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mechanics of emotional expression

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by wcnewby, Nov 2, 2012.

  1. I was reading another thread about synthesizer music and the difference between artists, musicians, sound engineers... all of the people involved in making sounds we call music. The term music could be called into question as well, at least the definition.

    First, common ground. I consider art as that which evokes emotion and an artist one who creates art. Of all the arts, and all the artists, musicians are the most able to elicit emotion. A musican, or a group of them can take thousands of people by their heart rate, sync them up and then drive them like a tractor. A computer will never stand on a stage and do that.

    I know how to play my instrument, but am not well learned enough to speak with it, let alone modify emotions. I am wondering how others crossed this bridge. In practice, did you just start doodling around with different things, or did you play something when you were happy that sounded happy and remember it? What was that it? If you had to describe your sad sound, what are the mechanics, do you drag your rhythm, blend your notes, chose flats... What are the nuts and bolts you use to make your playing sound like it was made by a human having an emotion?

    I'm not conducting a survey, I am trying to learn something...:)
  2. topo morto

    topo morto

    Mar 22, 2010
    As you've pointed out, a lot of these discussions come down to the fact that there's no universal authority on what words mean, and different people think they mean different things, and the meanings change over time, place, context, etc. Discussions like 'this word means this', 'no it means this', are boring boring boring.

    Computers at this point in time are just pieces of equipment, they don't do much on their own. Music made with computers is rocking people's worlds all over the world, right now...

    For me, there is no bridge - I play sounds that evoke emotion in me, and If other people get something from it as well, great.

    As to what evokes emotion in me - it almost always wouldn't be just one thing, it would be a blend of stuff working well together - harmony, timbre, rhythm, lyrics, associations... I could probably tell you why a song I like works well for me, but as far as writing things that really move me - that's something I'm still working on.

    Who knows, if I heard you play maybe I'd get a lot of enjoyment and emotion from your music, and feel it 'speaking' to me! but I wouldn't feel you were speaking to me - It would be a 3-way love triangle.
  3. Right, computers can't make music on their own any more than a saw can make a house on it's own. A person with the ability to use the tool can make the house. A computer is a tool and how well you use it determines whether you are a tradesman or an artist.

    The reason I mention the meaning of words is specifically for the word music. Some people will claim that the stuff made by computer is not really music. I think people who play instruments rather than work with tools get miffed because it takes a lot more work to run a bass or a guitar or a harmonica than it does to run a saw. Other words that get abused; art, and artist. When do you become an artist rather than a tradesman? My answer is "when your work creates emotion"

    The point of this thread is how to create emotion with your music. As far as I can determine, your answer is to feel emotion while you are playing. Or play things that mirror your emotions. This makes sense because you are expressing yourself this way, rather than epressing someone else. (which you can't do accurately)

    I was listening to "the ancient orchestra" which is a group who uses instruments from the same period as the piece written to perform. It is incredible, the difference in sound. The pieces sound more like the composer must have meant them to sound. They seem to have more depth, more emotion. I was listening to Bach's movement with "ode to joy" it was being performed in german. At times, the piece makes you want to laugh, or run, or stand on your chair, or cry.... Amazing stuff... emotion in music... and I don't speak german.
  4. Clef_de_fa


    Dec 25, 2011
    To me bass players in general don't have any emotion. Few could make you feel sad or happy with just the sound of their bass. They need a band and lyrics to convey emotion.

    They lack dynamics ... too many music is always loud and no in between. No variation, no nothing. To make somekind of dynamic they remove and instrument or effect ...

    Listening to solo classical music, is a different experience in that departement. They know how to express a feeling. When it is written "vivace" or "dolce" it refers to more than a tempo.

    Listening to Yo-Yo Ma rendition of all the 6 suites is an humble experience in dynamics and expressing his own feeling. ( I love suite No2, 5 and 6 )

    Edgar Meyer is also really good with conveying emotion
  5. topo morto

    topo morto

    Mar 22, 2010
    It falls back to definitions of words again... what are you defining as an instrument, and what are you defining as a tool? For example, is the distinction you are drawing between real-time and non-realtime creation of music?

    IMO It's not so much that they get abused - it's that they mean different things to different people - so much so that they are fairly useless other than as very general, catch-all terms that must necessarily have very fuzzy boundaries.

    My current idea of what an 'artist' should be doing (in a useful definition of the word, not necessarily anyone else's :) ) is to allow people to experience and and feel things they otherwise would not.

    That could be by creation of an object, or a situation, or just an idea...

