The Secret to Expressing Emotion in Music

Can you clearly express your emotions in music? One of the greatest abilities you can have as a musical artist is to be able to take any idea or emotion and accurately convey it in music. On top of that, great musical creativity means you can make your listeners feel the exact musical emotions you intended them to feel with your music.

The fact is, most people do not know how to be truly creative in their guitar playing. The biggest problem is that they have a core misunderstanding about how musical creativity really works. If you struggle with this, then you probably know that this can become an increasingly frustrating experience over time.

Most people play guitar songs and melodies from great guitar players hoping that they will soak in the same musical expression abilities through time and experience. Although it is cool to play nice guitar riffs, and learn your favorite solos on guitar, doing this alone will not give you musical creativity. The reality is that copying other musicians will bring very few results on its own. There are essentially two things you need to understand in order to become highly creative and express emotions in music:

  1. You have to understand the manner in which great guitar players and musicians ‘think’. More specifically, this means determining WHY they choose the specific notes and musical ideas that they do. This is something that you cannot learn if you simply copy the “notes” of your favorite songs and guitar solos. Rather than just playing the same notes as other musicians, you must spend time thinking about the musical emotions you want to express, and what specific musical choices you need to make to achieve that goal. Once you gain this level of musical creativity, you will develop your own unique sound as it relates to the ideas and emotions that come from your mind.
  2. You must know how specific musical emotions can be created and expressed by making certain musical choices while composing music or playing a guitar solo. Additionally, you need to be able to make your audience understand exactly what emotions you want to express with your music, without having to say a single word. Many guitarists struggle greatly with doing this and as a result they end up limited to only playing the music of others without ever really expressing themselves through their guitar playing.

If you want to truly master musical creativity, you will need to learn how to use music theory. Unfortunately, most guitar players have one of two misconceptions about what music theory IS. Some people stay away from theory because they believe it contains unbreakable “rules” that will limit their freedom of musical expression. Other guitar players think that the purpose of music theory is only to learn abstract ideas about all the nuts and bolts that make up music.

The truth is, music theory is neither of these things. Music theory is the idea of connecting one’s thoughts, feelings, and emotions together through musical expression. It is the ability to explain WHY we feel emotions in music, and how we can continue to use musical creativity to recreate our emotions.

Change Your Mindset About Music Theory

In order to really understand music theory, you need to first get rid of any of the current misconceptions you have about it (as described above). Once you do this, you can truly unlock your greatest potential with musical expression and creativity. The main thing to understand about music theory is that it is very useful for explaining how music makes us feel various emotions.

There are many ways to demonstrate this, and here is one example of how I teach my guitar students to become more musically creative by applying music theory. First, I have them take out a piece of paper and write down all of the thoughts, ideas, and emotions they want to convey through musical expression. Once they have done this, I ask them to try to figure out the various music theory tools that can be used to express these things. The key here is to emphasize “applying” music theory in a creative way so that you integrate the music world together with everyday thoughts and situations. To learn more about how this works, watch this video:

Here are the most important skills you will get from learning music theory:

  1. Music theory will help you understand exactly why you feel the way you do when you listen to any given piece of music. The best part is that you will then be able to use this knowledge in your own musical expression to make much higher quality music.
  2. You will no longer have to waste time trying to find the “right notes” when making your own music. You will be able to quickly identify the exact musical elements needed to express your emotions in music. This will put your level of musical creativity far ahead of most guitarists and musicians who simply play around on their instrument until something sounds interesting.
  3. Music theory gives you all the equipment you need to put together new musical ideas much more quickly, without having to rely on remembering the way something sounds. Having the ability to associate specific feelings and emotions with the musical tools needed to express them allows you to compose and organize entire sections of your music on paper (or by ear) before even playing any notes.
  4. When you understand exactly which musical choices to make in order to accurately convey a certain musical emotion, you will be able to anticipate how people will interpret your music.

So What Is The Next Step?

If you would like to increase your musical creativity and master musical expression, start by taking action on the following:

  1. Check out the video above.
  2. Remember that although music theory is extremely important for maximizing your musical creativity, you need to also develop a variety of musical skills to achieve the most freedom in your musical expression.
  3. Work on the exercise I mentioned above (that I do with my guitar students). This will be very useful for helping you to understand what you need to work on to become better in your musical expression. If you are having difficulty working through the exercise itself, this will tell you one of two things: Either your current music theory knowledge is not very developed yet, OR (like most guitarists and musicians) you do not understand how to integrate your music ideas together in an actual musical situation.

Remember, it doesn’t matter if you know a lot about scales, chords, and other theoretical concepts. The most essential thing when it comes to music theory, is understanding how to consistently integrate your music knowledge with the thoughts and ideas in your mind. Once you can do this, your musical creativity will be overflowing!