Play With Expression in 7 Steps

Can We Teach Emotion/Expression?

Last week we discussed how emotion can make you a better musician. In musical circles we call emotion, expression. I guess no one likes to be called emotional. But what we’re trying to do is express how we feel, or communicate our emotions (generally) to our listeners. I’ve even heard some people say that you can’t teach expression. I believe you can, and I’m going to share with you how to do it.

Are You Quite or Loud?

I’ve had many students come into my studio and play for me, and do you know what I’ve noticed? Many times (not always) students play according to their personality. Quiet people tend to play at softer dynamics and can be a little reserved in their approach. On the other hand, people who are confident are more likely to play louder and really go for it (sometimes they “go for it” too much and play right through my coaching). Of course this is a generalization, but this has been the case many times. This makes sense, as the instrument should be an extension of your voice.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

So does this mean you can only play in the style of your personality? No, you can learn to play with all sorts of personalities. We can tap into Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. What I mean is this: if you’re a quiet person, this can change as soon as you pick up the saxophone. With proper instruction, you can begin to feel what it’s like to become someone who is more aggressive and forward. Of course, this is only in a musical aspect. In addition, as soon as you put the saxophone down, you can go back to the way you were before.

The Steps

Here are the steps you can follow to begin to play with more emotion/expression:

  1. Practice the piece/song until you become very familiar with it
  2. Understand what emotion the music is trying to communicate
  3. Before you play, think of the emotion
  4. Think of an experience in your life that is linked with this emotion
  5. Let this thought/feeling swell within you (I often feel this in my chest- excitement, fear, etc.)
  6. As you play continue to think of this personal experience and keep a high level of emotion
  7. If the music changes emotion, have a new experience ready to tap into


This 7 step process may look too easy; and it should! You’re comfortable with emotions and feelings; you experience them every day!

Give this a try. It will take a little time for this to become second nature, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you heard a difference immediately. When I’ve shared this with students in the past, I’ve heard improvement in many aspects of their playing, right away. It’s very exciting.


Why will this help you become a better musician? Because art is about communication and music is art. As you feel emotion while you play, you will not only play better, but you’ll communicate with those listening on a very personal level…without being too personal.

Have fun trying this out, and I encourage you to make a “before and after” recording so you can hear the difference. Feel free to write about your experiences in the comment section below. I look forward to hearing from you!

Comments 2

  1. Hi Jeff,

    I understood fully the Great seven steps. Its highly appreciated. Now I will start practising these seven steps to achieve EMOTION in the song.

    Thank you so much .


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