When I used to take music exams I'd pass them but it often says "could have played with more feeling".

Now, I played all the notes in the right order. Made them louder when it says ff. And quieter when it says pp. Faster when it says fast and slow when it says slow. And it sounded pretty nice to me.

Thefore I was following exactly what was written.

Now when I see people play instruments with "feeling" I see them do all sorts of things like being expressive with their arms and swaying. (Think of a concert pianist). But none of which has any affect on the sound.

So my only conclusion is that they didn't want me to play what was on the page. (Like my music teachers taught me to do and didn't tell me otherwise). But put in my own interpretation of when to get loud and when to speed up and slow down. But then surely I would fail my exam for reading the music wrong? (I guess it is subjective on which examiner you get.)

I don't believe in something called "putting feeling" into music. There is only musical technique. You can feel what you like in your head but it is the technique which makes the sound come out of the instrument.

What do you think? How do you achieve (or fake) this?

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    Listening to someone who plays from the heart is rather different from listening to someone who plays exactly what's on the page. It is indeed almost intangiable, and very difficut to quantify, but nevertheless it exists. Somewhat like someone who reads from a book, and someone who is a raconteur - you know which it is. It's the human touch. And, yes,it can and does have an effect on the sound - whatever one plays.
    – Tim
    Commented Nov 18, 2019 at 18:51
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    reddit.com/r/Guitar/comments/1sp1ab/… Commented Nov 18, 2019 at 21:00
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    Two things arise in my mind, if you don't feel music, why did you choose to play to start with? (I bet you feel something, maybe you just don't realize what) Music is really about emotion, joy, sadness, even more trivial things as "motivation" (dance music). Second, don't fake it. It will be felt by people. If for you music is like an informatic program to follow, that can be fine, for example some metal musicians perform like this. Being expressive with your arms is because you're "inside" what you do, not the other way round. Don't analyze to create feelings, focus on your emotions instead..
    – Kaddath
    Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 8:49
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    You seem to be a musical behaviorist.
    – StefanH
    Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 10:32
  • 4
    A friend of mine used to say... "An electric guitar is played with your hands...and with your balls". I thinks that extends to every musical instrument.
    – Fustigador
    Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 12:15

11 Answers 11


So my only conclusion is that they didn't want me to play what was on the page.


Standard notation is very flexible, but it often only allows for an approximation of how the piece might be expected to sound. What you may need to do is put in very slight timing and dynamics variations that, if notated accurately, would make the page a hideous mess of tied notes and accent markings.

Try to work out what genre/style the piece is (or what styles it alludes to), and listen to renditions of pieces in that style to work out exactly how the notes are being subtly shifted and accented. Some styles might need you to slightly delay the eighths or sixteenths. Some styles might require you to accent different beats in a way that isn't obvious from the time signature. Some styles might require some sections to be played in quite free time, getting away from the 'grid' implied by the time signature. Or you might have a slightly extended rest between phrases. And so on and so forth.

You're right, of course, that "play with feeling" on its own doesn't give you enough information to tell you what to do. You need to be familiar with the style in order to understand what's expected and appropriate. To an extent, this is where the 'feeling' comes in - if you enjoy and are 'into' a style, you're more likely to understand exactly what timing and accenting variations are right for the style.

But when it comes down to it, it's not really about 'feeling' at all. A good session musician will be able to look at a part that they think is thoroughly boring, and still play it 'with feeling' - because they understand the style.

