Robert Estrin - piano expert

Extraneous Motions in Musical Performances

Every performer has a different approach to musical interpretation

In this video, Robert talks about how differently musicians can move while playing music, and how to understand what is best for you.

Released on December 31, 2014

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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 and welcome to and I'm Robert Estrin with a great subject today - extraneous motion in musical performance. What's this all about? We're going to cover this in a wide range of genres.

You've probably watched some performers and they sit there almost like a robot, never making any motion at all and other performers are very demonstrative, whether it's a violinist moving around to the music. European orchestras, for example, the whole orchestra seems to move and whole sections of the orchestra are moving together, where American orchestras are more stately and reserved. Well, what is best? Is it good to move around when you play or not? Well, it's not such a simple subject.

There are performers, for example, Lang Lang comes to mind. He's very demonstrative, looking at the audience, smiling, with gestures. You get the feeling he's really enjoying his performance. Some people really like that and they're engaged in the musical performance because they get a sense of what are the exciting parts and the emotions are on the face. Other people feel it's kind of put on and too much. I'm interested in hearing from you, what your thoughts are about motion and performance, whether it's piano, singers, anything.

Now, there's a whole other element to this and that is what I would refer to as excessive motion. Some of the great musicians of all time sometimes let themselves go a bit. Rudolf Serkin comes to mind, Glenn Gould is another. During recording sessions they would have to put barricades because they would make kind of singing sounds and grunts and groans that would come through the recording. Now, in a concert hall you probably wouldn't hear it very much because you're far away, but in recording it's definitely an issue in terms of you don't want to hear these sounds.

How does this happen? I've actually seen pianists who not only make grunting and groaning sounds but actually stamping their feet and all sorts of things. Here's what happens. At some point this mannerism developed and a teacher never stopped it, so they just grew to make this part of their playing and it's all but impossible to eradicate it once you get used to it.

An extreme example of this is Keith Jarrett. Have you ever watched a Keith Jarrett concert? My goodness, it's a whole experience if you haven't seen it where he's actually standing in front of the piano with gyrations. Audiences seem to love it. Just as many people are turned off by it but it definitely gets a reaction.

That's what you need to know about motion and performance. It elicits a reaction in the listener. It can be a positive or a negative reaction and the more extreme these motions are, the more diametrically opposed these opinions will be. I would say that a little bit of motion, facial expressions, can be helpful to guide the audience as to what is happening in the performance but don't let it get carried away. You must have control over yourself during your practice so that you are aware of how you look and how you sound.

Thanks so much for joining me. Robert Estrin, here at and I'll see you next time.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Tosh * VSM MEMBER * on January 1, 2015 @10:36 am PST
I suspect that with some performers their movements, even if distracting to others, allow them to relax and perform without tension and inhibition. Personally, I don't mind watching a moving performer so long as the movements are reflective of the music being played in some way. However, I once watched a string quartet where the 1st violinist was rotating her upper body constantly (can't recall if clockwise or counter clockwise) as if she was hula hooping, regardless of the type of musical passages being played...that I found particularly distracting and annoying.
Fulvia Bowerman * VSM MEMBER * on December 31, 2014 @2:37 pm PST
Since you mentioned Lang Lang, I am one who thinks his extreme espressions are almost a fake and I find them even annoying. My all-time favorite pianists have been Claudio Arrau and Rubinstein. Both of the "robot" type, but yet delivering unsurpassed executions of the music they played.
Linda K. Wilson * VSM MEMBER * on December 31, 2014 @11:17 am PST
I'm a professional violinist. My teacher had studied with Jascha Heifetz who almost never moved extraneously. When I was taking lesson, if I moved at all, he would grab the scroll of my violin and say "Don't move!".

On the other hand, I've had more than one orchestral conductor exhort the musicians to "move together!". Guess you have to learn to go with the flow!
John Raftopoulos * VSM MEMBER * on December 31, 2014 @10:52 am PST
My question is, âshould I practice and play very fast compositions, even if I cannot manage to do it at the speed required by the composer and play it slower, or just wait till I get the ability to do it at the proper speed?â
Thank you!
Robert Estrin on December 31, 2014 @7:28 pm PST
Sometimes you may expand your technique by rising to the occasion of mastering a fast piece if you are willing to practice many hours every day for an extended period of time. However, generally you are better off studying pieces you can play up to tempo in a reasonable amount of time.
Maggie Acuff * VSM MEMBER * on December 31, 2014 @10:46 am PST
Thanks so much for the great video.

Movement in performance is such an individual thing. As a flautist, I was always very shy, stood in the back & was very wooden when performing in small groups in the '70s. Having attended a lot of concerts in many genres, I realized that my performances must have been very boring. Willie Nelson's performances were always very boring to me because he just stands there & sings.

I am very engaged by an energetic performance where the entertainers are obviously enjoying themselves. But it is true that too much activity can be distracting, depending on the music.

All-in-all, I agree with you that it is a very personal preference as to the level of animation that is appropriate. I think that we should take into consideration the audiences & their reactions to gauge the success of the performance.
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