    Something like that, probably more the first than the second....

    it's how I feel about it, although my auntie is a painter and seems to feel her job is to directly invoke emotions in people, with the painting just being the medium. She seemed shocked when I suggested that you can't actually do that for a person at random - though it's possible that the viewer might feel the same as the artist because of having a similar background, or just being a similar person in some way. But another person might feel totally different, and the next 3 might feel nothing at all.

    One of the things that I think gets ignored in music theory is the way that timbre, etc. of the instruments used is so important to how harmony and melody are perceived. It's quite natural to me though - I listen to a lot of ambient music, which really focuses on timbre, and it's one of the genres that connects with me most directly.
  6. Yep, the definition of words will screw up a perfectly good conversation, and yet, they will also make a perfectly good conversation possible. It makes it easier when everybody is on the same page with definitions when involved in something so complex.

    On tools and instruments. You are making points on me. it is absolutely how you use them. This is what makes things confusing. Some people make electronic music that does move a person, and they are artists. Others push a button, achieve a beat and believe they are achieving something.

    They are just not using a tool as an instrument. For example a chainsaw... If you use it to make firewood, it is a tool, if you carve a faberge egg out of a stump, it is a tool being used like an instrument and if you are in a band called Jackal it actually is an instrument (I'm a lumberjack baby)

    It IS all about how you use it, and that is what this thread is trying to explore. There is no right answer, there is no wrong answer there is only a sharing of facets.
  7. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses, Hipshot products
    Part of me wants to argue this, but I get your point. Unfortunately I agree that this is true for the most part, but has less to do with the instrument itself than with the way it's being used in most music nowadays. Stylistically bass has fallen in a space that doesn't leave a whole lot of room for emotion, at least in popular music, but it wasn't always that way. The fact that engineers are lining things up with kick drums, perfecting performances, and then compressing everything as if a steamroller went over it doesn't help any either. The earlier years of bass, while technically and stylistically nowhere near what people do these days, had a lot more emotion in it.

    As for the question in the OP, I can only share my experience. And interstingly enough, while punk rock only seems to have one emotion, that's the genre I believe gave me my best training (or at least introduction) in the area of playing with emotion. When I was 16 and playing guitar I lucked into a band with some really talented and experienced musicians. We hit the studio at a time when I was still pretty much learning my instrument, and well... they weren't happy with the way I "attacking" the guitar. The word "lackadaisical" kept getting thrown at me, and I recieved lengthy lectures by both the bandleader and producer on playing every chord and note as if my life depended on it. And to put every bit of anger or emotion that I could into each chord. Play the guitar with my entire being, not just my fingers. I've been including examples in my posts lately so what the hell, this is the band, it was 1978, and this is what came out (all we want is fun and the ashtray were the 2 first songs I ever recorded - 8 track - pretty much live) http://www.myspace.com/theteamtribute/music/songs/the-ash-tray-33124039 .

    2 other things really pushed me regarding putting emotion into my playing. One was an awesome article in BP magazine about 15 years ago by flea, where he talked about creating scenarios and stories with your bass. If I can find the article I'll post it, because I'm sure my understanding of it went to a different place. Anyhow, my guitarist and I at the time spent a lot of hours sitting in my bedroom coming up with crazy ideas, and then jamming to them. ie: it's a beatiful sunny day and we're kids relaxing on our porch, mom says she's taking us to the carnival, we go, we're having a blast and someone pulls out a gun and starts shooting people. Stuff like that. :) Or even more simply, we see the girl of our dreams, we're nervous, we start talking, she asks to come home with us. It was a really fun exercise, and I feel it helped both me and my guitarist expand a lot.

    The last thing I do, which is something I also learned from my first mentor is sit and kinda meditate on playing just one note. I try to see how many different ways I can play it, try to create different feelings with that note, different rhythems, etc. Basically try to do anything an everything I possibly can, for as long as I can, with just one single note. Adding an octave after a while opens up a million other possibilities.
  8. I think that there are bass players who lack emotion who are putting notes out ther because they match a chord. But, when you consider what a chord is and how your bass affects it. For example if guitar is playing a C major and you throw in a flat E with your bass, you just made their chord a minor.

    Bass players have emotion, it is just subtle like gravity.
  9. topo morto

    topo morto

    Mar 22, 2010
    I really enjoy tight 'perfect' rhythms too though, and I think some of the great old tracks with great feel are great because they are tight. One tried and tested way to put together a modern pop track is to layer a bunch of old funk (?) beats and loop them round, and the reason that works is that those original tracks are often very tightly played. I don't think that's a lack of emotion - it's an energy and drive that's just a different emotion to a melodramatic violin piece with a lot of rubato.

    Good track, great Toanz!

    You could have a whole thread just on 'what can you do with a note?'