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    OK this answer makes the most sense to me. Funny how my music teachers never told me this!
    – zooby
    Commented Nov 18, 2019 at 21:50
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    @zooby some musicians who are familiar with a limited range of styles of music may not actually know exactly what they are doing to achieve a certain 'feel', even though they may be doing so very successfully. Unfortunately this probably includes some teachers! Commented Nov 18, 2019 at 22:59
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    @zooby Classical music teachers almost always focus on technique, and traditionally aim for synthesiser-like accuracy. It's notable that improvisation isn't any part of the classical syllabus until grade 8, for most systems. Compare this to grades for electric guitar or drumming, where improvisation is taught from the start. Playing with feeling as Topo describes is a form of improvisation, and it needs to be practised. Try listening to some folk fiddle players and playing yourself - the tunes are simple, giving the players (who have great technique BTW) a framework for playing around.
    – Graham
    Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 9:19
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    It's like in other forms of art such as painting or drawing or writing. You need instructors to first teach you the rules so you understand why and how to break the rules. It can be hard to comprehend as a student because the great works of art in any of these areas are made by people who seemingly break all the rules you are learning.
    – eps
    Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 19:41
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    Good answer. I think of printed music as a set of constraints. What is and is not notated shows what must and must not (by implication) be played - but the player is free to shift any and all variables as far as possible without breaking what's written. I.e. between mf and f there is room to play softer or louder, while still remaining firmly in that band of volumes. A given tempo can vary by a couple bpm and nobody will be the wiser. Many pieces don't even give a numeric tempo so there's even more room to bend it. Intonation can be adjusted (on many instruments) to change timbre or mood. Commented Nov 20, 2019 at 22:40

I don't believe in something called "putting feeling" into music.

Can you tell the difference between a human and a midi sequencer performing the same piece? Yes, of course you can. The difference is feeling.**

Allow me to elaborate. If you were to program the score into a midi sequencer, meticulously following all dynamic (via velocity), articulation (via duration and velocity), and tempo markings, you'd end up with a midi performance which does "what is on the page" by following these instructions. Despite following the same set of instructions, this midi performance can still be differentiated from a human performance because the human will be adding extra detailing and shaping to their performance, thereby imbuing it with an emotional quality which cannot be strictly notated, ie this elusive "feeling". There is an emotional meta-layer to the human's performance which the sequencer's performance lacks.

This "feeling" is achieved by varying the envelopes of the various parameters of sound, such as by adding vibrato, pushing or pulling the tempo, or by shaping each note dynamically. To a certain extend, a human will do this naturally without thinking, but a big part of your job as a performer is knowing when and how much. This is where interpretation comes in. You need to see through the limitations of notation and identify what the composer is trying to convey, and then fill in the gap. (As an aside, a skilled composer will make this easier for you.)

(Yes, this extra detail can be added to a midi performance, either by simply "recording" a human's performance or through meticulous editing, but that is not what I'm talking about.)

my only conclusion is that they didn't want me to play what was on the page

You are supposed to play what is on the score, but you're supposed to play more than that. Musical notation has its limitations. Your job as a performer is to interpret the score and turn it into an emotionally compelling series of sounds. You will not fail your exam unless you grossly misinterpret the score and the composer's intent. This expectation of interpretation isn't obvious to english speakers because 'performer' and 'interpreter' generally mean different things. But in other languages (I'm thinking Romantic languages specifically) 'performer' and 'interpreter' are in fact one word.

So, if an adjudicator has told you to "play with more feeling", what they're saying is that your performance sounded mechanical, perhaps technically correct or skillfully executed, but no more than that. You did not 'breath life' into the piece. You didn't 'sell it'. It's hard to explain this without using fluffy metaphorical terms.

Perhaps the problem is that you're too focused on the technical execution, which isn't leaving enough processing power for interpretation. You should know your material so well that you don't need to think about it at all.

An anecdote: When I studied classical guitar in university, I learned a piece which was call "tears", but in a language I didn't know so I didn't get the obvious suggestion from the title. Just like you, I played all the right notes in the right order at the notated tempos and durations, but my teacher kept telling me that the feeling was wrong. After spending most of an hour-long lesson playing the piece over and over, with seemingly no progress, I was visibly frustrated and demoralized. Finally, he sang the piece to me, using his voice to convey the feeling that my performance lacked. It seemed exaggerated to me at first, but suddenly I could hear how the music was heaving and sobbing, dripping with sadness. The feeling was visceral. Then I played it again, aping his expressiveness, and instantly it was better. He sang along with me and it got better still. I continued to practice it this way and soon I could perform with convincing feeling. You need to do this with each and every piece you learn. Get inside it, see what the composer is trying to convey, and then bring that out by exaggerating certain aspects of your performance. Tastefully.

