Is trying hard and “really feeling it” the same thing as authentic emotional expression?

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It’s possible to put in an enormous amount of effort into your art, and to have perfect technique, but still feel unmoved during the creative process. This is because no amount of effort or technique can compensate for a real connection with the authentic source of creativity within.
When you’re disconnected from this source, and what you’re creating won’t feel emotionally or artistically satisfying, and so you may be tempted to simply use more effort. This is what “trying hard” and “really feeling” it (think “guitar face”) implies.
But when you are connected to the source of authentic emotion and creativity within, then all effort drops away. Your body relaxes and you become a channel for what’s inside you that wants to be expressed. This is what I call Playing From the Heart.
In this video, I introduce Playing From the Heart, read an excerpt from my book, and speak a little about what it takes to bring your art alive.
This video features an excerpt from Chapter 4 “Playing From the Heart” from my upcoming book. Read the full excerpt from this video below.
My video on “Soulforce Mastery”:
Be among the first to know about my upcoming book “Soulforce Arts: The Vital Role of Musicians & Other Artists in a World That’s Lost Its Mind” by signing up for my mailing list at
Joseph Arnold Violinist, Alexander Technique Teacher, Director of the Soulforce Arts Institute
Effort vs. Expression
“We aren’t particularly talented–we try harder!”
– Joe Strummer, of The Clash
Let’s imagine that you’re up on stage, playing a demanding and dynamic piece of music. You play all the right notes, you have perfect technique, you have a brilliant sound, you look like you’re trying to exorcize a demon from your instrument, and yet after the performance you feel unfulfilled and unmoved. You tried your hardest, but you just didn’t connect with real inspiration or genuine feeling. Why not?
Answers come from an understanding of the Three-Fold Braid of Soulforce Mastery. Read through the above scenario again and see if you can discern which of the three strands are either present or missing. You may notice that the first strand, technique, is present, but the other two, effortlessness and the Knowledge of the Soul, are what’s in short supply. This indicates a kind of overly narrow focus on technique that may be very familiar to many musicians & other artists. On the one hand, there is nothing inherently wrong with focusing on technique; great technique is, after all, a necessary part of great artistry. However, as we’ve already seen, technique by itself is not sufficient to create a performance of power and beauty, one that can actually move you and your audiences.
A common result of narrowly focusing on technique is that the expression of emotion in the creative act gets unconsciously confused with trying harder. You can see this in the scrunched faces and contorted postures of performers who look like they’re “really feeling it.” But is really feeling it the same thing as authentic emotional expression? In an echo of the old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed–try, try again!”, it’s almost as if the message many of us get about expressivity is, “If it’s not expressive enough, just express harder!”
The trouble with this is that trying or expressing harder creates bodily tension, which in turn interferes with your expressive potential. Emotion is a kind of energy, and expression of emotion requires the movement of that energy, like the flow of water through a hose. But when you try hard, tension builds in the body and acts like a kink in that hose. The result, instead of having the hoped-for emotional power, has only the characteristics of excess effort and ends up feeling strained, mechanical, or superficial.
At its root, the problem of expressing harder indicates a disconnection from the true source of emotion and artistic inspiration during the creative act. This source is the Knowledge of the Soul. Trying to create something without connection to the Knowledge of the Soul is like trying to animate a marionette; you can get pretty close by manipulating it via strings from the outside, but doing so will never make it come truly alive.
For that, you need to be in touch with your Knowledge of the Soul during the creative act itself. This is Playing from the Heart. Playing from the Heart ties all three strands of Soulforce Mastery together. It suffuses your creative acts with inspiration and genuine feeling, it allows an immediate sense of ease and release to your body, and brings new vitality and flow to your technique.
Playing from the Heart is the answer to these questions:
  • How can I create with both relaxation and emotional impact?
  • How can I master even the most difficult artistic challenges with less tension?
  • How can I best interpret a piece in an original, fresh, lively, and inspired way?
  • How can I have more fun in my creative life?
  • How do I consistently create in a way that moves and transports my audiences?
  • How do I become a vessel for a deeper creative expression?
  • How do I make my performances feel less mechanical or forced?
  • How can I more effortlessly collaborate with others?
  • How can I create with less anxiety and be more confident about my artistic choices?
  • How can I find unique voice as an artist?
There is a common idea that real inspiration and genuine artistic feeling happens only by chance, or is accessible by only a lucky few. But this is not true. Playing from the Heart is a skill that any musician or artist can learn and benefit from, no matter their age or abilities. The first step in that learning process is to examine any unconscious beliefs and habits that might be getting in the way of your ability to really bring your art alive.
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