A little while ago I was fortunate enough to attend a concert of a brass group that promised to be absolutely outstanding. What I heard was technically brilliant, no really noticeable mistakes and there was certainly some complicated music being played.
But to me, the performance seemed to lack something. That something special that made it really sparkle.
It felt as though the performance wasn’t really very musical. You will probably understand what I mean by this feeling of a performance having that something extra. A musical performance has that special and magical feeling that can reach people and grab the emotions of other performances and listeners.
To get the most musical performances, following a few ideas will really help.
Listen, listen and listen. To everything.
Listening to a wide range of music is the best way to develop your understanding of the music you play. As well as listening to performers that play the same instrument as you, aim to listen to as many other instrumentalists as possible. So if you play the trumpet, listen to performances from great singers, oboists, cellists and so on.
Try to make sure that you don’t always stick with your favourite performer or instrumentalist. I have always enjoyed the performances from the tuba player, John Fletcher. To discount the amazing performances and teaching advice of Arnold Jacobs, or the work of Oystein Baadsvic and Sam Pilafian would be absolutely crazy.
Play music within your technical level
This is so important. If you are constantly worrying about that tricky bit, or a phrase that doesn’t always happen as you would like this will prove to be a serious distraction to developing a musical performance. It is far better to play music that is a little more technically simple than to attempt to perform a piece that is beyond your technical capability.
To get the most musical performance make sure that your focus is on communicating the music, and that you really know the music you are playing.
This is not always the easiest thing to do, but this can be such a worthwhile exercise. Recording yourself can provide a really useful way of assessing what you actually sound like as well as giving the chance to objectively listen to what you have played.
However, it is a good idea to make sure that you aim for the best recording that you possibly can. It can be a little disappointing to hear yourself back through small tiny speakers after having made the recording on poor equipment. Although it is not necessary to go and buy expensive recording equipment, you may wish to use something a little better than your mobile phone.
It is very important to listen to yourself critically and assess the things that are going well, and the things that are not going so well. Compare your playing and the sound you make to others and think about how you wish to adjust what you do in the future.
Ask for feedback
Again, this may not be the easiest thing to do and it may be important to choose someone that you feel comfortable with! However, it is important that they are able to offer critical, but constructive feedback. Sometimes this may not be very easy to hear, but it can prove to be extremely enlightening.
Different people will invariably hear very different things in your playing and will be able to pick out different features. They will be able to offer different insights into how to approach something musically. With the different pieces of advice you receive it will be possible to put together your own ideas and thoughts giving you a real sense of ownership of what you are playing.
Very often people will focus on the technical aspects of your playing, and although this can be very useful it will not help to develop your musicality. If you find that this is happening it may be necessary to ask fairly direct, but open, questions regarding the musicality of your playing.
When setting up your practice routine, always approach the music you play from a musical standpoint. This is important for scales, exercises and any other thing that you play.
Practising technical exercises with no consideration of the musicality of line, tonality phrasing and breathing may help to develop greater stamina but will achieve very little else.
Musical practice will always lead to more musical performances.
This article focuses on developing the way in which musicality can be improved but doesn’t necessarily provide any real answers as to what musicality actually looks like and sounds like. This would obviously need to be approached on a piece by piece basis as it would be important to discuss particular conventions and approaches depending on the music being played.