Robert Estrin - piano expert

The Importance of Engagement in Musical Performance

Learn why it is important to engage your audience

In this video, Robert talks about audience engagement and how important it is for your performance success.

Released on August 11, 2021

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi, I'm Robert Estrin. You're watching, and the subject today is the importance of engagement in musical performance. It's the most amazing thing how when you're going to a concert, sometimes you're riveted to the performance, of the edge of your seat waiting to hear what's going to come next. It's palpable, the whole audience, you can feel it. Everybody is breathing together and it's a oneness of a crowd, the energy of the room is just spellbinding.

Well, sadly, there is the opposite of that. Oftentimes, you're in a concert and you're listening to a really accomplished performer playing hard music and playing it well and it's accurate, and you find yourself just zoning out and you can't concentrate on anything. You look around and people are fidgeting and you wonder what is the matter with everybody? You wonder what's the matter with yourself, why can't I concentrate on this, is something wrong with me?

It's the funniest thing. I've found that in those moments in musical performances where I feel that way, that's where the performer sometimes will have a little glitch of memory or something. Now, this is incredibly insightful as to the why, why you are sometimes engaged in a performance and why sometimes you're not. Of course, part of it could be just your own mood, but I think more than that, it's the engagement of the performer. You know how sometimes you're playing a piece of music and you're kind of zoned out, you're on automatic pilot. Your fingers are moving, but you're not really engaged, not on an intellectual or emotional level.

Now, when you are engaged and you're feeling the music and everything is coming together and you just are on top of it, you'll find that your audience is going to be equally impressed and they will be focused in on everything you're doing because you are focused in. Now, how do you achieve such a thing? Well, the thing is that in practice, if you let yourself go all the time, you get to performance and it's kind of same old. You've done it so many times, how do you bring something fresh to it where you're actually engaged as if you're hearing it or playing it for the first time, almost as if you're improvising the music yourself, realizing the score, telling a story that you feel like the story is happening as you're telling it.

Well, one of the ways is, in your practice, to have reserve of emotion, playing strictly what's written, following the score without the luxury of the pedal, listening to every note, critically, in a very intellectual manner. I'm not saying you should never try things out and let yourself go in practice, of course you must so you know what your inclinations are and you know what to practice in order to achieve them.

On the other hand, the predominant time you spend at the piano should be spent in a very mechanical fashion, cementing the music that you're playing. If you're playing Brahms and you're always playing it expressively ... Maybe that's the way you want to play it, but in practice, get rid of the pedal. Maybe you put a metronome on, play just strictly and accurately.

This should be done with the score incidentally, so you cement the performance. You're focused in on the notes, every rest, every nuance of expression and phrasing. You play exacting with your fingers, metronomically, so when you finally get to that performance and you put the pedal in and to give a little bit of vibrato and shadings.

There's two benefits to this. Number one, it's so enriching that you finally get to play it with the icing on the cake, complete performance, it feels so good. Also, if you practice playing very expressively with a lot of nuances of expression and you let yourself go, well, in the heat of the moment of a performance, you might actually let yourself go too far and it could be a little bit gross and self-aggrandizing. You don't want to be indulgent in your performance, being so overly expressive that you lose the sense of the music. The expression should be in service of the music so that there are nuances of expression rather than something that takes away from the overall structure of the piece.

This is the way to stay engaged. In your practice, be precise. Take your foot off the pedal, play with the metronome, play with a score, so when you finally have your performance, it feels so good. You can let yourself go and you've got that solid foundation to build upon an expressive performance.

I hope this helps you. Again, I'm Robert Estrin. This is, your online piano resource. Thanks for joining me. If you ring that bell and thumbs up, more people get to enjoy these videos. See you next time.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Alice Borg on August 11, 2021 @7:13 pm PST
Really appreciate your comment on not going to far with expression but "the expression should be in service of the music" so that it doesn't take away from the music. Good reminder to me.
Robert - host, on August 12, 2021 @10:11 am PST
Being expressive doesn't mean being self-indulgent! We must all find balance in our musical performance.
Kathy * VSM MEMBER * on August 11, 2021 @8:51 am PST
Great video on hand size and pedal for performing. I always felt my left hand was much stronger than my right. Also, pedal usage. I'm kind of "pedal happy". It affects the way you hear the piece you are learning. Glad for the tips about not using the pedal.
Robert - host, on August 11, 2021 @10:38 am PST
It seems counterintuitive that the best way to know how to pedal is to practice without the pedal a great deal. But it works!
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