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#2168755 - 10/20/13 02:02 AM Why listening to recordings is good when learning a piece
jazzyprof Offline
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Registered: 11/30/04
Posts: 2622
Loc: Ann Arbor, MI
There has been a running debate on whether it is harmful to listen to recordings of a piece one is working on. I happen to believe that it is a good thing and that it does no harm to one's "creativity". Today I stumbled upon an interview in which Rachmaninoff describes ten important attributes of beautiful pianoforte playing.

Rachmaninoff: You ask me, “How can the student form the proper conception of the work as a whole?" Doubtless the best way is to hear it performed by some pianist whose authority as an interpreter cannot be questioned.
(From interview published in Etude Magazine, March 1910)

So now I can listen without worry, knowing that Rach himself would approve!

Your thoughts?
_________________________
"Playing the piano is my greatest joy...period."......JP

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#2168760 - 10/20/13 02:19 AM Re: Why listening to recordings is good when learning a piece [Re: jazzyprof]
BruceD Offline
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Registered: 05/26/01
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Loc: Victoria, BC
My thoughts? They haven't changed much over the number of times this question has come up.

I don't usually listen to recordings when I'm studying a work; I enjoy the artistic challenge of finding out what I can from the score. Don't tell me that this is time not well spent and that listening to recordings can shorten the learning process. Listening to recordings will tell me what others think of the work. I believe that continuing to first get what I can from the score makes me more aware of and more attentive to detail that I might otherwise overlook. I like to believe that I have become a better reader because of that.

That said, I do, eventually, listen to a few recordings after I have learned the work. We each have our own learning methods, but I rather doubt that many who do listen to recordings are "worrying" about doing so as if they were committing an artistic breach of some sort.

My teacher often asks me which recordings of a work in progress I have listened to, but that question usually comes up at a point in the study where I have to reply that I haven't listened to any yet.

Regards,
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#2168796 - 10/20/13 06:50 AM Re: Why listening to recordings is good when learning a piece [Re: jazzyprof]
bennevis Offline
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Registered: 10/14/10
Posts: 4957
Well, it's been a very long time since I last learnt a piece that I've never heard before on a recording, a radio broadcast or in concert. (Probably when I was playing through some polkas by Smetana some 10 years ago, and found one I really liked, and wanted to learn it properly).

But I don't go out of my way to listen (again) to a recording of something I'm working on, though if it comes up on the radio, I'd listen to it. But I wouldn't buy a ticket to a concert just because it's on the program, and I don't look at YouTube videos. I'd almost certainly have had the 'baggage' of remembering all the recordings or performances of it that I've heard before anyway, even if it was years ago. Even for the most recent work that I've learnt, Carl Vine's Piano Sonata No.1, I'd already heard two different pianists play it before I decided to learn it myself.

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#2168815 - 10/20/13 08:03 AM Re: Why listening to recordings is good when learning a piece [Re: jazzyprof]
Morodiene Offline
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I may listen to a piece once before deciding whether or not to work on it. But I try not to listen too much, lest that pianist's ideas taint my own concepts. So while I'm learning it I wont' listen, then I may go back and listen to several renditions to get some ideas on places where I'm undecided musically.
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#2168825 - 10/20/13 08:37 AM Re: Why listening to recordings is good when learning a piece [Re: jazzyprof]
stores Offline
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To which I would ask, "Whose authority as an interpreter cannot be questioned?"
_________________________

"And if we look at the works of J.S. Bach — a benevolent god to which all musicians should offer a prayer to defend themselves against mediocrity... -Debussy

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#2168834 - 10/20/13 09:03 AM Re: Why listening to recordings is good when learning a piece [Re: jazzyprof]
wr Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 7782
Originally Posted By: jazzyprof
There has been a running debate on whether it is harmful to listen to recordings of a piece one is working on. I happen to believe that it is a good thing and that it does no harm to one's "creativity". Today I stumbled upon an interview in which Rachmaninoff describes ten important attributes of beautiful pianoforte playing.

Rachmaninoff: You ask me, “How can the student form the proper conception of the work as a whole?" Doubtless the best way is to hear it performed by some pianist whose authority as an interpreter cannot be questioned.
(From interview published in Etude Magazine, March 1910)

So now I can listen without worry, knowing that Rach himself would approve!

Your thoughts?


You made a mistake - Rachmaninoff was not talking about recordings.

And therein lies a world of difference in what the discussion is about.