    A single note with some great 'emotional mechanics' in it is the classic 80's shakuhachi sample as used at the start of this song and in countless others. A lot of pitch variation in there - obviously wind players have mechanisms for doing that that we don't, but maybe going fretless might give you some instant emotion!
  10. Clef_de_fa


    Dec 25, 2011

    it isn't emotion, it is harmonization. Also putting Eb in a Cmaj7 chord ... it will clash. Why ? because you have C-E-G-B and then you put Eb as the lowest note ... it will clash for sure.
  11. Clef_de_fa


    Dec 25, 2011
    Yeah I know it isn't the fault of the bass and more of the user and/or effect and producer and music in general that don't ( and condemn ) encourage dynamics and emotion outside of lyrics.

    this is why I said in "general". I still find some bass player capable of delivering emotion. Most of them are high caliber solo player.
  12. Eb would clash in a Cmaj7, but I thought I said a Cmaj. In which case the flatened third, would produce a minor sound. Cmaj being 1,3,5 of the C scale C,E,G and 1,b3,5 is the minor formula. You could add the flat seventh and make a C7. My point was you could make a sad chord out of a happy one.
  13. Actually it would be a minor major 7th... Cm(maj7)

    I have been studying the chord types, memorizing them... there are 44. Otherwise I wouldn't have had that bit in my forehead. ;)
  14. chaosMK


    May 26, 2005
    Albuquerque, NM
    Hi-fi into an old tube amp
    I think reasonable technical mastery/control of the instrument is the starting point (though some people play awesome without ever having to think about it intellectually). The mechanisms are fairly simple- dynamics, how you attack, how you mute/separate notes rhythmically, how you sustain and transition notes.

    Find out where your base line is in terms of your playing style... for example, do you use a really light or heavy RH touch? Ideally you want to be able to choose and control these things but the first step is being aware of it.

    Knowing everything about how your gear works and what character/vibe it can enable or hinder in your playing helps too.

    Every time you play in a group setting it's a chance to experiment and put all of this stuff into practice. You can try to match someone else's feel (say a rambunctious drummer or a really smooth vocalist) or find a vibe you like and drive things from your corner.
  15. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses, Hipshot products
    I love the feel that went into these 2 basslines. There are thousands more but these were always 2 of my R&R favs.

    I believe this might warrant it's own thread. :)
  16. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    It's a simple process, you just let go of everything and embrace the instrument and the music. Anything else is contrived, fake, convoluted to the point of verging on acting. This means trying to recall and remember aspects of the performance and repeat them come what may, in other words a learned performance.

    Now this is no bad thing as we are all entertainers, so conveying emotions and energy is a great visual.
    But we must learn to turn it on and off, all the great players I have known and played with, turn it on and turn it off when needed. Now when they turn it on they just let go and embrace the situation, it is as simple as that, just let go and embrace the situation.:)
  17. Clef_de_fa


    Dec 25, 2011
    But saying Cmaj + Eb it doesn't make any sense. Because in your exemple you said a Cmaj it will include C-E-G with Eb ... it doesn't make sense like that ... turn the Eb into D# and you have a EminMaj7(13) with make sense ... you just changed your chord by adding D# on a Cmaj triad.
  18. I am sure this won't be the last time I'm missunderstood through personal missrepresentation. Still, the idea of finishing chords rather than accentuating them is kind of cool. For example, we would usually play a C,E, or G during a Cmaj, accentuating the chord, but by selecting notes outside of the chord to make it a different one takes things to another level. Or so it would seem.

    C minor interests me because on a guitar it seems kind of thin sounding, to me. If a guitar was making a C and you minored it with your bass, it would not sound thin.
  19. Clef_de_fa


    Dec 25, 2011
    Oh ! ok ! if the guitar player leaves out the 3rd in a C chord yeah you could make it moves from Cmaj to Cmin otherwise if you play E then Eb(D#) while a guitar player play a full Cmaj chord ( which will include the 3rd ) then you will make the chord move from Cmaj to EminMAJ7
  20. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    Creating music is achieved by combining constituent parts ( rhythm, tempo, pitch, articulation, dynamics , technique etc)
    In general we'll tend to be mentally focused on one or more of those parts while playing.

    Emotion is what comes out when you can stop focusing on the parts, and play "holistically",
    after you have practiced the piece to the point of total internalization,
    and all you are doing is listening responding to the music.

    The important thing to note is this can be achieved one piece at a time, even one riff at a time.
    You don't need to practice and master every possible technique for years until suddenly emotion becomes available.
    You just have to internalize the one thing you wish to work on so you don't have to "think."

    It's not really thoughtlessness, It's the "unconscious knowing" that Anthony Wellington refers to in this clip.