Great Music is Storytelling

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Welcome to, I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today is about how great music is storytelling. This has many ramifications. For example, a great piece of music sometimes evokes images and emotions that can tell a story. It may not tell a story with words as much as with feeling and direction. Interestingly, this is also true of great improvisations. For example, listen to a great jazz pianist crafting a ballad. As it unfolds, it can remind you of so many things in your life that you can’t even put into words. That’s what’s so great about music!

A performance can sometimes tell a story.

What I’m going to do today is something a little bit different. I thought I’d challenge myself and play the beginning of Chopin’s G Minor Ballade. I will play it twice. The first time, I’m going to try to play it absolutely faithfully to the score. The second time I’m going to try to tell a story. I’ll let the notes evoke something to make you feel it’s going somewhere and keep you on the edge of your seat, wondering where it’s going next. Can this really be done? I’m going to see if I can play this absolutely accurately the first time. Then, I’m going to go back and see if I can do something more than that and tell a story with the same exact notes, markings, rhythms, and phrasing. I will add subtlety of emotion that can somehow transcend the notes. Is this possible? This is what this experiment is about today.

It’s just like the lines of a play.

The lines of a play can be read in so many different ways. Everything the playwright wrote is in there, yet each actor has a completely different feeling and tells a different story. That’s what I’m going to attempt to do now. I’ll see if I can take the same passage of music with all the same markings, the same notes, rhythm, fingering, phrasing, and expression and see if I can tell more than what is on the page.

See video for my performances of the beginning of Chopin’s G Minor Ballade.

I wonder, could you hear a difference? I’m really interested in your opinions of these two different performances. They both are accurate from a technical standpoint, all the notes that Chopin wrote were in both of them. I’m wondering what your feelings are about them, if they evoke different senses. Do they tell different stories? That’s what music is all about. It’s telling stories that can’t be told with words – stories of emotion. That’s what I believe. I’m wondering how many of you feel the same way, and what these two different snippets of the Chopin G Minor Ballade did for you. Let me know in the comments, on, as well as on YouTube. Thanks again for joining me, Robert Estrin here at, Your Online Piano Resource.

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Supplemental Content:
Chopin Ballade #1 in G-Minor on Steinway Model D Concert Grand

13 thoughts on “Great Music is Storytelling”


  1. I definitely heard a difference.
    I am a street musician, playing accordion. I find music triggers memories and emotions in people, not necessarily how we might imagine, or how the listener even imagines.
    I have seen people almost walk past me, then hear a phrase or song that triggers an emotion and watch them turn and stop, then approach and make a donation because they felt some connection to a feeling, past, person or whatever. It goes beyond the written notes!

  2. The second performance was deep , sincere and more musical .Rubato was beautiful on the high leaps and singing longer, echo, than the first rendition.
    The atmosphere was falling into place as you played, eg, the story started and ended…

    1. It’s amazing how many listeners discern what are truly subtle differences in these performances. It gives me great joy to know that these differences come through!

  3. Maestro Estrin – The first version of the Ballade was like a robot playing. (Please forgive me if I offended you), My late Maestro always said to “love, caress, give life to the music”.
    That’s what you did with the second playing of the Ballade. Thank you. I enjoyed it greatly.

    1. So glad you could not only hear, but feel the difference between these two performances. The first one was indeed, lifeless, even though there were no errors!

  4. Thank you for this most informative video. When some months ago I first went seeking my grand piano to buy, I had no clue what to listen for, or what it was I heard when I liked or disliked a particular tone of a particular piano when played. Because I could not independently imagine it, I could not “hear” it. This video provides something tangible to my ear to “hear” and thus, understand differences in providing “feeling” to a score, vs. just playing the score. Next, please make another similar video and specify in detail what is it precisely that you do to cause the difference so we understand better how to create one. All I could put the difference I heard down to was (1) your educational goal for us viewers, and (2) that you applied a wider range of dynamics (loud to soft) with more contouring up and down of those dynamics. Did you also think about a specific story while you played, or was it more a specific feeling? I like to make up specific stories behind music I play. I’m soon taking a “how to listen to music” course and hope that will help, as hearing differences is incredibly valuable to those of us newer to listening to and making piano music!

    1. Sometimes when I listen to a truly great performance and compare it to a performance from someone else that’s perfectly fine, the only thing I can come up with that separates them is magic! How to achieve this is not with a formula. Likening this again to the spoken words of a great actor bringing the text into the flesh, the job of the musician is to bring life to the music.

  5. While both versions sounded wonderful, the second version DID seem to radiate more feelings of warmth. There is no question that playing with expression makes all the difference in how the pieces sound. Doing so effectively requires concentration but it is definitely felt by the audience. Thanks for sharing your talents. Respectfully, Tom M

  6. Thank you for a wonderful and educational example of how music can tell stories. Both examples of your performances were excellent! I could tell on your second example that you put your heart and inspiration and personal connection to the piece into your playing. Outstanding!

    I think every time a piece is performed it can have different nuances, color and stories, depending on the venue, the piano, the time of day, the audience and lastly how the performer is feeling at that time. Every performance will be a different experience for the performer as well as the audience.

    Again, thank you for your excellent videos, Robert. I thoroughly enjoy and benefit from them.

  7. I heard and felt a difference. The first snippet was boring to me, but the second snippet was more alive. In the second snippet, I could picture a couple in a romantic setting. There was happiness then trouble seemed to come about. Then happiness returned and their lives flowed together again.

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