But another world of difference is that Rachmaninoff's idea of what he meant, at the time when he said it, comes out in a completely different way in our own time. There's also a bit of salesmanship going on in what he says, i.e., hint, hint, nudge, nudge - "come to my concerts to hear a pianist whose authority cannot be questioned".

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#2168836 - 10/20/13 09:06 AM Re: Why listening to recordings is good when learning a piece [Re: jazzyprof]
JoelW Offline
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Registered: 05/25/12
Posts: 4763
Loc: USA
If you have a strong musical personality, do whatever you want. If you don't, stay away from recordings -- you WILL wind up trying to copy most if not all of your favorite recording of a piece.

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#2168845 - 10/20/13 09:32 AM Re: Why listening to recordings is good when learning a piece [Re: jazzyprof]
Psychonaut Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/21/13
Posts: 233
I absolutely do listen to anything I'm working on, because my reading skills are poor, especially dissecting rhythmic content. Once I've learned how to play something, I WILL play it my own way, whether I want to or not. It's inevitable.

But everyone is different. My goal in learning to sight read is primarily for acquiring technical and theoretical competence, and anything I can do to fast-track the process is a good thing. I don't believe that personal "artistic interpretation" is particularly fragile, or subject to being damaged by bad influences. Anyone who feels the impulse to interpret a piece of music will, for better or worse, interpret it from whatever awareness and perspective we choose to bring to bear, within the constraints imposed by any technical limitations we may have.

So I listen to both mechanical, lifeless MIDI and a variety of recorded performances if I can.
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#2168853 - 10/20/13 09:50 AM Re: Why listening to recordings is good when learning a piece [Re: JoelW]
pianoloverus Offline
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Registered: 05/29/01
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Loc: New York City
Originally Posted By: JoelW
If you have a strong musical personality, do whatever you want.
Having a strong musical personality does not necessarily mean one has great or even adequate musical understanding. Those who are very independent minded but less than musically superb would probably benefit from listening to recordings by great pianists.

Originally Posted By: JoelW
If you don't, stay away from recordings -- you WILL wind up trying to copy most if not all of your favorite recording of a piece.
What about the overwhelming majority of those who are somewhere in the middle in terms of how independent they can be?
-------------------------------------------------------------

There is no significant difference between listening to a recording, or taking a lesson, or using a heavily edited edition by a great pianist or excellent editor(assuming the composer's marking and the editor's can be distinguished). All are ways to increase one's musical understanding of either a specific piece or music in general. Yet few of those who think listening to recordings is bad would also say taking lessons is bad.

I think those who are against listening assume that the person doing this will mindlessly copy another performance. Of course, that is possible but not at all necessarily the case. I also think that some(definitely not all)those who say they would never listen to a recording a piece they were learning do so out of an inflated opinion of their own musical understanding.

The entire discussion, I think, has to be divided based on the level of the pianist. What's appropriate for one level of student is not necessarily right for a different level.

As many of you are aware(since I've mentioned it many times before), there is a huge pedagogy project going on now where literally thousands of typical student pieces are being recorded by outstanding university piano teachers so that students learning these pieces can listen to a good performance. I certainly think that for that level of student these recordings are an excellent idea.

Those who adamantly think students at all levels should learn completely independently of a recording I think miss the point that most students don't have the tools to do this very well. In even a relatively straightforward area like fingering(i.e. not something as complex as interpretation) student editions of works for intermediate level pianists usually have fingering suggestions. But even far more advanced works almost always have often have suggestions in this area. Godowsky's incredibly difficult pieces are fingered in extreme detail.

I think most pianists have seen some fingering suggestion and thought "Boy, I would have never thought of that." One of the main ways one learns good fingering is by studying/trying out fingering in an edition or by fingering suggestions from a teacher. The next time the student has to finger a similar passage, they may have learned enough from the suggestions in another piece to find the best fingering for a similar passage. But few pianists are capable of figuring everything out themselves with a good result.

In summary, I think for the overwhelming majority of pianists who are not ready to enter a conservatory, there is great benefit to listening to recordings. For the less than 1% who are ready to enter a conservatory, I'm not as sure about the pluses and minuses of the whole listening thing.


