When we play music, we're telling a story. What many musicians often do is perfect the notes but not the story they're telling.
This is like reading a novel but not thinking about the meaning of the words. Sounding out the words is fine, but isn't there so much more to language than that?
When you read and speak, you do things like:
1) Emphasize certain words
2) Inflect your voice to mimic the emotion of the words
3) Pause between sentences
4) Accent syllables a certain way
5) Vary the speed, timing and pacing
6) Change the volume of your voice
7) Listen to the person/s you're talking to and respond to them
8) Use your body language to enhance what you're saying
All of these (and more) can be translated into playing music. But how much time to you devote to perfecting these types of things?
- Emphasis: When you want to emphasize a certain note, do you try it many different ways until you find the perfect amount of emphasis?
- Inflection: Are you vividly communicating the music's emotion through inflecting the tone color? Do you perfectly choreograph your right hand movements to reflect this?
- Pauses: When you pause between phrases and sections, do you try it many times and vary the amount of space to find the perfect amount? A fraction of a second longer or shorter can make a huge difference.
- Accentuation: Do you carefully consider the accentuation of the time signature and how that would affect the rhythm? Is that rhythm and accentuation being perfected at all times?
- Rubato: Is your rubato dictated by your technique, or do you try out different musically based options to find the perfect rubato for you?
- Dynamics: Are your dynamics really coming out? Have you played the same phrase multiple times to perfect your dynamics?
- Balance: Do you understand the counterpoint? Do you hear the conversation of the different parts and perfect how you bring those out?
- Body Language: Is your body language perfectly communicating your musical gestures, or are you just sitting there like a rock? Video yourself to find out!
Obviously, the notes need to be correct. You need to take time to work out the best fingerings and solve those tough spots. But what about all the rest?
You should devote at least the same amount of time to perfecting things like those above as you do to perfecting the notes.
Here's a bit of a catch 22. When you start aiming to perfect these other details, you risk sacrificing the perfection of the notes. That's because it takes more effort and energy to perfect many different aspects, often resulting in some sacrificed notes.
But what would you rather hear:
- A perfect sequence of notes with no story?
- An engaging, captivating and vivid story that sacrifices the perfection of some notes?
This process might seem overwhelming, so here are a couple things to help:
1) Work on your pieces in tiny bits and pieces (1 measure or 1 phrase at a time) and perfect at least two or three things before moving on.
2) Download and print the chart I made for you (click below). You can add some of your own points to each category.
What are some things you want to perfect that you've never tried perfecting before?
Dr. Daniel Nistico is a passionate performer, author and educator who specializes in the performance practice of 18th and 19th century guitar music. Daniel's teaching and research aims to revitalize the concept of being a well-rounded musician, with emphasis on topics like harmony that can lead to deeper musical understanding and provide tools for composing and improvising.