My daughter has started playing piano. She sounds out by reading the notes methodically.

Then I go and search for the tune on the internet, and play for her what it is supposed to sound like.

Then her playing changes entirely. She uses the notes as a guide, but plays more from memory.

I think the term for this is rubato - but I could be completely incorrect.

My question is: What is the term for a when a performance is technically correct but misses the overall vibe?

  • Technically correct; the best kind of correct Jul 4, 2016 at 9:03
  • 3
    Just answering your question from an English word definitions point of view, I would suggest sterile or clinical. Jul 4, 2016 at 20:43

2 Answers 2


I think what you are talking about can be refered to generically as "interpretation", but other words could be used too (perhaps with slightly specific meanings), like "sentiment", "feeling", and yes, "vibe" too.

Part of that is the execution of a musical phrase as a single unit, that you can refer to as "singing" the melody, as opposed to playing each note individually as little children tend to do. Hearing what it is "supposed" to sound like is indeed an important learning tool for children in that respect (the famous Suzuki method is based mostly on that concept), although care should be taken to make the child understand that there are many possible interpretations for a piece and that the one being presented is only a possible one.

Rubato (slightly and temporarily reducing the tempo) is a possible technique to use when interpreting a specific part of a piece, but there are many others based on factors such as tempo (slower or quicker), dynamics (louder or softer), articulation (connected or separated notes), etc.

  • I call it "taste". As in, "that guy plays perfectly but he has no taste". Jul 4, 2016 at 17:13

I think what you are picking up on is that music is more than just a collection of notes. It also has to do with the communication of emotions and feelings in audio form.

You see this often when you compare how children play music to how the masters play it. You may easily find some young wunderkind in the world which has a good mastery of the .instrument but lacks the mental faculties to portray the emotions and feelings of the music.

I recently saw a rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream" by a very young girl, maybe high school age. The thing that struck me was that yes this girl is a good singer.

The sounds that her mouth makes is really pleasing, but this song is about a woman who loses her job and turns to prostitution to earn enough for the care of her illegitimate child.

Does this young girl really understand the subject matter that she is singing about? Can you really expect a teenager to understand such subjects? I think not.

So yes I agree with the other answer. It may be technically correct, but lacking in interpretation. For a young child, I would not be too bothered by that yet. You need some emotional maturity for this interpretation to come.

This may easily come by just growing up a bit.

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