Edited by pianoloverus (10/20/13 10:09 AM)

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#2168858 - 10/20/13 10:03 AM Re: Why listening to recordings is good when learning a piece [Re: pianoloverus]
Morodiene Offline
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Registered: 04/06/07
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Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
Originally Posted By: pianoloverus



I think those who are against listening assume that the person doing this will mindlessly copy another performance. Of course, that is possible but not at all necessarily the case. I also think that some(definitely not all)those who say they would never listen to a recording a piece they were learning do so out of an inflated opinion of their own musical understanding.
I think your assumption is incorrect - at least where I am concerned it is. It's not about mindlessly doing something, nor is it about not having an opinion of your own, as JoelW suggests. For me, there are some recordings I have loved over the years - Brendel's rendition Waldstein, Entremont's version of Pour le Piano, for instance. Since I've listened to them so much, it is difficult for me to separate in my mind the recordings I've heard from my own mental vision of the piece. Not impossible to do, but harder.

Usually when I'm doing mental practice of a piece I work out the musical things for myself like "What am I going to do with this passage?" It's like a puzzle for me to complete for myself until I find the right fit. But since I've memorized the sound of these pieces with another artist's interpretation, it's tough not to have that sound come instead, so I have to question everything.

Conversely, when in the course of learning a new piece I try to arrive at my own musical decisions solely based on what is written on the page. Once I've made most of my choices, then I go back to listening to a few interpretations and see what they did. This is always very interesting because sometimes I like what I did better, and other times I like what they did better. Whatever I like the most becomes a part of how I play it.
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#2168860 - 10/20/13 10:09 AM Re: Why listening to recordings is good when learning a piece [Re: jazzyprof]
Alan Lai Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/16/13
Posts: 309
Loc: USA/Hong Kong
Listening to past performances of the new piece you are learning is certainly not a bad idea.

However, you have to develop the ability to read the score and form the sound in your brain. What will you do if nobody performed the new piece before?

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#2168866 - 10/20/13 10:18 AM Re: Why listening to recordings is good when learning a piece [Re: jazzyprof]
Piano*Dad Offline
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Registered: 04/12/05
Posts: 10354
Loc: Williamsburg, VA
My son's teacher was quite clear to him that she strongly preferred that he not study recordings while he was just getting to know a work. She wanted him to pull it apart for himself and form some ideas of his own before confronting all the interpretations on YouTube. She felt that that was part of his musical education. For a student at his level, that seemed like very good advice.

Studying recordings wouldn't have quickened the learning. Like most advanced students, the mere notes came quickly enough. And pondering the "greats" wouldn't have helped on that score (pun intended). His lessons were the vehicle for thinking about the musical qualities in the work, and what choices one might make in expressing them. After he had some ideas, he was free to listen to others, however tame or outlandish they might be.

Of course, we all have heard most of the pieces from the standard repertoire. That's not the same as carefully studying recordings for their detail. That was what he was advised against.

If you would rather learn from recordings, go ahead. This isn't a straight and narrow path to heaven.
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#2168886 - 10/20/13 11:16 AM Re: Why listening to recordings is good when learning a piece [Re: jazzyprof]
fnork Offline
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Registered: 10/01/04
Posts: 1729
Loc: Helsinki, finland
I didn't read every comment here, but a few points -

listening to recordings - in a general sense - is worth tons for any musician, IMO. Had there been recording devices from when Chopin was alive, would anyone have considered it unwise to have a listen to his interpretations? But it's generally wise to listen to recordings not specifically to the very pieces you are playing, but just as much different music as possible. For instance, I was studying Szymanowski's "Metopes", of which I think there are almost no recordings that are completely satisfactory - first of all, there are much fewer recordings of a piece like that comparing to, say, Gaspard de la nuit, but also, the music leaves many things to the performer, and I didn't always like what other performers did. However, listening to songs by Szymanowski, symphonies, chamber music, choral pieces - THIS really helped me understand the man better and shape the music better, too.

know the score already, when you start listening to pieces that you are studying yourself. have a general understanding of what's written there, so that you can understand what aspects of the music that the performer tries to bring out.

just my opinions.
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#2168914 - 10/20/13 12:34 PM Re: Why listening to recordings is good when learning a piece [Re: jazzyprof]
TwoSnowflakes Offline
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Registered: 02/15/12
Posts: 1139
I think what people do when they listen is so variable it's almost impossible to say "listening to recordings" is either categorically good OR bad. If you're the kind of learner that "imprints" like a duckling on the first recording you hear, then I would stay far away from recordings. Same goes for those who use a recording to AVOID the score. And for those who feel they get benefit out of wrestling a score to the floor before getting any influence from others. Or those who have the predisposition to hear recordings as if they were "answer keys."

