MTNA Session – A Musician Acts

Following are my notes from the session: A Musician Acts – How Acting Techniques Can Improve Music Performances and Pedagogy by Jaren S. Hinckley

The Magic If
Play/sing a few lines of the piece.
Play/sing the same piece as if…
Think of how it would come across if that situation applied – still correctly and with all technique and skill – just use the question to elevate or change the piece. Picture yourself in that situation. Don’t alter the sound intentionally, just picture the different scenario. (What’s your favorite movie? Favorite character?)
…you were drunk.
…you were at a circus.
…you were at a funeral.
…you were assigned to play background music.

The Unbroken Line
Know what your character was doing before you came onto the stage and what your character will do after you leave. Think of playing a movie in your head and you’re playing the soundtrack to the movie. From the moment you stand up, create an unbroken line until you arrive at the piano and play your piece. Imagine you are the greatest pianist in the world and are performing at Carnegie Hall.

What to do if you get sick of the piece? Practicing deteriorates because you don’t want to deal with the piece anymore.
You can change “The Unbroken Line” or “Magic If” at any point if you get bored or tired of it. Picture something radically different when you play.
This can also be applied in chamber groups to help create interest and utilize the phrasing of others.


There are “invisible rays” of light on stage that help create a connection between the actors; a sense of togetherness when performing with others.
[Mr. Hinckley had trumpet duet play just notes and not focus on anything else. Then, had them turn and look at each other as often as possible while still playing the duet. The cohesiveness this simple step added to their performance was incredible!]

Emotion Memory
First acting experiences – a British Farce. Two comic characters. Mostly physical comedy. Would start to laugh and couldn’t control self when everyone else was laughing. Asked another actress, “how do you keep from laughing?” Actress said, “I’m a social worker. When I feel like laughing, I think of all the abused children I work with.” Didn’t work. Real solution: emotion memory. Don’t dredge up horrible thoughts, just draw upon a memory of a time when you felt that same emotion. Seek out experiences so that you have a vast reservoir of experiences upon which to draw in the future. Then, when playing a piece, recall the memory that you associate with an experience. Don’t relive the experience, just recall the emotion.

Physical Actions

Too many people took the Emotion Memory technique too far. This was the culmination of the other five techniques. On stage, perform a physical motion that would bring up the emotion without damaging your mind/soul by dredging up the experiences themselves. Can also be applied to stage entry.
Use for someone who suffers from stage fright. Conscious of everyone looking at you? Have you ever been on a stage with a spotlight focused just on you and you’re blinded momentarily? That momentary blindness gives you the feeling that you’re all by yourself – almost a sense of safety in your little circle of light. Imagine that spotlight encircling you, then play. “Public Solitude”
“You either have it or you’ve had it.”

Strike a pose, then freeze. Deliberately release tension in all muscles that are not necessary for maintaining the pose. Mr. Hinckley acknowledged that there are personality types amongst our students that will resist our efforts. The goal is to help them develop “stage charm.”

Mr. Hinckley shared an illustration of a teacher who told students he would be playing for them at their next masterclass. He arrived late, shuffled in, carrying armload of junk, plopped it all down, messed around with reed, then played piece, didn’t acknowledge applause, shuffled out. He then re-entered and repeated his performance the same way, but with a completely different approach and presence. He helped students see a real life model of how their presentation can completely affect the overall performance of a piece. He also suggested filming students so that they can see what they really look like. Encourage students to talk to the audience before they play their piece. Give them something to say. This helps break the ice with the audience.

Share and enjoy!

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