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I’ve now had two teachers encourage me to create a backstory for the pieces I’m learning to help me get the character right. The new teacher expanded this a bit to include just deciding on an emotion, or even a color for different sections.

I’m open to this idea of creating a story, don’t get me wrong. I just wonder if I have some sort of deficiency - often when I hear or play a piece, I don’t get a picture in my mind unless the title is very suggestive or the piece itself is obviously portraying something (like a storm).

How many of you create stories? Or maybe you don’t need to invent them because the music just “speaks” to you? I'm not sure if this is an innate talent or something I could get better at over time.


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I've never created a story for any piece I've ever played, nor used one except for the pieces which originated as songs (e.g. Schumann/Liszt's Widmung, Glinka/Balakirev's The Lark, R.Strauss/Reger's Morgen!), where the 'story' is of course already given in words.


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Often, (but not always) I have a story in my head for what I play .., but I don’t consciously invent it— it is just there. If I don’t automatically have one, I don’t strain to find one and I’ve only had a teacher suggest one once: for Mozart 397.

I don’t think you are deficient at all— but you can give inventing stories or scenery a go and see what you think


"Music, rich, full of feeling, not soulless, is like a crystal on which the sun falls and brings forth from it a whole rainbow" - F. Chopin
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I don't usually create stories consciously, but always associate a mood with a piece. I think it makes a huge difference especially in controlling loud/soft dynamics.

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OK, maybe the story thing isn't common. I think there must just be something missing in my performance and they are trying to help me get there. I have been complimented on expression...maybe I'm not understanding the difference between expression and character.


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This is an interesting question that has come up a few times on PW. I'm in the bennevis camp and never imagine stories or pictures even when the title of a piece is evocative. Ir I'm playing a song that I know the words to then that would affect my playing somewhat. My guess is a significant(at least 50%) do have images or stories in mind when playing, Another interesting question is whether the composer has a story or picture in mind when creating a composition.

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Originally Posted by JB_PW
I think there must just be something missing in my performance and they are trying to help me get there. I have been complimented on expression...maybe I'm not understanding the difference between expression and character.
Getting the character of a piece right should lead on to having the right expression.

I remember an anecdote I read once, where a student misunderstood the title of a piano piece (which was in German, but sounded similar to something completely different in English) and played it in a somewhat over-robust manner for her teacher. When the teacher asked her what she thought the title meant, he discovered why that student played the piece in that way.......... grin

In other words, a Revêrie should sound different to a Romance which in turn should sound different to a Waltz, even if they're all in 3/4 time.


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
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I find the pressure to force a story uncomfortable. I was never good at creative writing! Emotions are easier, or moods as Pikka said. Maybe I'll focus on that. I do have trouble with abrupt changes in dynamics...that was the focus of the last bit of advice from my teacher.


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I don’t create a backstory but I do identify the character or mood of the piece. The overall mood of the piece is one thing, but within each piece there are nuances in character. Maybe you could give us an example of a piece that you are working on so that we have an example.



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The most recent example is Burgmuller Op 100 No 25. Several distinct character changes, usually with very different dynamics as well.


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I listened to this piece and have to admit have never heard or played it. The first word that comes to mind is pageantry, like entertainment at a court in the 1700’s. I also hear a subtext of a dialogue, maybe a man and woman arguing. The middle section I think is to provide some comic(?) relief? I guess I would focus on the rhythmic precision and maybe try to do something a little playful with the dialogue aspect. There’s a subtext of Mozart in this piece. This is just an uninformed first impression.



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Yes, I try to understand or guess what a piece is about and I plan interpretation according to my understanding.

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Without meaning to sound like a complete space cadet, I regard music as a fundamental experience, and it doesn't really make sense to relate it to anything else. The character of a piece is like a taste or a colour. We can bring out different things in it, but they usually have no meaning outside of music (for me). There are some exceptions, but generally I regard music as a self-contained experience.

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I did have a teacher once, who indeed was creating specific situations as a mean to support expression, and also as a way to create a storyboard that would help to set an overall leading plan for the piece. I think it was a way to better shape the phrases at a fine level of details and also to set the mood of the piece. I think some people find it easier to do when it is sort of personalized. I can understand you find it uncomfortable, but I think the purpose is that it forces you to justify why you are playing a particular section the way you do and whether that seems consistent to you with the rest of the piece. Of course at the end it does not have to be so rationale if it sounds good, different people use different methods.

I dont do that as such but I do create a layout of how the piece should sound end to end which is really essentially the same idea, but in a more abstract form. A number of people also sometimes analyze a piece as a paraphrase of some kind of allegory, same idea.

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We must first come to an agreement that a musician devoid of imagination cannot exist.
Another question is, what ways the imagination works, it can be memories, visual images, sensations, feelings, emotions, logical constructions; everyone has their own preferences. For example, I have aphantasia and cannot visualize; on the other hand, I easily reproduce emotions, sensations, logical constructions and humor, which is expressed both in improvisation and in interpretations.Therefore, every performer can, and even very desirable, create a prescript for himself; but its content will be purely individual.
Compared to this, there are people completely devoid of imagination.

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I'm also a pianist who focusses more on mood than on stories. Admittedly, you could say I specialize in soundtracks at the moment, and the pieces I play tend to be related to stories I'm familar with. However, I don't go out of my way to actively imagine and think of such stories while I'm playing. I do try to evoke the mood that I assume the composer was going for.

I want my music to be enjoyable both for myself and for a potential audience (despite rarely performing outside of this forum's recitals cool). If a performance only sounds good when I'm thinking about a particular story, then I'm doing it wrong as a performer. The audience can't be expected to be thinking about the same stories, after all. In fact, my favourite soundtrack pieces tend to be tunes I loved before I even knew anything about the stories that feature them.

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I focus on the mood when I play and write music.


Hopefully one day I will do my interpretation of Bach French Suite no. 2 in C minor, BWV 813
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Hi there,

For me, music is more a matter of mood, atmosphere and style period, which sometimes evokes images of buildings, instruments and people from that special historical period. When I play Bach, the bust of Bach on my piano looks at me, sometimes friendly, sometimes with a face like 'what are you doing?'..... grin grin

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Lots of interesting comments, thank you all!

My previous teacher pushed the story thing pretty hard. It was basically an expectation for anything I played that was romantic or later. It never got any easier, and I came to dread that inevitable question: "Do you have a story for this one yet?"

I do agree that I need to start putting more thought into the music, and I should probably get in the habit of doing that right from the start. But I think the bottom line is that I need to figure out what works for me. It seems like the best plan right now is to think about the emotion and/or mood of the different sections, and if some images or scenes pop into my head naturally...great, but I'm not going to force it.


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2 examples with an interval of 5 minutes of a completely spontaneous free improvisation of a student, in his words "not able to improvise":
1) mechanically,
2) after an emotional scenario.


https://yadi.sk/d/S-qrTNpy3Wo3pz

https://yadi.sk/d/lbbKWx2y3Wo4Ak

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