The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between

Although 99% of musical instruction is about which notes to play, the most transformative thing you can do for your piano playing isn’t about the notes at all: it’s about the silence between the notes.

Let me ask you a question: When you sit down at the piano, what are you thinking about? Probably the notes, right? As well you should. Yes, we need to play notes. But equally (or maybe, more) important is the space in between the notes. Here’s what Mozart said about this:

“The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.”

The guy knew what he was talking about, and just about every great musician knows this, whether they express it like that or not. Just ask Miles Davis, or Bob Dylan.

So what exactly goes on in between the notes? It’s not always a literal silence, is it? Each note is usually still ringing out before the next one is played, right? But yes, something is happening that relates to silence.

You’re listening to the silence.

This is part of what Mozart may have been trying to convey with this somewhat nebulous statement. It’s something that every good improviser or composer knows. You write or play a note, and then where does the next one come from? The silence. But only if we’re listening for it. Otherwise, our playing becomes a stream of run-on sentences that has no meaning. No subtlety. No breath.

So… the next time you sit down at the piano to play jazz, rock, pop, blues, classical, or whatever else you may enjoy playing, become aware of the silence between the notes. Listen to the silence, and see what notes appear. This is a game-changer.

Here’s a short video of how this can apply to playing a jazz ballad, “Blue In Green.” Give it a try!

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7 thoughts on “The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between”

  1. I’m pretty sure Debussy said it. I think you can can really hear what he meant when you listen or play Claire De Lune.


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