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    Slight quibble: MIDI sequencers sound different from humans, but that's due to a large number of factors, some of which are not entirely due to the human execution of the inputs.
    – user45266
    Commented Nov 18, 2019 at 21:15
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    @user45266 can you give an example?
    – minseong
    Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 3:33
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    @user45266 We know what the answer is getting at here - if not MIDI, consider Compressorhead, or a player piano, organ grinder, etc.
    – J...
    Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 13:28
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    This answer seems only comprehensible to people who already understand what "playing with feeling" means. It seems too vague and circular to be much help to anyone who doesn't. It doesn't seem to have any additional informational content beyond what little "with feeling" already conveys; it's mostly rephrasing, restating, and using equally-vague substitute terms. Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 18:38
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    @user45266 No examples? If a midi file contains all the dynamics and tempo markings that are found on a score, and is played back with world-class samples, it will sound just like a human performer minus the feeling. Alternatively, how about a diskavier? No samples required.
    – ibonyun
    Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 18:48

Have you ever seen a bad actor perform? Someone who has memorized all of their lines and goes through the appropriate motions on stage, but you just don't feel anything from their performance?

Imagine taking a script from a play showing a highly emotional scene -- say, an argument, or a romantic scene. Now imagine reading all of the lines in a monotone -- you observe all the commas and periods and pronounce every word clearly with good diction, but otherwise you put no rises or falls in your voice, no subtle changes in speed or inflection. You read just like a robot. But, you follow the script meticulously. When you see a stage direction -- "(turn to her)" or "(puts arm around him)" or "(points at her)" -- you perform the action requested, but do so deliberately and mechanically, as a robot might.

Would this be a good performance of that emotional scene? Probably not. A script for a play simply can't contain all the details necessary to bring the words to life. There are the words, and punctuation, and suggestions like stage directions, but the details need to be filled in by an actor to transform the blueprint on the page into a living, breathing human performance.

That's exactly like a musical score. The notes on a page are not "music," even though we often call them that. They are a blueprint, just like a script to a play. Yes, you need to play the right notes. Yes, you need to hold them the correct durations. Yes, when the score says to play louder or softer, you should do so. But doing all that correctly can still be like the robotic monotone reading of a script. Maybe you hold some notes a couple milliseconds longer and others a couple milliseconds shorter. (This is called microtiming, and recent studies show skilled performers make a lot of such miniscule adjustments, even as they are "playing what's on the page.") Maybe when it says to get louder, you create a phrase by gradually emphasizing certain notes. Maybe, depending on your instrument, you make subtle changes in timbre or tone or articulation at moments that enhance the performance.

Suddenly a string of 4 bars of individual notes becomes a phrase. 16 bars of individual notes are shaped into a theme. It's no longer a robotic monotone execution of the script, but a living romantic scene, or an intense argument, or whatever.

You seem to think that you need to gesticulate wildly or move your body around to show "feeling." But you said, "think of a concert pianist," and the first person I always think of is Vladimir Horowitz. There is someone who played with intense "feeling," but his head and shoulders and torso would be very quiet and at ease, while his hands were flying around the keyboard doing the most amazing things. He wasn't a showy performer like some pianists, but his interpretations brought the music to life. For music, it is about the sound and the technique -- you don't need to flap your arms around or rock about like you're in some sort of religious ecstasy. But producing a good sound and good technique in a musical performance is more than simply playing "what's on the page."

Take note of that last sentence. What your judges in your exams were really telling you is that you weren't playing musically. Music is about creating a flowing experience in time, about connecting notes and phrases and themes, about sensing a coherent interpretation that transforms the "script" into the "romantic scene." But saying you weren't playing "musically" is vague and perhaps insulting. So people talk about playing "with feeling," because the process of interpretation for music is much like telling the actor who is reading the script during the love scene that it needs to be performed with more sense of emotion/feeling. It needs to be acted, to be interpreted, to have a sense of more than just a collection of words -- to feel like a scene.

