - how can you even begin to do this unless you can play forte, or play piano - for more than one note or chord?

I can play a passage of chords at forte. If I try to play a run of triplets or sixteenth notes, I seem to run out of steam. I'm more likely to get the louder dynamics I want if I'm lifting my hand between each note/chord. Maybe when I play runs I'm using just my fingers. I've been reading the other thread on arm weight with interest...I also don't fully understand that concept. I get how to use it if I'm lifting my hand between notes. I think Bennevis' suggestion about testing this out with a scale might be helpful for me, so I'll play with that later.

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Originally Posted by JB_PW
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
My view is that just thinking about some emotion or memory or story has little to do with actually creating that in the music. To create a certain feeling takes skill, a lot of thought, technique, etc. The person playing the music might think their thoughts affected their playing but I think that's mostly just their imagination or, in the case of the part I quoted, the teacher's imagination.

So you are saying it takes a lot of thought...but not thinking about a specific image/emotion while playing? Maybe you mean thinking about how to phrase, how to shape the dynamics, etc? As an intermediate player who does not yet possess great skill/technique, I am trying to understand how I can go about putting more emotion/character into my performance. Based on feedback I have gotten from teachers, I don't believe I play mechanically...but there's obviously still something missing, and their suggestions so far haven't clicked. Or maybe I'm just not at a level where I can do it well yet.
If you or your teacher feel there's some emotion missing, I think you should discuss that and they should give you some specifics ideas on what to do. I definitely don't think that it's wrong to think about some emotion or picture or story when playing but I'm not convinced that really helps. But I could be completely wrong. I've seen many master classes where the teacher tries to get an idea across by using images or verbal descriptions of the character of a passage.

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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
If you or your teacher feel there's some emotion missing, I think you should discuss that and they should give you some specifics ideas on what to do.

This is input from two teachers in a row...it's not something I'm able to detect on my own (at least not yet). That makes it really frustrating and difficult to work on, and it's discouraging to be getting the same type of feedback for 2 years now. There must be some fundamental thing I'm missing. Hopefully one day the light bulb will come on. Yes, I'm sure we'll keep at it in my lessons...with every new piece I play, since they all seem to lack character. crazy

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I haven't generally done so, however I've been working on a Chopin Nocturne, and found an essay that included a story to go with it (basically someone dying.) Now I can't get it out of my head when I play, and I don't think that's a good thing.

Something my teacher often has me do, which isn't really a story, is think about the different parts of the music as ascribed to another instrument. Like "imagine this is an oboe solo" or "this could be played by a string quartet." This helps get some of the dynamics and feel of the piece. I'm not especially good at coming up with these myself, mostly he suggests them and I try to act on it laugh


Now learning: Chopin C# minor Nocturne (posth), Mozart Sonata in C K. 545, R. Schumann Fantasy Dance, Joplin The Chrysanthemum
Instruments: Yamaha N1X, Kawai ES110, Roland GO:PIANO, Piano de Voyage
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