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V.com weekend vote: Should you listen to recordings of the pieces you are playing?

The Weekend Vote

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Published: March 21, 2014 at 6:28 PM [UTC]

Should you listen to recordings of the pieces you are playing?

On one hand, listening to a recording of your piece could keep you from coming up with your own interpretation; you might be "aping" the version that you hear, rather than using your mind to come up with an original interpretation. It also might be a crutch for people who aren't learning to read music, to learn something "by ear" instead of learning to interpret the written page.

On the other hand, music is a lot like language; we learn its nuances from hearing it. A recording can help a person understand the style and lilt of a piece, things that are less obvious on the written page.

What are your thoughts on the matter? Please cast your vote and then feel free to discuss details and shades of gray in the comments section! (P.S. Thanks to Buri for the vote of the week idea! Please e-mail me if you have a suggestion for our weekly vote!)


From Gene Huang
Posted on March 21, 2014 at 6:35 PM
Yes, absolutely. Listen to professional recordings, try to adopt aspects of the interpretation that you like, and add your own touches too.
From 149.254.51.149
Posted on March 21, 2014 at 7:22 PM
No question about it. But don't become overly reliant. I think it's worth listening to one good recording to get familiar with the work; once familiar try to listen to a greater range of recordings. Eventually once you have consolidated an interpretation (this could take ages!) you can start listening less frequently than before.
From Zina Francisca
Posted on March 21, 2014 at 7:28 PM
"On one hand, listening to a recording of your piece could keep you from coming up with your own interpretation; you might be "aping" the version that you hear"

I wish!

From Yixi Zhang
Posted on March 21, 2014 at 7:39 PM
I always do and frankly, I don’t understand those who don’t. All music is created and developed within certain tradition, which means if we want to play something convincingly, or create something original or different, we cannot ignore what has been done currently and in the past by those who are much ahead of us.

As for copying, much of the learning of anything starts with one kind of copying or another. If we can sound like Hahn, Teztlaf or Mullova (just to name a few), there is nothing to be ashamed of it. If we only listen to one recording again and again, we might end up sound like this recording in some way. And if we listen to many different recordings, we could sound comical if we quote different players a bit here and there. Still, who can say this is not a worthy part of growing process?

From David Rowland
Posted on March 21, 2014 at 8:40 PM
After my lesson yesterday, I went and found videos on YouTube of my current piece. Concepts that my teacher was trying to get across became much clearer after watching a few pros play the piece.

So, not only listening to recordings but watching performances can be very valuable to the developing muscian.

From Nathan Cole
Posted on March 21, 2014 at 9:45 PM
I had to go through a stage as a teenager where I wasn't "allowed" to listen to recordings for certain pieces, for the exact reason that was mentioned above: imitating rather than coming up with shapes on my own. But that was a temporary thing and of course I generally listen to recordings of everything that I play. I like to think that each time I learned a piece without the help of a model, I came out wiser on the other side! But it was tough. I've been happy to relearn those pieces since, with the help of recordings.

I'll just mention that whenever possible, seeing a live performance of a piece is worth ten hearings of a recording.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on March 21, 2014 at 9:56 PM
I agree with Yixi.

I'm not sure who the arguments against are aimed at. I am usually struggling first and foremost with basic things like intonation and rhythm, tempo, tone production, and broad dynamic changes, and recordings help me with those things. I have an unfortunate tendency to hear things wrong and to learn to hear something the wrong way. If I practice something wrong all week, even if I have it corrected in my lesson, I will have to spend the next week unlearning what I did. Whereas if I'd listened to a recording of it done right in the first place, I wouldn't be wasting all that time and effort.

If I were at the skill level where I weren't struggling with those things any more, where my biggest worry was whether I would or wouldn't have an original interpretation, I think I would have a lot of listening under my belt to have gotten to that point.

I also don't have a problem with reading music. In fact, I need more work on learning by ear, because my confidence and skill level with doing that are both pretty low. To me, that would suggest that I should spend more time listening, not less.

In a perfect world, it might be better to go to live concerts rather than listen to recordings, but I am not going to be able to go to a live concert featuring Mutter, Oistrakh, Bell, Menuhin, and Heifetz this week. I can, however, listen to all their recordings. For free, even. We have such a wealth of resources available to us, it seems a real shame not to take advantage of such opportunities.

From Anne Horvath
Posted on March 21, 2014 at 11:12 PM
I listen to recordings of pieces I'm working on, pieces I've already worked on, pieces I'm thinking about working on, and pieces I don't intend to touch with a ten foot pole.

I listen to as many different recordings as I can.

I also listen to recordings of other pieces the composer wrote. Our singer and other instrumentalist friends have much to teach us...

Also, listening with the music in hand is especially helpful when learning (or cramming) an unfamiliar orchestra piece for a one-rehearsal gig!


