Adding Power to Music

By Dr. Kate McKenzie

Like many, last night I was glued to the TV watching The Oscars, and my favorite aspect of the award show is always the music. Even after years of studying, practicing, thinking, living and breathing music, I still am in complete awe over how powerful of a role music plays in telling a story. It’s nature allows for for a type of expression that transcends the limits of what even words can describe. But how can we as musicians (yes, this includes music students of all levels) be sure that we are allowing our music to be as expressive, emotional, and powerful as possible? 

Many of us a guilty of refusing to look beyond the page when we are playing music. This is understandable, we have a lot to think about all at once with playing the correct notes, reading rhythms, using proper techniques, and interpreting every mark the composer has included. BUT this isn’t enough, we must also be artists and find ways to make all of this meaningful and deliberate. It is no easy feat to interpret the intentions of the composer all the while making the music your own special piece of art, but who ever said making music was easy? It reminds me of a quote by Theodore Roosevelt, “Nothing in the world is worth doing unless it means effort, pain and difficulty.” 

So how can you as a musician start to bring this level of depth to the music you are working on? I always encourage my students to start by asking simple questions: Is the music happy? Sad? Pained? Excited? If the music were to be a soundtrack to a movie, what would the story be? Can you identify the personalities of one or two characters? Once this is figured out, you can then begin to alter your articulations, dynamics, and phrasing to emphasize certain emotions, characters, and/or storylines. Suddenly, you have a powerful piece of music with a deliberate meaning without too much extra effort. This simple process will not only excite you as a musician and artist, but will also draw in the attention and interest of anyone who is listening. So don’t be afraid and start adding power to your music today!