Use your imagination... surprise yourself.

Saturday, June 12, 2021 by Becky Reesor | Musician's Artistry

It’s a pretty amazing feeling - expressing yourself at the piano. It feels horrible when your fingers, arms and head are all tied up in knots. We can get so caught up focussing on the technical side. Even with music flowing in the imagination, trying to keep track of it all while playing can just lead to brain overload. The piece might even be played well, but feel like it never quite flows or comes to life no matter how many times it's practiced. It’s strange: concentrating on the "how-to" can really get in the way. At times, technical difficulties can actually be solved by focussing on what the music should sound like.

There are always the fundamentals — both for the physical how-to and for musical interpretation — but they aren’t the goals. They are the foundation. 

At some point it’s time to recognize that you’ve established them, and get started on letting your own voice ring through.

Music expresses emotion, character, concept, personality, narrative, etc... and how? By the way in which notes relate to each other through rhythm, pitch and volume (bear with me here). We also experience the world through how things relate to each other. For example, the sound and feeling of ocean waves has a particular regularity in how they feel (rhythm) and sound (pitch and volume). Popping popcorn also a predictable feel and sound. If I ask you to find the sound of these images on the piano, you could likely find a way to represent those images. Without much effort, you’d process how fast/slow, long/short, high/low, loud/soft the notes should be compared to each other. 

Now think of the vast repertoire each of us hold in terms of emotions (happy/sad/angry/tired), atmospheres (misty, sunshiny, busy), sounds (speech, nature or urban sounds) and storytelling. We are experts in expression! We just need practice letting it out at the piano.

Practicing this is actually quite simple. Just finish the sentence:

"Play it as if….."

Whichever way you finish the sentence, it will activate your repertoire of knowledge of how things relate to each other, and your imagination will kick in to influence how you play notes to resemble this image. The only catch is you have to put in the effort to really believe you see or feel the image you are choosing. Otherwise it’s just another busy brain exercise.

Literally, this influences how your fingers interact with the keys, which is super cool. By applying what you already know about everything in life, you can discover new sound and technical possibilities in a way that is totally unique to you, and your experience of the world. The sounds that emerge are 100% your artistic expression!

I have some examples for you to try on your own -- remember that this is super open-ended. I encourage you to just throw random images at yourself to really see what sounds come out! In a lesson, your teacher might strategies the images, but there's a lot of value in just being outrageous.

3 Steps to implement this in your home practice:

  1. List a bunch of images (it’s ok if they seem ridiculous and un-related)
  2. Reflect on how they impacted your playing. 
  3. Keep what you liked and keep exploring.

3 Example idea lists for ADULTS

1. Play as if you are playing under water…

     .. in a still, murky pond.

     .. deep amidst strong currents.

     .. in an effervescent natural pool.

2. Play as if you are…

     .. telling the story to children.

     .. trying to recall each moment from the depths of you memory.

     .. a courageous warrior at battle; or a hummingbird flitting about; or alone & abandoned.

3. Play as if you can feel…

     .. thick lava flowing throughout the veins in your body.

     .. cold winds whipping all around you.

     .. down feathers beneath your fingers, hands & arms.

3 Examples idea lists for KIDS:

1. Play as if you are:

     .. happy, sad, angry, tired, mysterious or excited

2. Play like a…

     .. sloth, cheetah, elephant or butterfly

3. Play as if you are:

     .. running away

     .. relaxing on the trampoline

     .. flying through the sky!

Have fun... surprise yourself :)

Drawing & Music

Wednesday, July 3, 2019 by Becky Reesor | Musician's Artistry

Engaging with visual art alongside music is a great tool for deepening artistic vision.It can fuel the imagination to spark more vivid sounds and nuanced storytelling, refining musical ideas.

Below is a video of my recent drawing and performance of Cordes à vide (Open Strings) by György Ligeti. The direct reference is to the open strings of an instrument (violin, viola, guitar, etc), however, when the opening melody notes sound it really evokes someone playing crystal glasses  with their finger. Open-fifth intervals glide out of melody tones like light fractals reflecting in and through pieces of glass.

I hope you enjoy the drawing and the interpretation of Cordes à vide!

What are your ways of exploring music?