However, if you're the kind of learner whose mind starts to race with ideas and makes you want to dig into the score yourself to see what you can see, or WHY someone has done something one way, then seek out as many as possible. If you find yourself analyzing the score MORE closely when you hear recordings, then you should listen to recordings. If you are more compelled to find your own voice in it by listening to others' voices, then by all means, you should listen to recordings.

And you can be any of these things at any time. I have a tendency to "imprint" if it's a recording I heard when young. I also have a tendency to lean on recordings if the piece is on the hard side for me. If the piece is firmly within my grasp, recordings often inspire me to find my way. If a piece is almost too easy for me, I can struggle to find anything to say until I hear that something CAN be done with it, at which point I often quickly find something to say.

I always listen to many recordings, too.
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#2168931 - 10/20/13 01:12 PM Re: Why listening to recordings is good when learning a piece [Re: jazzyprof]
Pogorelich. Offline
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Registered: 12/28/08
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I'll tell you why I don't do it. In all honesty, I have done it before - as we all have, obsessively listening to a piece that we want to play or that we are currently learning. What used to happen to me is that I would have this ONE tempo in my mind, and would not physically be able to play it any other way, just because I'd heard it that way so many times. And sometimes it would be a tempo that completely did not work for me, and it sounded like crap.

Or, certain expression. You subconsciously - or consciously! - copy certain way of phrasing something and cannot do it any other way. And you have no idea why you're doing it, except that you've heard it that way. Another example - I was listening to a slow movement of something, and the person was playing it sooooooooo distorted, the pulse was almost cosmic. So of course, in my young stupidity, after listening to it so many times it got engraved into my head and I started distorting it as well. It made no sense, people told me they found it hard to follow and couldn't tell where the beats were, and it didn't sound natural. Why? Because it wasn't MINE. It wasn't MY way of doing it - I had to break it down after and find the expression for myself. And THEN it made sense, and THEN it was conductable.

I prefer to be in charge of how I play something, and not rely on someone else to learn it - because, for me, it actually does me a lot more harm than good. And creates habits that are really hard to break.

And it's the same for everybody. It's NOT because we should be weary of sounding "like" that person, but because we'll do things that we often don't even understand, instead of building the skeleton work ourselves and then working on constructing the whole picture.

I just had a coaching with someone (amazing musician!) and he agrees with me that - yes, it's fine to listen to a piece you're working on sometimes (though NOT obsessively), but it's WAY more important to get into the world of the composer - listening to other genres of his, like symphonic works, operas, chamber music, etc. It opens up a whole new perspective, and it's very interesting.


Edited by Pogorelich. (10/20/13 01:13 PM)
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#2168945 - 10/20/13 01:45 PM Re: Why listening to recordings is good when learning a piece [Re: Pogorelich.]
bennevis Offline
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Registered: 10/14/10
Posts: 4957
Originally Posted By: Pogorelich.

And it's the same for everybody. It's NOT because we should be weary of sounding "like" that person, but because we'll do things that we often don't even understand, instead of building the skeleton work ourselves and then working on constructing the whole picture.


No, it's NOT the same for everybody.

Up until my late teens, the only recording of the Beethoven piano sonatas I knew was Wilhelm Backhaus's (because I had the full set on cassette tape). Yet, when I started learning a Beethoven sonata for the first time at aged 14 (by myself, without my teacher's knowledge), I already knew there were some things I didn't like about Backhaus's recording (which I almost knew by heart, measure by measure), and had no intention of copying him in any way.

And I didn't. No, I wasn't a headstrong kid. I just knew what I liked. (Otherwise, I'd have taken up smoking and under-aged drinking, like most of my peers in boarding school).

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#2168948 - 10/20/13 01:49 PM Re: Why listening to recordings is good when learning a piece [Re: bennevis]
Pogorelich. Offline
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Registered: 12/28/08
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Loc: in the past
Originally Posted By: bennevis
Originally Posted By: Pogorelich.

And it's the same for everybody. It's NOT because we should be weary of sounding "like" that person, but because we'll do things that we often don't even understand, instead of building the skeleton work ourselves and then working on constructing the whole picture.


No, it's NOT the same for everybody.

Up until my late teens, the only recording of the Beethoven piano sonatas I knew was Wilhelm Backhaus's (because I had the full set on cassette tape). Yet, when I started learning a Beethoven sonata for the first time at aged 14 (by myself, without my teacher's knowledge), I already knew there were some things I didn't like about Backhaus's recording (which I almost knew by heart, measure by measure), and had no intention of copying him in any way.