A piece of music is the same. Some performers literally do experience intense emotions and feelings as they perform, which help them to interpret music. Others recognize the subtle interpretive decisions necessary to bring the music "to life" even without invoking emotions in themselves. Just like different kinds of actors -- some who really want to feel and inhabit the character they are portraying, while others are bit more "distanced" about their roles -- there are different kinds of performers. If flapping your arms around helps you to "feel" the piece start to come together, maybe you do that. Some performers find that helpful; others don't.

But the point is transforming the musical "script" on the page into the nuanced, musical experience of sound moving through time. The notation is only a rough blueprint, an approximation, a starting point. Like an actor, you need to figure out how to "bring it to life."

  • 6
    This is a cool analogy. I think what OP should take from this however is what topo Reinstate Monica's answer details: that the actor's script simply doesn't have enough information as to how to deliver the lines. If the actor's script were detailed enough, the brainless actor could deliver a performance with "feeling". But the scripts aren't detailed enough, so it's the actor's job to interpret its intricacies.
    – minseong
    Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 3:41
  • I was hoping someone would use that analogy :-) Good actors don't think only about the words they're saying, but also about the meaning behind them: they're trying to convey what the character's thinking and feeling, and that affects how they deliver the lines. Music doesn't usually have the same sort of meaning, of course, but the principle is similar. Different styles/genres/periods expect more or less blatant expression, but a good performance will always be about more than just the notes.
    – gidds
    Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 10:08
  • This is appropriate analogy and it shows how vain is "play with feeling" in music. Just like a bad actor has a crappy execution, bad musician does the same.
    – Džuris
    Commented Nov 20, 2019 at 1:03
  • Upvoted for the "bad actor" analogy.
    – Henrique
    Commented Nov 20, 2019 at 16:16

If you want the nuts and bolts of it, expressivity in music is probably boiled down to variations in the amplitude, timbre (how hard/soft you're hitting the strings, though this is obviously mingled with amplitude) of each note, and the time you put in between each note. Vary those and you'll have more expressive music.

To put it in terms of playing "from the heart", take a song or piece of music. I find this much easier to do with classical pieces. Then, play through it a few times. Try to get a sense of the emotion the music is portraying. Are some parts happy? Are some parts sad? Are some parts suspenseful, surprising, or somewhere in between? How do you express that? You could get louder and brighter at the happy parts, and softer and more quiet at the sad parts. You could slow down the notes of the sad part slightly, or speed up the happy part. You could do a dramatic shift in your amplitude from low to high to express 'surprise!' or 'intense!'. You could also go from high to low, to express 'sorrow', or 'shock'.

Timing is immensely important as well. As a processor of music, your brain does many things while a melody is playing. The important one to note here, is that every brain has a tendency to try to predict a pattern in music, and expect certain notes to follow others. Have you ever played through a scale and left out the last note, or the last two notes? Try it now. Feel the sense of anxiety, the tenseness your body feels when those notes are unfinished. These are feelings you can evoke in your listener. Start a phrase, but end it slightly later than you've been ending others. Your listener will feel anxious, but you'll resolve that anxiety for them in a second. Or you won't. Maybe leave it hanging in the air, just like what you were trying to express with your lyrics. Maybe bring it on at a speed that's faster than the listener expected. That'll provoke an emotion too, maybe surprise, or unease, or even satisfaction.

When people say you're playing with emotion, they really mean you're playing with their emotions as well. You're evoking emotional responses beyond the notes in the scale. You're varying timbre, timing, and amplitude to elicit feelings that a guitar playing machine, for example, could not. To make it clearer, play with some variation that humans can put into it, and not just the notes that a music box could play just as well.

Furthermore; You have to get to the point where you're not thinking about playing the song. If you're having to say "Ok, I go to the 5th fret after this ..." etc., then you can't play with emotion.

Once all the technical aspects are on auto-pilot, and you can play the arrangement without having to think "that complicated bridge comes after this ..." and play every part without having to count anything, then your brain will be able to simply focus on how you play something, it will focus on *expression." Am I playing this aggressively, softly, am I holding this note longer than usual, bending it at an interesting spot because that's what I'm feeling at this exact moment, etc.