From John Rokos
Posted on March 22, 2014 at 12:47 AM
As Anne says, it's a good idea to listen to recordings of other things the composer wrote, especially if the pieces are similar. I'd heard Schumann's Märchenbilder being worked on at a masterclass and then heard on the radio a performance of a work for oboe and piano by the same composer. The oboist was taking the first movement rather slower than I'd heard the first movement of the Märchenbilder, and it struck me that the Märchenbilder could do with being played slower too, and I started to work on it at that speed. My instinct was later confirmed when Gerhard Schmidt told me about his copy of Schumann's journals back home in Vienna quoting metronome speeds for two of the movements (This section of the journals is not translated into English and is hard to find, as a contributor to the Wikipedia article on Rumpelstiltskin wrote - I value this contribution, as it is the only independent confirmation I have of any of the information I had from Gerhard and posted in Wikipedia. I would urge friends studying the Märchenbilder to read them up in Wikipedia), including the first movement - Bruno Giuranna emailed that he did not think it was a slow speed at all.

As others have said, it's a good idea to listen to several recordings. If you're studying the Arpeggione, you MUST listen to Bashmet and Argerich! And if you're working on the Brahms songs for contralto, viola and piano, don't just listen to Primrose and Aronowitz; Max Gilbert (with Kathleen Ferrier and Phyllis Spurr) has a lot to teach us as well.

From Roy Sonne
Posted on March 22, 2014 at 12:57 AM
I listen to recordings constantly, of repertoire past and present and repertoire that I am planning on or considering for the future. And I always learn something when I listen. Sometimes I learn something about interpretation, sometimes about execution, a different idea about the bowing or fingering. These days we can learn even more by watching videos on Youtube of the greats and we also learn from the not so greats.
It is true that sometimes I find myself imitating the recording in ways that are suspect. However this is a temporary condition, reflecting one part of the learning and growing process in my ever changing rendition of whatever piece it is.
In a realm which requires more creativity and originality than violin playing, Maurice Ravel gave this piece of advice to an aspiring composer: "Find the composer you most admire and copy from him. Then if you have anything original to say it will emerge."
Salvador Dali, one of the most original and creative artists, said: “Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.”

From marjory lange
Posted on March 22, 2014 at 11:37 AM
My college violin teacher was of the school that, studying Mozart D-Major Concerto, I should listen to Mozart operas, symphonies, chamber music, but not that concerto. His reasoning was less that I might "copy" than that I would get a better idea of the potential in Mozart by listening to other pieces, other genres, without being limtited or influenced by violin-only techniques. I have always done that, although now I also listen to the piece I have studied, but not right away.

There are exceptions, of course. I found Monica Huggett's discussion of the "Loure" in Bach E-Major a good reason to up the tempo beyond what is currently 'traditional' and it made me reexamine the dance forms in his other movements.

I want to be able to perform in the style of the composer/period without (unconsciously or otherwise) imitating a violin-tradition mannerism for its own sake.

From Gene Wie
Posted on March 22, 2014 at 4:14 PM
There should be an option to select:

"Yes, unless you're completely unable to function in an interpretational sense, and were taught so poorly the only thing you can accomplish is to struggle reproducing recordings by rote."


From John Cadd
Posted on March 22, 2014 at 6:37 PM
Is there a clear meaning of the words Original Interpretation? Trying too hard can lead to Bizarre Interpretations. My favourite grumble is the smudging of triplets as if they are being exterminated. A simple thing to make a triplet sound like a triplet. Maybe too simple to be original .
If you have a stopwatch you can try for the lap record. Always a popular way to interpret .
From Paul Deck
Posted on March 23, 2014 at 1:51 AM
Answers are lopsided in favor of listening but it's still an interesting question. When I started working on the E Major Gavotte I listened to a dozen or more recordings and the one that really spoke to me was Heifetz. But that doesn't mean I would want to do everything his way, even if I could.
From Dessie Arnold
Posted on March 23, 2014 at 9:15 PM
My teacher in college, Eddy Brown (1895-1974 - an Auer and Hubay pupil) felt strongly that "An artist never listens to recordings", and for a long time, I followed his advice. My own thoughts about this have evolved over time, but I live in a different time than he did, and certainly am not at the level he was (either technically or musically). If I'm going to listen, I do try to listen to a variety of interpretations, to get an overall sense of the piece. It's also helpful to be familiar with the composer's style by listening to other works than the one I'm playing. I love it that so many pieces of music, and many fine performances are available on YouTube - many with video.
From 189.144.27.149
Posted on March 24, 2014 at 1:41 AM
Of Course !
From Roy Sonne
Posted on March 24, 2014 at 3:02 AM
Yes! Interesting point by Dessie (Hi Dessie. Good to see you here.) that Eddy Brown was strongly against listening to recordings. I have seen the same sentiment expressed by other great artists. I believe that when you reach the level of an Eddy Brown you don't need to listen to recordings, and possibly it may be detrimental to do so. However those of us who have not reached that level can profit greatly from listening. I myself, although I've been a professional for 50 years, still gain a lot from this practice. And if I may be so bold, I suggest that it just might be possible for Eddy Brown or others at that level to learn and grow more in this manner.

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