Musical expression is the art of playing or singing music with emotional communication. The elements of music that comprise expression include dynamic indications, such as forte or piano, phrasing, differing qualities of timbre and articulation, color, intensity, energy and excitement. All of these devices can be incorporated by the performer. A performer aims to elicit responses of sympathetic feeling in the audience, and to excite, calm or otherwise sway the audience’s physical and emotional responses.
Expression on instruments can be closely related to the role of the breath in singing, and the voice’s natural ability to express feelings, sentiment and deep emotions. Whether these can somehow be categorized is perhaps the realm of academics, who view expression as an element of musical performance that embodies a consistently recognizable emotion, ideally causing a sympathetic emotional response in its listeners. The emotional content of musical expression is distinct from the emotional content of specific sounds (eg, a startlingly-loud ‘bang’) and of learned associations (eg, a national anthem), but can rarely be completely separated from its context.
The components of musical expression continue to be the subject of extensive and unresolved dispute.