young woman playing guitar with emotional depth“I get an audience involved because I’m involved myself. If the song is a lament at the loss of love, I get an ache in my gut. . . . I cry out the loneliness.”
–Frank Sinatra
The Musician’s Way,
p. 188

Some concerts provoke such deep feelings that audiences remember them for years.

How can we musicians put on unforgettable shows night after night?

For starters, we establish emotional links with our audiences by feeling intense emotions ourselves, by immersing ourselves in the spirit of the music we perform.

Here’s a three-phase process I use to help musicians bring emotional depth to their work.

3 Ways for Musicians to Generate Emotional Depth

1. Establish an Emotional Framework

Although music is an abstract art form, more than anything else, music is about emotion. And it’s up to us performers to use our imaginations to create emotional frameworks for every title that we play or sing.

So, when you take on an unfamiliar composition, begin by investigating the emotions or dramatic scenes that the music might convey:

Does a composition communicate hope, love, sadness, celebration?
Do any scenes come to mind – maybe a couple dancing, people partying, an individual praying?

Create a fundamental emotional framework upon which your interpretation can grow.The Musician's Way book cover

2. Flesh Out the Emotional Landscape

With an emotional outline in place, it’s time to go deeper. If an instrumental piece evokes sadness, you might imagine a film scene that the music would accompany and ask:

Who’s sad and why?
Where is the scene taking place and what’s going on?
What’s the time of day or night? What’s the season and weather?

Be as precise or as general as you like, and periodically modify your dramatic scenarios.

3. Feel Deeply

In the practice room:

Recall the scene you conjured up, and then stay in touch with that emotional context as you work. Whether you’re tackling a technical problem or refining an expressive gesture, feel what those film characters would be going through.

As you feel deeply, be mindful to do so with a degree of detachment that enables you to evaluate your work, reinforce excellence, and surmount problems.

On stage:

Before launching your first phrase, connect with the emotions you’ll project and get into character: if a piece is about joy, be joyful; if it’s about loss, feel loss.

Your openness to emotion will help center your attention on the music and away from any nerves, uplifting you and your listeners.

And when you lead your listeners through emotional journeys, you help heal their sorrows and liberate their joys. You celebrate life with every phrase.

See The Musician’s Way for inclusive strategies that empower musicians to be creative performing artists.

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© 2011 Gerald Klickstein
Photo © RJ Lerich, licensed from