You'll probably start out by thinking about how to play it with emotion, which still doesn't put you where you want to be, but it's kind of what you have to do. Eventually, once you play it enough times, and have the rhythm count stamped into your brain, and a pool of "ways to express" this part and that part, your brain will pull from them automatically based on how your feeling, or how you want to convey something in a particular moment ... and it will be able to do it naturally.

source: reddit


it sounded pretty nice to me.


I don't believe in something called "putting feeling" into music.

Bzzzt! Self-contradiction detected. ;) "It sounded nice" is a description of a feeling. What other feelings might there be, besides "nice"? Have you ever heard music that's ... passionate? Threatening? Sad? Irritating? Hopeful? Miserable?

However, there's something you haven't understood yet (assuming that you aren't just trolling). Music is performed in order to deliver feelings to people. It's essentially acting, like in a theater or movie. If you just read text from a script mechanically, you're being a lousy actor and story teller, even if you are able to speak louder when you see an exclamation mark! The movie's director and producer should demand better and maybe fire you and hire a proper actor.

Playing written music, particularly if you're the soloist, is supposed to work like this:

  • (1) read a segment
  • (2) interpret what you read, so that you're able to imagine some feelings and a "plot", i.e. you have an idea what the story is about and what the segment could be in the big picture
  • (3) act according to your interpretation, delivering the feelings to your listeners

All three parts are separate skills, and you can be good in each one, or you can suck at it. For example you might be a bad reader - but that can be compensated by improvising. Make up your own details, something that you can say and deliver in a credible way. Good actors can do this - they might know that they can't make the written lines sound credible, so they improvise something different than what's literally in the script. An illiterate actor might do that just because they can't read. ;) Or maybe they don't remember the exact details. You have many degrees of freedom. You could, for example, try and deliver unexpected feelings. If a well-known piece is always made joyful, can you play the same but so that it becomes sad instead?

How do you achieve (or fake) this?

Do you feel things strongly and emotionally? Is there music that makes you emotional when listening to it? Do you know a song that makes you feel like crying or jumping for joy? If this is a completely foreign idea to you, then maybe it's just your personality, and it's perfectly OK to be that way. People are different! I wouldn't claim that anyone can even learn to do it, just like some people cannot pretend or act in a credible way even if they try.

If you do know songs or musical performances that make you emotional, try to recreate the musical elements that affect your feelings. There are many musical parameters and dimensions - pitch, tone/timbre, timing/tempo, dynamic variation, phrasing, legato/staccato, overall "arcs" of these, repetitiveness vs. change, expectations vs surprise, ... The things that can be written in notation like "loud" or "softly" are really coarse and approximate.

You could also ask your teacher to guide you in things you find challenging. Ask your teacher to provide recordings of performances of the same piece, but with more "feeling". Compare with your own playing. If you disagree about there being any more feeling, then you can just say that in your opinion the example recording is not more emotional. And then you just agree to disagree.

Being able to feel and induce emotions in other people is a part of the art, and even though one could say that it's a part of someone's personality, it is still something that is expected and judged.

  • 2
    There's no contradiction there. The fact that someone experiences emotion when listening to music or has an opinion about whether it sounds nice does not imply that emotion was involved in the music's performance. I think MIDI playback sounds nice, but the synthesizer definitely isn't putting any emotions into it. Commented Nov 20, 2019 at 0:16
  • 2
    Getting emotion out of a piece of music does not mean that its performer put any in. Commented Nov 20, 2019 at 0:20

There are great answers in this topic. Here is some more input:

So my only conclusion is that they didn't want me to play what was on the page.

Oh yes, you can play what is on the page, but a forte section or a piano section is not just about playing all the notes at an equal volume in that section.

Focus on phrasing. Like you can go up and down in volume within a piano section, but you are still playing an overall piano and similar with forte and other dynamics. You can sometimes make a slight increase or decrease in tempo, it can be quite subtle, the overal tempo is still intact.

Sing or hum the melodic lines because then you can directly feel the melody, then play similar to the way you sing or hum.

Phrasing includes articulation, like you can play a staccato very pointy or less pointy. Or you can play some notes a tad longer or shorter than other notes meaning releasing the key sooner or later unless they are supposed to be played legato of course.