And I didn't. No, I wasn't a headstrong kid. I just knew what I liked. (Otherwise, I'd have taken up smoking and under-aged drinking, like most of my peers in boarding school).


I hope you're not implying that I have no brain and don't know what I like grin

But that wasn't my point. For sure, we will even subconsciously pick up various things after obsessive listening. Even small things, like a wrong rhythm, a crazy tempo, wrongly learned notes. Of course these things can be fixed, but sometimes it's very annoying and difficult.....
_________________________

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#2168998 - 10/20/13 03:34 PM Re: Why listening to recordings is good when learning a piece [Re: jazzyprof]
frenchflip Offline
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Registered: 05/18/13
Posts: 107
Loc: New York, NY
Recordings are my primary inspiration for picking up a piece in the first place. My musical universe has grown exponentially since YouTube, and I am thankful for this--much more efficient than buying and cycling through CDs. I cannot sight read like Valentina did that concerto in one of her recent videos. What a gift!

Also, with very difficult passages, recordings help me gauge how wide of the mark I am. As for mirroring the artist's interpretation, some of this is probably inevitable, but it doesn't really bother me. Usually, I cannot play a piece up to tempo for quite a while after picking it up, depending on the difficulty of course. By this time, I have developed my own rendition, though likely still incorporating elements from the various performances I most enjoy. Just as often, though, I have reworked the elements not to my taste. So the result is a blend.

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#2169070 - 10/20/13 06:57 PM Re: Why listening to recordings is good when learning a piece [Re: bennevis]
wr Offline
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Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 7782
Originally Posted By: bennevis
Yet, when I started learning a Beethoven sonata for the first time at aged 14 (by myself, without my teacher's knowledge), I already knew there were some things I didn't like about Backhaus's recording (which I almost knew by heart, measure by measure), and had no intention of copying him in any way.



Yes, but what about all the parts you did like?

Anyway, having no intention of copying doesn't necessarily equate to having your own fully-formed vision of the piece, IMO. Nor does it mean that you are aware of unconscious influences (obviously, since they are not conscious).

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#2169074 - 10/20/13 07:08 PM Re: Why listening to recordings is good when learning a piece [Re: wr]
pianoloverus Offline
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Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 19265
Loc: New York City
Originally Posted By: wr
Originally Posted By: jazzyprof
There has been a running debate on whether it is harmful to listen to recordings of a piece one is working on. I happen to believe that it is a good thing and that it does no harm to one's "creativity". Today I stumbled upon an interview in which Rachmaninoff describes ten important attributes of beautiful pianoforte playing.

Rachmaninoff: You ask me, “How can the student form the proper conception of the work as a whole?" Doubtless the best way is to hear it performed by some pianist whose authority as an interpreter cannot be questioned.
(From interview published in Etude Magazine, March 1910)

So now I can listen without worry, knowing that Rach himself would approve!

Your thoughts?


You made a mistake - Rachmaninoff was not talking about recordings.

And therein lies a world of difference in what the discussion is about.

But another world of difference is that Rachmaninoff's idea of what he meant, at the time when he said it, comes out in a completely different way in our own time. There's also a bit of salesmanship going on in what he says, i.e., hint, hint, nudge, nudge - "come to my concerts to hear a pianist whose authority cannot be questioned".
How do you know he wasn't talking about recordings? Wss this statement made before recordings were possible?

Even if he was talking about live performances, I see no difference between live and recorded in terms of learning by listening to a great performance. What difference do you see?

I certainly don't think Rachmaninov needed to advertise his recitals by hinting that this was a good way to learn how to play a piece. He was one of the most popular and highly thought of pianists on the planet at a time when classical music was quite popular.

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#2169080 - 10/20/13 07:28 PM Re: Why listening to recordings is good when learning a piece [Re: jazzyprof]
Piano*Dad Offline
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Registered: 04/12/05
Posts: 10354
Loc: Williamsburg, VA
Quote:
Even if he was talking about live performances, I see no difference between live and recorded in terms of learning by listening to a great performance. What difference do you see?


Well, for starters the ability to hit the replay button over and over …. and over.
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#2169082 - 10/20/13 07:32 PM Re: Why listening to recordings is good when learning a piece [Re: wr]
pianoloverus Offline
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Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 19265
Loc: New York City
Originally Posted By: wr
Originally Posted By: bennevis
Yet, when I started learning a Beethoven sonata for the first time at aged 14 (by myself, without my teacher's knowledge), I already knew there were some things I didn't like about Backhaus's recording (which I almost knew by heart, measure by measure), and had no intention of copying him in any way.



