Listening in Pedagogy

August 4, 2023, 7:05 PM · I was inspired to write this post by the current thread about teaching the violin to children.

I teach on the side -- but I teach jazz piano. I only do this because there really is nobody else in my area who seems to want to do it.

The number of students in my "studio" varies -- between zero and one. Right now it is one. Partly because I consider myself not very well qualified, I charge a modest fee. I don't feel that I'm undercutting anyone.

Listening is critical to learning jazz, but I feel strongly that listening -- like playing -- is something that benefits from tutelage. So, for each lesson assignment for my student, I create a listening assignment. I find a YouTube video and I set various tasks ranging from simple (write down the video time at the top of each chorus) to more challenging (transcribing a short riff, or counting how many times the bass player plays the root of the chord on the first beat of the measure over, say, one minute). Other "tasks" are just me pointing out devices or aspects of the recording -- at specific time points -- that I consider significant. Full disclosure that I got this idea from the piano teacher that I had in high school. As the student progresses, ideally so will the level of challenge in the listening "tasks."

I wonder if there is any room for this kind of thing in classical violin pedagogy?

Replies (25)

Edited: August 5, 2023, 5:39 AM · Suzuki once asked a student "Who was your teacher this week?"
meaning whose recording did he use as a model and for inspiration.
August 5, 2023, 8:05 AM · Adrian that's interesting. But did Suzuki ask him exactly what he learned from that teacher? Generalized inspiration is important but are there specific aspects of artistry that students can appreciate even before they've developed the technique to make it happen?
August 5, 2023, 10:15 AM · As a child, having my dad to point out things happening in the music in real time was interesting, as it guided my focus and shaped my ear. It sounds like you describe doing this with your students. Sometimes the student might just need that aspect of interest and mentorship shown, which spurs their own exploration more than anything. Then they can go off and do more specific assignments, or just bring their own little discoveries in without prompting.

I think there is something to following the innate interest of the student; I think that "serious" classical teachers can be a little quick to shut down students when they bring in stuff like pop music, when they could instead take the music seriously for analysis.

Some stray thoughts, anyway...

Edited: August 6, 2023, 5:14 PM · Suzuki knew the instrument from his father's workshop, but discovered its beauties from discs; he the had to find out by himself how to achieve them.
Later he was known to comment on posture and technique from hearing a student's taped practice.
August 5, 2023, 6:50 PM · Greetings,
What you are talking about is absolutely fundamental and yet largely ignored. One of the many frustrations I think (?) teachers have is that students do not have a sound of any particular quality or uniqueness. This problem can be approached analytically by clear teaching of the factors in tone production and /or be supplemented by the ubiquitous expression ‘imagine the sound you want to produce on the instrument.’ This latter is where things are apt to go agley as the ability to imagine a sound is dependent on the student having already internalized a certain palette of colors or sounds. This has to be developed, which is why I constantly advise my students, especially adults to spend less time with the instrument and much more time listening to a variety of violinsts. This should not just be BGM although this is vital, but as a serious sit down and listen to this player time. However, as Paul is advocating, there is a next level which must be introduced as quickly as possible. That is , being guided to notice or seek input relevant to whatever area the teacher may feel is lacking. This point is made by Simon Fischer in ‘The Violin Lesson’ when he talks about how watching one of the most widely know you tube clips of all time in which Oistrakh plays the Shostakovitch cadenza. From looking at the video we know the exact tempo, point of contact and bow speed so we can investigate and play -exactly- as Oistrakh did. This kind of work creates miracles and may be every bit as useful as the teacher demonstrating in a lesson. One major exercise of this type I give to students whose playing is inexpressive or lacking in creativity. They can sit down with a blank score. And listen to their favorite violinist , noting down every single dynamic change that their hero makes. Having done this really intense work they may explore how this can be achieved in their own playing. I don’t regard this as copying and destroying individuality or similarly negative practice. Rather it is noticing the possibilities of the violin as art and applying it across the board.
As Bruce Lee always pointed put. ‘We take what is useful…’
August 5, 2023, 9:22 PM · I understand the Suzuki pedagogy is oriented toward listening, although I imagine a good number of Suzuki teachers forget that.


It's a very advanced cognitive skill to listen to musical sounds, to identify the elements by name, to choose what is worth imitating, and then to include it in practice and performance. Compare that activity to a baby lying in a crib rolling back its eyes to find where the older sibling is playing music. I think it's a real challenge to make the assignment fit the age of the student. Imitative behavior is by nature uncritical in the younger years, and the analysis required by the assignment will often run counter to the osmosis mode so powerful when young. It's a real challenge.

Great topic, with a thousand facets.

August 6, 2023, 1:12 AM · Jim and Buri: you have perfectly explained the ideas that my mind was crawling towards. An important topic, particularly at this moment in the year for many teachers will be gearing up for the new school/academic year.
August 6, 2023, 2:39 PM · Even if we try to copy someone's performance, it is still our own ears and limbs that do it!
Edited: August 6, 2023, 3:31 PM · The idea of copying a performer is not lazy or misguided or sinister. (I don't suggest that anyone here has implied that it is.) As Adrian points out, if you want to copy Hadelich's vibrato, then, first of all good luck doing that, but you learn what your hands have to do. Copy enough different vibratos and you'll have the physical tools to build your own.

