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What do musicians and music makers do?

This week I was explaining to my students the meaning of expression. Why do we have to feel the music? How do we show it and what is the purpose? This can be one of the trickiest things to teach students especially in junior and middle college school years, where they have a grasp of the idea but are still developing the emotional maturity to fully embrace it.

It led to the discussion of what do musicians and music creators do? A car mechanic fixes your car. And accountant counts your finances, a doctor helps heal your sickness. Most professions are straight forward.

But what do musicians do? Why do people pay money to attend concerts?

My student’s responses were:

“To listen to music; to watch and enjoy”.

But why?

Why do we keep going back for more, what does listening do?

Why is music such an important trigger in movies, television, stage and concert hall?

“It helps you imagine…”

Their answers were a step closer…

“It makes you feel things, memories and moments” – YES!

How many other job descriptions include ‘assisting complete strangers to trigger their inner emotions and feelings through the music you create and/or perform.’ This is one of the great things about Arts industries.

When I have a complete stranger who I never met, approach me, and tell me that a piece of music I wrote, made them feel something within, that comment is priceless to me. Someone could sit there and analyse every single note on the page, but it means nothing unless I have made something stir within.

When I am guiding students to express this in their music, I ask them to imagine a story, or find an emotion that relates. Close your eyes and imagine the story the music creates, and that is the story you need to portray to the audience, to make them feel. Of course, we do this with wide dynamic ranges, perfecting articulations, and most importantly breathe (even with piano). Deep breathing allows you to connect and helps the performer feel, even if it is an instrument which requires touch, not air. Movement of the arms, the hands, leaning in and out, shows the audience we are letting down our barriers, we are not afraid to show and share our movement, our feeling, and our interpretation of how the music makes us dance within.

My suggestion is to draw on what life experiences they have had so far, or movies that made them feel certain emotions. If they're too young, relate it their world, for example the feeling of loss may be of loosing a favourite toy, rather than that of a family member or pet. Or the feeling of excitement and anticipation could be memories of going to a theme park, or the beach. It may not have the same depth of emotion from an adults perspective, but for children the emotions are still deeply felt and allows them to connect.

Simple break downs such as major keys sound happy, minor keys sound mysterious or sad, and observing characteristics that create imagery such as tempo, legato or staccato, rhythmic motives etc. If they still struggle with the concept, create a story that you as the teacher can imagine and encourage them to use it. This helps students cross the bridge to eventually visualising independently.

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