Playing with Feeling: A Defining Musical Moment
Settling into a new environment in Sydney, I’ve been reflecting on music’s effect on my life. One of the more powerful memories of my youth is the first day I truly expressed myself through music and played with feeling. I’d been playing guitar for years, studying with a man named Rick from my hometown and practicing regularly. I thoroughly enjoyed playing.
In those early years, I always focused on technique and adding new, exciting riffs to my repertoire. I’d practice riffs over and over again until they started to sound fluid and crisp. It was a passionate daily grind and welcome release valve.
Then one day, something clicked that I’d overlooked - or neglected to allow into my musical experience thus far. I was improvising in my room to a backing track - something I did quite often to practice soloing. At some point, a wave came over me where I wasn’t thinking of any techniques at all. Instead, I channeled my feelings through the music and let them be expressed through sound. The solo I played sounded better than anything I’d ever played before and I knew in my heart why it was. This solo was my truth of the moment screaming through the amplifier.
I look back on this memory so fondly because it really was a defining moment in my life. I realized for the first time that music is so much more than notes strung together. Music is a channel for emotion. It is a communicator of feeling. For the first time, I felt my own feelings flow out of me with a wicked freedom and ricochet off my bedroom walls. It was pure magic. I remember sitting on the floor after it, holding my guitar with a sense of awe and wonder; I’d opened up a portal into another endless dimension of sound. I’d had glimpses of this place before but never did I experience it so fully as I did that day. I finally knew what music was all about.
This experience led to a shift in my playing from technique to phrasing and feeling. Often the simplest notes and riffs provide the strongest emphasis of what the deeper emotion is trying to say. What’s true in music is true in life - there’s no need to overcomplicate things.
Years later I heard John Mayer’s ‘Where the Light Is’ live album and on a little never-before-released song called Out of My Mind there is this beautifully soulful screaming note that hangs on for a tiny eternity. And man… you can feel it. That note still sends goosebumps through my body. (Here it is for those interested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_NXn2l-49u4&t=377s)
As a player, you never know what people are going to feel when they listen to your music. But that should never be the main focus. What’s important is honest expression. The more a musician can express their own feelings, the more people will be able to connect with it on a deeper level.
As life continues to take me in new directions, I continue to be aware of this idea of feeling through things. You can apply the feeling and phrasing aspect of music to any activity or endeavor. For me, it represents stepping beyond the facts, labels, and comparisons that we so often connect to the world through. Feeling is another gateway. It is the way to see with the heart.