Many pianists ask the question when they are playing in front of audiences, or even just practising in solitude, what should I be thinking about whilst playing or performing?
It can seem a little strange concept to get your head around at first, but asking oneself what they do think about whilst playing the piano, particularly a piece of music that you know well, can lead to some interesting results and even impact how your playing projects to the audience. Whilst this may be second nature to some and the thoughts may come naturally, for many, what is being thought about whilst playing can be a little more muddled and if left unchecked can even put you off of your playing.
Why What We Think About Whilst Playing Matters
It may seem a strange thing to think about, however it’s not uncommon for those who focus too much on what they are playing to freeze or tense up whilst they scramble to remember what section comes next. For those pieces that you know inside and out and don’t have to focus too much on the technique of your playing, adding additional meaning and passion behind the playing can be spurred on by the thoughts in your mind, adding a new emotional element of the piece that you might not have noticed before.
Things To Think About When Playing Piano
Of course, as music is entirely subjective and personal, you can add whatever meaning (or none at all) into your pieces! However, for those who are perhaps a little stuck when looking for a inspiration into the common things that many pianists do think about when playing to enhance the expression in their playing, we’ve listed a few ideas below:
For many pianists, they find that one way to add more meaning and emotion into their pieces is to view them as a story with a beginning, middle and end, in the same way that we tell stories with dialogue, inflections and character development, so too can our pieces. Start with a soft beginning, that sets the scene to the audience. Is the piece bright and chirpy to begin with? Or does it start incredibly sinisterly? Then as the melody begins to flow, where does the piece transport you? To a magical or mystical world full of monsters, heroes and triumph? Or perhaps it’s simply sitting under a tree and watching the world go by! Whatever images come to mind from the music, use them in your playing!
Likewise, why not associate the music with real life memories and experiences. Perhaps it’s the happiest day of your life, or perhaps it’s suffering with the loss of a loved one, connecting your own memories to your music can be an incredibly powerful performance tool and is something that definitely extends into the audience if you try to capture those memories in your play. If you’ve ever seen someone talk about something with true passion, you’ll know that it can be easily rubbed off to you too, try to do the same thing with your audiences.
Another common way to imagine your piece coming to life is through colours or patterns, this is somewhat related to our recent article on synaethesia (learn more here). For example, you may imagine the beginning of your piece to be a pale blue or green, however as the piece shifts, the colours may change to reds, pinks or deeper colours. Perhaps one way to imagine this is also the food scene in Disney’s Ratatouille, but placing it in a musical context!
Thinking About The Music Is Fine Too!
Of course, if you are relatively new to performing, it’s not uncommon to divert back to the notes that you are playing, this comes with time and confidence, read our guide on overcoming the fear of playing in front of others here!
And of course, also if you prefer to think about nothing whilst playing and just allowing the brain to take you where it does, that is completely fine too! If you find that any of the above ideas might get into the way of your playing and you’d rather just focus purely on the music, that’s no problem at all. Just letting the mind naturally wander is still another fantastic way to inject a real sense of emotion and energy into your performance.
We think this is a really interesting discussion and we’d love to know your views too! Get in touch with us on social media and share your views using the #MillersMusic! Want to learn more about how to inject more expression into your playing? Read our guide here!
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