Just like you can utter a word or a sentence in a lot of different ways you can also play in a lot of different ways and yet play what is written in the sheet music.

You can play a piano section in a similar way you would pat a cat, softly and gently and there you are already playing with feeling.

You can play so it feels like a thunderstorm, of course only if the music is in a style that would give inspiration for that. It might give a better forte expression if you feel it is like a thunderstorm instead of just thinking about a dry forte.

So work with phrasing, get the hang of phrasing or the feel of phrasing and include some metaphors now and then, like the metaphors I mentioned above (patting the cat and the thunderstorm) and you might discover a new and fantastic dimension and experience of music.


Watch the first five minutes of this demo by Evelyn Glennie of the difference between "reading the music and doing what it says" and "interpreting the music". There's not much "being expressive with her arms and swaying" involved.

If you still don't "get" the difference, watch it again.

The following 30 minutes are also well worth watching, of course

  • 5
    Well exactly what I mean. She is kind of moving her body around like an expressive dance. Which I contend you could get exactly the same sounds by not doing that.
    – zooby
    Commented Nov 18, 2019 at 21:45
  • 2
    I think you should watch it again and not look. Just listen to the difference. The dynamic of the crescendo as she moved out on the rim was much larger in the second performance, for instance. Yes, it takes a greater physicality to get that difference! The performance on the marimba is also illustrative. Again. Don't look. Listen to the subtle changes in tempo and emphasis and phrasing. Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 3:24
  • @zooby - You probably know how much easier something is to 'visualise' with your eyes shut. Try listening to the music instead of watching the video. Alternatively compare a boring lecturer to one who is animated - both saying exactly the same thing.
    – Tim
    Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 9:45
  • @zooby - if you can play 'with feeling' without feeling it, then you're a musical prodigy. As a drummer that had to use all four limbs separately, why would I be bobbing and swinging my head around as a fifth thing to do if it didn't help me feel the rhythm? Which was important because I have zero classical training.
    – Mazura
    Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 5:22

I have been in similar situations in my youth, competing in state wide music competitions, and performing at gigs. In my opinion this is a hard thing to get right because it is not a quality of you and your playing only, but a quality of the relationship between you and the audience.

For the moment let's not discuss what "feeling" really means.

I choose to play a certain way. A way that makes me feel good as a performer. I play the music the way I want (sometimes exactly as written). I play the same way in every performance (at least I think I do). There will be times when the audience is completely drawn in by my playing and I get complements on how much "feeling" I project in the music and other times I get the comment or reaction that I play robotically and have no feeling. When I was younger it killed me, especially since I was trying to get placed in division 1 or pass an audition and I couldn't tell what I was doing wrong (or what I was doing RIGHT). At this point in my life I don't care and I am convinced that this is a subjective assessment that cannot be quantified, and is sometimes used as an excuse to put players in the pass or fail (good or bad) bucket based on whether or not the listener "likes" them. In other words, like I stated before, I think it is about the relationship between the player and the listener and not a thing that any player can replicate for every audience member. There are many players who are constantly put on a pedestal as being great performers and always playing with "feeling" yet they put me to sleep, I hear nothing great and feel absolutely nothing when they play. The opposite occurs too, players who are criticized as not having feeling make me feel! I think it's more on the listener than the player to feel. It is possible that a listener is in a bad mood and simply not open to feeling what the player is trying to project.

Now on to the issue of "feeling". There are several aspects of music performance that can be used to translate feeling to an audience. Several have already been mentioned like dynamics, tempo, etc. But as you pointed out these are indicated in the sheet music. So, in theory if you played the music as written the intended feeling would be there. One way performers project feeling is via body movement and facial expressions. I personally find this very distracting and frankly fake. I'd equate it to being "affected" which is usually a bad thing, like over acting. Music is aural and I listen with my eyes closed, even at a live performance. So the wild body movement and contorted facial expressions are lost on me. I would stay away from a Gestalt approach to describing this as I do not believe is such things. It is possible that this is quantifiable (even thought I indicated otherwise above) but it may be too difficult to quantify as there are too many variables. One thing I see mentioned in answer related to timber. Volume and speed are both part of feeling or help create feeling but the way you attack an instrument changes the harmonic content of the notes. Also, vibrato is very important on instrument that are capable of creating it. On the violin and guitar families of instruments this is one of the most effective ways of adding more feeling to a tune. This device is indicated in the sheet music too but players often add more as they "feel" the need. And when you add vibrato you add the ability to change the speed and force of the vibrato and that really opens up the door to a many variations on tone and sound. Of course it could be overdone and I cannot cite a formula for perfect vibrato. I am not sure how a piano player could emulate this. Based on these comments I would say that I agree with some of the other answers in that you are not expected to play down the sheet music exactly as written but you are expected to apply techniques that help project an interpretation of what is written and that is perceived as feeling.

