The most undervalued pastime for piano students and musicians is to listen actively to music created on the piano.
It might sound like an overstatement, but because ear training on your instrument isn’t given the high priority it should be, pianists often forego the essential skill of listening to music.
Yes, listening is a skill that you need to develop and nurture!
That doesn’t mean listening only to the pieces you are interested in playing or that you may appreciate, but all piano music, even those you might not take an initial fancy to. Why? For the very same reason that lawyers have to learn a lot of court decisions that do not interest them in the least – one day they might have to use them, and to at least know about them gives you a head start.
Have you ever wondered, when hearing a piece of music, thinking these thoughts:
- “where did I hear that before.”
- or “that’s a catchy progression.”
- or “this riff makes the composition!”?
Of course, listening to all types of music broadens your general music background, but you are a budding pianist, so you should focus on piano music. Yes, you have to progress on your performance ability, but if you don’t at least know what performance potential is available in the market, so to speak, how will you be motivated to reach for the heights?
Especially in jazz courses, students are told to listen to as much jazz music as possible to “get” the rhythm and ‘feel’ of the jazz styles.
The same holds true for all other styles of music. Music styles develop by convention, and as in the case of languages, it is rather caught than taught. For example, when you think about the jazz “swing”, you can immediately hear those swing melodies in your head. You can’t really explain it comprehensively, but just listen to one real swing tune, and you’ve got that swing!
You might not like Shostakovich’s creations, but one day when having to compose background music for a movie clip, your mind will picture the eerie sounds of one of his compositions to the clip, and you will wish that you knew more about that music.
If you are a singer, you should know the importance of listening continuously to the latest music and styles.
Nowadays, the off-beat melody or riff is almost commonplace and easy to accommodate if you are used to hearing it.
To listen to music doesn’t always have to be an intensive affair. Sometimes, just having it in the background is enough to impart the sense you need. But you overtly will have to choose a wide-ranging spectrum of material.
Ever wondered what makes blues tick?
Just listen to some B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Stevie-Ray Vaughn, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Howlin’ Wolf, Joe Bonamassa and others. And you will soon have it under your skin! And these musicians didn’t specifically live in the 1900s. Joe Bonamassa opened for B.B. King when he was 12 years old and is still doing live concerts. (He is presently 44 years of age,) He will be doing a live Blues concert in Antwerp, Belgium, at the Lotto Arena on 24 April 2022. See you there!
Listen to all the styles and all the periods of a musical genre to get an excellent overall impression.
So don’t just stay with Bach and Beethoven, but give Rachmaninov, Shostakovich and Mahler a chance by gaining exposure to a good dope of their formula. Don’t be surprised if your music taste suddenly changes and widens.
I had an engineer friend who studied at his best with a continuous stream of Mahler music at University. And do not underestimate the cross-border influence of methods and styles. For example, a new jazz genre developed in the 60’s called Jazz fusion (also known just as fusion or progressive jazz), where elements of jazz harmony and improvisation were combined with elements of rock music, funk and rhythm and blues (R&B). Just listen to Keith Jarrett, for instance. His fusion is totally unpredictable and keeps you intellectually amused. (You can even learn to play “One-step” by Keith Jarrett at the piano music school!)
For the classical piano student:
Active listening to performances of your music pieces will help tremendously. Active listening to your music will help you understand it better and help in the actual learning process of the notes, the rhythm, etc. In addition, it will give you great insight into the interpretation of the specific piece of music you are studying.
For the advanced classical piano student:
Being able to go and listen to different recordings of, for instance, Beethoven’s Appassionata or your Bach Toccata in E minor will give you enlightened insights into the interpretation possibilities. This means that the advanced student will be able to hear and see how the works are performed. Using the hearing and seeing aspect will help you as a student to decide which interpretation will be the best for you to incorporate into your music.
In today’s world of Google and YouTube, we are genuinely privileged to be able to listen to music or the tunes we want to play, or the pieces we are learning with a simple click on our laptops.
So students or musicians – enjoy this great privilege and use it to the utmost to further yourself. Keep on listening!