One difference between good musicians and very good musicians is this: very good musicians are masters of subtlety. Let me explain what I mean.
Most of us can recognize the difference between music that is merely played technically well and music that is special. But have you ever thought about what the difference boils down to? Here is my theory: music becomes special as a result of countless micro (subtle) decisions that are made by a musician.
Great musicians add those subtle nuances instinctively. Those effects are a result not only of technical ability but also the musician’s belief system. If you devalue emotion, your music will not be emotional. If you are not happy, your music will not be happy either.
I could discuss this for a long time, but instead, I want to demonstrate a subtlety for you that I recently used.
I got a call on Saturday night informing me that I needed to play an offertory the next morning. Rather than going back to my old stuff, I decided to come up with something new. It took me about ten minutes to come up with an arrangement and about twenty minutes to polish it. It will not win any awards but I felt good about it.
As I often do, once I picked the song, I came up with a hook first that I could build an arrangement from. A hook is an idea that can be incorporated through an arrangement in different ways. It can be a pattern, a rhythm, a progression, or any number of things. Here is the hook I came up with initially.
I then added a subtlety that I used not only in the hook but throughout the entire arrangement. Here is the modified hook.
The difference of course is the accents on the off beats creating syncopation and adding energy. Accents are an enormously underated effect in the pianist’s toolbox.
Play this pattern until it feels natural and then try applying it to one or two of your own songs.