V.com weekend vote: Have you listened to your current piece in the last week?

September 10, 2010, 2:13 PM ·

"You didn't listen to your piece," I observed recently, upon hearing a student play a new piece for the first time.

She nodded her head sheepishly.

I'm actually not a mind-reader -- though it's fun when my students think I am! But I can tell a lot from the way a student plays a piece. This student had clearly practiced, but she missed some obvious notes and rhythms, which made it clear to me that she hadn't listened to the piece.

Listening to the pieces one plays is one of Suzuki's big recommendations, but I'm going to recommend it not just for Suzuki students, but for all students and for that matter, for professionals.

Music is an aural tradition. It's fantastic that we can share it with each other through musical notation, but this can get out of hand. Some people feel that it's even "cheating" to listen to music while learning it!

Not so. Listening is imperative to good musicianship. Are you working on a solo piece? Find several different recordings of that piece and listen. Listen for pleasure, listen with the score in your hand, take note of what is different, take note of what you like and what you don't like. But listen!

Perhaps you play in a professional orchestra -- what's on the agenda for this fall? Listen to a few of those pieces, especially ones that might be new or infrequent. You just might enjoy the experience more.

Are you, or your student, or your child, in a youth orchestra? What is the youth orchestra playing? Listen to a professional orchestra's recording of the piece you are playing, and the entire experience will be more enjoyable. You will simply play with a larger understanding of the works you are performing, and what you learn will have more sticking power.

So, the truth: have you been listening, lately?



September 10, 2010 at 09:52 PM ·

Yes, I listened to Gringolts/Jarvi/GoteborgsSO today.  (Smile)

I also encourage my students to listen to their pieces, with and without the music in hand.  The students in the Youth Orchestra are encouraged to listen to their pieces too.  With the ease of itunes, there should be no excuses...

I also recommend my students to search for their pieces on Youtube.  I don't care for the negative and ill-mannered commenting sections, but kids these days are so visually oriented that Youtube is a real gift.  

September 11, 2010 at 05:44 AM ·

I have listened. But there's a part of me that feels it's "wrong" or cheating. Surely we should be trying to play on the basis of what we read rather than what we remember? Is not listening to the piece first akin to riding a bike with stabilizers? I stress this is a vague feeling and I await correction!

September 11, 2010 at 06:36 AM ·

I submitted a tip on this a while back - suggesting that listening to a great player playing your music was equally important to practising it.  Up to now it has had a very favourable response overall (30+ yeses) but I was surprised that 7 people said 'no'.   There are no discussions possible on the tip area so I wondered if the 'no's might explain their vote?

September 11, 2010 at 07:21 AM ·

Hi Elise. I'm one of the "nos". Yes, I will listen to recordings of a piece at the start, and periodically after that, but I want what I do with it to be "me" not a pale imitation of what a great player has done. And I'm never going to be even a pale imitation of Oistrakh! What I do find useful is validation of thoughts - as an example, when I was looking at the Dvorak Romance, I was finding the printed bowings a bit limiting, then watched a Youtube video of Perlman playing it, and he split the bowings. So - if he can do it, it's o.k. for me to do it too. Maybe also some ideas of string changes - listen and watch and maybe think "Yes - I like that". Almost like a free lesson from one of the world's greatest players. But not to keep doing and try and copy everything he does - I couldn't anyway.

September 11, 2010 at 11:32 AM ·

Wait! I should have clicked yes.  Beethoven Op. 95 quartet.

September 11, 2010 at 05:18 PM ·

Laurie, you would never believe what I learned by listening to Sarasate play Sarasate this week!  I actually heard him use a different fingering than what I was using, and it solved a hair-pulling technical issue I'd been having.

September 11, 2010 at 06:25 PM ·

 "This student had clearly practiced, but she missed some obvious notes and rhythms, which made it clear to me that she hadn't listened to the piece."

If a student misses obvious notes and rhythms it tells me that either:

a. He or she has a weakness in sight reading ability


b. He or She is complacent (doesn't really care)


c. both

I would expect a student to get a general sense of the style from listening to recording(s), but the ability to correctly read pitches and rhythms is fundamental.

September 12, 2010 at 09:50 AM ·

@Malcolm: "Hi Elise. I'm one of the "nos". Yes, I will listen to recordings of a piece at the start, and periodically after that, but I want what I do with it to be "me" not a pale imitation of what a great player has done. And I'm never going to be even a pale imitation of Oistrakh!"

Thats interesting - when I listen to a piece I only get the sound of it, not the style of the player.  It suggests to me that your memory is more litteral than mine (I have a very hard time memorizing rote), I'm sort of the dead opposite to the photographic memory type!  Thus, for me listening to someone play a piece has very little effect on my playing style but it helps me enormously with rhythms, mode, tonality, intonation etc.  I can see why it would be distracting to you.

Thanks for the reply!

September 12, 2010 at 03:01 PM ·

 Elise, I'm a lot like you.  I find that listening helps tremendously with technical issues, but I don't think much of the interpretation rubs off.  And I also have a terrible time memorizing pieces I am playing.

September 13, 2010 at 11:29 AM ·

 Julian--My opinion is that you are wrong here. Music is all about listening. The violin is a beautiful sounding instrument and that is what inspires us. Why not listen to the piece you are trying to play?The notes are just the written language of music. We don't speak in a monotone while reading to our children the written words. The reason we can communicate with words is that we have heard those words before. Correctly reading words and notes is important but it is up to us to add those nuances that make the music our own. No, listening to music is not cheating.Something wonderful happens when music rolls around in our head.

Listening is very enjoyable. I have heard that it is the last sense that departs from us as we leave this earth. It must be the most important sense!

September 14, 2010 at 12:21 AM ·

I remember a teacher telling me a long time ago that I shouldn't listen to the piece too much as I want to be sure to let my own interpretation come out in my playing. I think that's true - especially if you're prone to listening to the same recording of the piece over and over again. I *do* think it's helpful, though, to listen to different versions of the same piece - to get an idea of how things are done traditionally as well as how varied the interpretations can be.


but I again I think that eventually you've got to stop listening and just immerse yourself in the business of making the music yours. I'm with Malcolm on this one, though Elise raises a point I never even thought of: just hearing the technical side of it and not the interpretation. I can hear bowings and sometimes fingerings, but for me it's all about the feel. that's what I'm listening to!


it's so interesting that I never even thought about it from a technical point of view. thanks for tickling my brain Elise! :)

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