Lifeless. Flat. Dull. Feeble. Tiny.

Are there any more adjectives to describe non-musical playing? 

These were the words going through my head as the student robotically played through Handel’s Chorus

Luckily my filter was on, and I didn’t use any of those descriptors out loud.  Instead I asked, preening over my superior knowledge of musical terms, Do you know what maestoso means? It means majestic. Can you play it more majestically?

OK, the student said, sure! And proceeded to play it exactly the same way as before. More bow? I suggested. More weight? Closer to the bridge? And so on. No significant result. Still lifeless and flat.

Finally I hit on it.

What, I asked, is the most MAJESTIC thing you can think of?

A moment’s silence. Her eyes went up as she accessed her imagination and memory.

A unicorn, she said. 

A unicorn. I laughed delightedly. A unicorn is something I never would have thought to associate with the word maestoso. (Students can contribute so much when we allow them the opportunity!)

I helped her build upon that image, asking her to picture the most majestic unicorn she could, on top of a grand mountain, a colorful sunset in the background. Then the unicorn’s wings unfold and she flies off in a vibrant display against the clouds.

Now, I said, tell me the story of the unicorn with Handel's Chorus.

What she played next was not only maestoso. It was proud, ecstatic, radiant, and fulfilled.

Without explaining any further technical details, without consciously altering any of her bodily actions, she attained a level of musical expression that for a moment lifted both of us to another plane.

How is this possible? The mind seems to be able to integrate its functions when there is an image to direct it.  Vision unites action, bypassing the usual sequencing. This can happen by directly imagining an action, such as playing a piece, for example, but it can also happen by linking a powerful image or scene to the music we are playing.

Understand: Vision unites action and expresses it more fully.

What about you? What’s the most majestic thing you can think of? Put that in the forefront of your mind today as you go about your tasks, and see how it changes things.

ACTIONS FOR THIS WEEK

Ask your student to imagine something vividly before playing. Some examples:

  • What is the most majestic thing you can think of?
  • What is the most beautiful thing you can think of?
  • What is the most serene thing you can think of?
  • What is the most energetic thing you can think of?

Unpack the title or story of the piece and ask the student to visualize it

This piece is called ______________. What do you think is happening?

Example: This piece is called Witches’ Dance. What do you think the witches are doing? Can you play that for me?

When trying to help a student picture something, avoid using the words “fun” or “happy” as they are vague and may conjure up a confusing mix of images. Instead, use concrete words and adjectives like blissful, amused, dazzled, spellbound, tranquil. We can help our students achieve better musicality through language, and the images connected to well-chosen words.

Where there is a unifying and captivating vision, the effect is magical. Especially for students who have gotten past the beginning stages and are looking for the next level of challenge, this is often the thing they need the most. Remember: Tap their imagination, and you tap their musicality. By asking them to “picture a unicorn” you will help them take their playing to a more expressive level.