Playing with Emotion(s)


Various things in life cause us to act in particular ways; from one situation, we are led to another of greater or lesser significance.  The stronger of us are able to take control of these events and handle them into our favour... the others flow where the river of life takes them with no ability or even intention of grabbing onto a firmly-grounded metaphorical tree of assistance planted just within arm's reach on life's river bank.


When indeed we decide or are forced to stop and look back upstream at the route travelled, we feel a mixture of emotions: a combination of regret for missing those branched lifelines, and contentment that we chose to let the water's current guide us on a floating airbag of confidence and positivity, in the hopeful knowledge that we shall never sink below the surface.

Such thoughts physically affect the body.  We may find ourselves unable to eat, or we may choose to take up an activity that we had not before considered; both positive and negative things result from the act of 'looking back upstream'.  For me, I always turn to my piano and attempt to decipher my thoughts and feelings upon the ivories.  The purpose of this posting is to share my thought processes and encourage the reader to approach their piano in a similar vein.

I begin with the promotion of a great, regrettably largely unknown French virtuoso by the name of Samson Fran├žois, who coincidentally died on Liszt's birthday, 22 October.  I encourage you to listen to his playing, but the purpose of my mentioning him is that he provided the greatest advice I think anybody could give a musician, pianist or other:  "It must be that there is never the impression of being obliged to play the next note".

You can hear that here.


In combining this excellent advice with your own reasons of playing a piece of music, or even in improvisation, you will start to sound like a true Purposeful Pianist.

When one wishes to apply feeling and emotion to their playing, the first question asked may be how to actually play 'differently' than usual.  It doesn't mean to play slower, it doesn't mean to play nicer chords... it doesn't even mean that you play with more exaggerated body motions and facial expressions (like some pianists I can think of.... no names).

First of all, embrace your feeling in complete silence, then sit at your piano and transfer the feelings from your embrace to the piano as if the piano is a living, breathing object.  Henceforth, treat this object as the subject of your emotions.  If you felt regret, show anger by using double or single octaves (both hands, or one hand)...followed by a little more silence.  If you feel sadness and regret, touch your piano keys as if you touch your lover for the last time; would you be violent, or would you touch as if you were sorry for what you did to them?  Would you feel happiness that stops you in your tracks and makes you want to wonder what you did in the world to feel this way?  So, perhaps treat your living piano in the same way you would embrace your new child, or a new discovery in your life.  Perhaps you have recently overcome a tragic past, through illness or loss... your piano is that loss wrapped in an acceptance and ability to move on... touch it with thanks.

Sometimes, you will want to play some fast notes, sometimes you will want to play broken arpeggios...other times, you may wish to remain in the lower register to reflect guilt.  Confusion can be represented by a need for space, so do not overplay; introduce a chord or melody, and then hold off for longer than you usually would.  The piano wants to help you.  Allow her.

A favourite song of mine has always been "I Wish You Love".  Here is the song by Nat King Cole - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zbU2ReM8rQ8

The main melody begins at .40 seconds.  The words represent in a little way my life at the time of writing, so when I played this in my local restaurant where I perform, I don't think I have ever played it as well as I did.  I noticed the guests had gone quite significantly quiet towards the end so obviously something was transmitted correctly.  That piano could have sung the lyrics of this song given half a chance.

In conclusion, if you wish to discover a deeper style of playing, consider your emotions and follow the little steps provided in this posting.  I would be intrigued to learn of your experiences.

If I may end with a little push to guide you to the Compositions page of my blog to discover my YouTube page.  Also, my Jazz Piano eBook is always available and can be discovered also at the top of my blog.  Any sharing and commenting is always appreciated !

Best to all,

Dan