The ultimate goal for me, teaching jazz piano, would be to get a student to the point where they can transcribe what they hear, which will be largely improvised. That's a very high-level task, obviously. And in classical music rather pointless because you can just buy the music. So the ultimate objectives of classical listening exercise do need to be different, even if there will always be some common ground.

August 7, 2023, 12:37 PM · Along with imitation, a violinist could assign practice time to improvising in a key. Can only be done by listening and will eventually yield a signature sound. Best to start in the younger years--it seems that many string players shuttered in classical music have a dreadful difficulty playing jazz. Of course that's probably the way Dorothy Delay would like it.
August 7, 2023, 2:53 PM · Interesting poin tJim. Most classical muscians tend to ignore this completely but it's something that Milstein used to enjoy. Not a bad role model.
August 7, 2023, 10:45 PM · A good tune for violin improvisation at the entry level is La Folia. Or any chaconne in a favorable key.
Edited: August 8, 2023, 8:10 AM · Adrian Heath "Even if we try to copy someone's performance, it is still our own ears and limbs that do it!"

Paul Deck "The idea of copying a performer is not lazy or misguided or sinister. (I don't suggest that anyone here has implied that it is.) As Adrian points out, ..."

I agree. It's fine for me to "copy" Oistrakh, as the end result will be Shumwakh.

But the thread is about listening to others.
I hope we're all agreed that it's a thousand times more important to listen to yourself as you play?

August 8, 2023, 7:36 AM · Yes it's important. I don't know about a factor of 1000.
Edited: August 8, 2023, 12:03 PM · Listening to "yourself" seems to work best as something interactive. There is nothing more trying than a walz with a parter that resists the motion of the dance. So the interactive violonist is the one who might claim that this particular Guarneri is difficult to play, but when unlocked.... The musician is passive when listening to the violin.

I imagine something similar for teachiers of students whose cognition is in development. The student is like an unlocked instrument and the burden is on the passivity of the master. The "assignment" can be improved.

And if that isn't enough, there are those students that become half aware of this attempt by the listening teacher to lead and are prone to derail it into a contest of will.

August 8, 2023, 1:41 PM · But no'one is trying to copy Oistrakh while performing!
It rather just to "nourish" our inner ear during preparation.
Edited: August 8, 2023, 2:50 PM · I've heard Zukerman copy Stern for fun. Clowning around. Maybe it snuck in when he performed. I won't guess how much effort it took to produce a convincing imitation. For electric guitarists, the best imitation wins.
August 8, 2023, 7:10 PM · I think it was Pavarotti who said that most professional tenors could force themselves to sound like Caruso for a few minutes, but more than that and you risk serious injury. I don't think this is true of the violin.
August 11, 2023, 1:24 AM · You are absolutely correct.
Edited: August 11, 2023, 2:36 AM · Three violinists who have taught me something about phrasing, balancing and style simply through listening to them are possibly unknown to most of this forum - Anthony Marwood, Lawrence Jackson and Lorraine McAslan. All are superb chamber musicians but it was hearing Marwood warm up for a rehearsal of the Beethoven concerto that stuck with me, with a fluidity of line that I hadn't noticed in any other player. It was Jackson's propensity to "float" over his colleagues in the Maggini Quartet that made me think "that's the way to do it". With Lorraine McAslan, I gratefully and shamelessly copied her completely appropriate portamento in the Janacek sonata. I hope I've also learned a great deal more subliminally from other fine players.
Edited: August 11, 2023, 3:33 AM · Nowadays listening to others for specific things is easy for us to do, but it was less easy 50 or more years ago. There were record libraries if one wanted to listen much, and a teacher might have said occasionally, "try to listen to a recording of this," but I only recall one girl at school seriously listening to a recordingn of a soprano in order to study the breathing technique of something she was learning. Listening to others was general and listening to oneself was therapeutic. Is there insufficient self-reliance nowadays?

Is jazz a different animal? Generally people listen to jazz because it speaks to them, they love it and can't get enough of it. Perhaps trying to teach someone to listen to jazz when they don't already do it is putting the cart before the horse?

Edited: August 12, 2023, 6:53 PM · Most of the music I try to learn, I am sight-reading and don't usually know how it is supposed to sound. But if I already know the piece, or find recordings, then such foreknowledge of the rhythm and phrasing allows me to read less strenuously and focus on the sound more, such as intonation, tone quality and articulation, ie legato or more separation of notes, bowing, etc. My learning mind can't possibly attend to all 10 or so elements of playing that could be broken down in a lesson. So listening at least gives me a target more than pure reading, at least at my skill level where reading rhythm and especially phrasing can still challenge me enough that, besides always striving for best intonation, there's little brain left for much else.
Edited: August 13, 2023, 2:45 PM · Music is surely a sonic art, while the score is just a really useful means to share it!
August 13, 2023, 3:07 PM · This is one reason why I love YouTube. And encourage my students (and me) to use it. Most pieces are on YouTube. Usually many different videos of different playing levels. I also like to use the YouTube videos for having students watch to see performers who play with body balance, alignment and ease of motion.

Every so often I will go on a streak of sending a video a week for students to watch. They get exposed to more repertoire (especially important for my viola students), hopefully get some osmosis learning as far as playing with comfort, learn how to play musically etc.

I like the idea of giving more pointers on what specific things to be listening for during the video.

August 14, 2023, 4:07 PM · Buri writes, "sit down with a blank score. And listen to their favorite violinist , noting down every single dynamic change that their hero makes."

This is very helpful and can be done in the early stages, especially to show that the score never gives what is required in terms of dynamics.

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