As a final note I doubt that even a well trained musician could tell the difference between a human player and a very well designed computer simulation that used AI to emulate all these subtle features of a player's technique. In other words "feeling" in music, in the traditional sense, may be slightly a case of self delusion.


I think many beginner musicians struggle with this issue, myself included.

The point is, music is an art, and art is a form of communication, a form of expression. We need a way to share music, so we've came up with this music notation, which is interesting in its own regard, but is not enough to convey emotion, and conveying emotion is the very point of the art.

But what this emotion mean for music is very hard to pinpoint. A much simpler example is in theater. Pick any play, let's say Hamlet, and give it a read. Loudly. You can try learning a passage and saying. You might actually start to believe what's there or not, but you probably look to others like you simply recite something (unless you have some theatrical skills, case in which I recommend you to ask a friend's help for this experiment). The very point of training for actors is to learn to convey credible feelings along with the words they say. And the director needs to make sure everything comes together nicely.

Coming back to music, simply producing correctly every note on the music sheet is not enough. Actually, it might very well be the case that it doesn't really convey much emotion, just as simply reading correctly Hamlet does not make you an actor. You need to act, you need to add emotion to those notes, just how actors add emotion to their words.


I hope you're not a troll :trollface:.

You just can't play music without feeling .. maybe your teacher wanted you to play more involved into the piece (not mechanically stumping on and pressing buttons like a robot or a bored student).

Your feeling is your internal state and it can be conducted via the activity you perform, especially like playing music.

Music is all about feeling, so when you play music you always feel something and it is better to be constructive with this at least regarding to the piece you play.


A music is a sentence of notes.

If you were to give a presentation would you let Siri or Alexa read the words instead of you?

What is on the page is the language part ... the CONVENTIONAL part ... the letters, words, phrases and sentences of music.

How that music gets interpreted and expressed by the player is the meaning part ... the EXISTENTIAL part.

  • I think this answer is hinting at what I'm also thinking, but presented in a somewhat superficial way. If you were to delve into how music is an artistic expression, and how it, as an art, derives its artistic value from two separate entities (the composer and the performer), you could easily improve this answer by explaining how a bland (or even machine-driven performance) leaves out "half of the art" of the musical piece.
    – Marko
    Commented Nov 20, 2019 at 3:20
  • I'm curious to know what description of "artistic value" or number of examples changes the (superficial) distinction I made? Are you thinking simple equals superficial? ... like saying E=mc^2 isn't important because it's needs only a half-dozen characters instead of pages of equations. Commented Nov 20, 2019 at 3:53
  • For the record, I did not downvote you. I'm merely holding onto my upvote until the answer is more fleshed out. To answer your comment: while saying E=mc^2 is beautiful in its brevity, it's also a meaningless answer to somebody who asks "What is the relationship between Energy and Mass?" -- its the pages of equations and exposition describing the theory of Special Relativity that somebody who is asking such a question would want. OP is asking "what is playing with feeling" and your answer is a very brief one that makes sense only to those who already know what playing with feeling is IMO.
    – Marko
    Commented Nov 20, 2019 at 4:03
  • If someone asks me "What is the relationship between Energy and Mass?" my reply is that they be more specific because they may indeed just want the equation. If they said "Explain the relationship..." then they're more clearly asking for narrative. You say you want a longer answer. Why? What's not clear about my brief one? What point did another longer answer make that mine did not? Commented Nov 20, 2019 at 14:31

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