Yes, but what about all the parts you did like?

Anyway, having no intention of copying doesn't necessarily equate to having your own fully-formed vision of the piece, IMO. Nor does it mean that you are aware of unconscious influences (obviously, since they are not conscious).
To turn your question around, what makes you think that even if you think you're playing your "own vision" of a piece you're not using some ideas from recitals or performances of the piece you've heard previously? Do you never use a single idea your teacher suggests? If you do, how can you say it's your own vision and how is it different from using an idea you learned from a recording? Do you never use an idea from a performance of a different piece you've heard? If you do, then I think your performance is not just your own vision.

I don't think there are many amateurs who, if they were honest with themselves, would object to someone saying that their performance was like Backhuas' performance. I think the reality is that, with the exception of pianists at the highest level(conservatory level or higher), those who have listened to a performance by a great pianist will almost always give a better performance than those who have not listened.

You use "own fully formed vision" as some kind of ideal, but I think with the exception of those who have never taken a lesson or are playing a piece that is so rare as to have never been recorded there is no such thing as a one's own fully formed vision. Even if they are the first person to ever play some piece, do they not use ideas they've learned by listening to pianists play other pieces?

IMO the only people who play 100% of their own ideas about a piece are those who have never heard anyone else play the piano, never taken a lesson, and never used an edited score. And anyone in that category will not sound good.

Do you really think the pedagogy project I mentioned earlier in this thread is a bad pedagogical idea?

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#2169090 - 10/20/13 07:40 PM Re: Why listening to recordings is good when learning a piece [Re: Piano*Dad]
pianoloverus Offline
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Originally Posted By: Piano*Dad
Quote:
Even if he was talking about live performances, I see no difference between live and recorded in terms of learning by listening to a great performance. What difference do you see?


Well, for starters the ability to hit the replay button over and over …. and over.
I don't think that anyone who recommends listening to recordings is talking about or recommending some blind copying of every aspect of a performance that you seem to be talking about. This seems to be a common criticism of those who don't think listening to recordings is a good idea, but i think it assumes the pianist is unthinking and operating at the lowest possible level.

OTOH I think if one thinks there is anything that can be learned from listening to a great pianist's playing, one could also reasonably say that everything one can learn cannot be heard and absorbed in one or two listenings.

I bet your son, who you know I think is an terrific pianist, often took the advice of his teacher about how to play something. So why not take the "advice" of some great pianist on a recording?

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#2169095 - 10/20/13 07:52 PM Re: Why listening to recordings is good when learning a piece [Re: jazzyprof]
Pogorelich. Offline
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Because a recording can't talk!!! A good teacher will NEVER dictate everything! There should be discussion and trial and error, but NOT playing a passage over and over for your student and making them play it exactly that way, brainlessly. I know that this is done sometimes. And it is called BAD teaching!!!

That's why listening to a recording over and over again and having a lesson with a (non-mediocre) teacher are two very different things.
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#2169096 - 10/20/13 07:52 PM Re: Why listening to recordings is good when learning a piece [Re: wr]
bennevis Offline
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Originally Posted By: wr
Originally Posted By: bennevis
Yet, when I started learning a Beethoven sonata for the first time at aged 14 (by myself, without my teacher's knowledge), I already knew there were some things I didn't like about Backhaus's recording (which I almost knew by heart, measure by measure), and had no intention of copying him in any way.



Yes, but what about all the parts you did like?

Anyway, having no intention of copying doesn't necessarily equate to having your own fully-formed vision of the piece, IMO. Nor does it mean that you are aware of unconscious influences (obviously, since they are not conscious).


I was young, and this was my first major Beethoven piece after Minuet in G and Für Elise (the latter of which I learnt by myself), and I wanted to learn it without the help of my teacher. No, it wasn't a 'fully-formed vision' - how could it? I'd had almost no exposure to any classical music until I was given all those tapes of Beethoven as a going-away present by my uncle, when I left home to go to a boarding school in a foreign country. And my parents gave me a portable radio-cassette recorder to play those tapes on, though I also had my Walkman.

I know for certain that my interpretation was nothing at all like Backhaus's, because I recorded myself playing it on cassette tape, a year after I started working on the sonata, which I kept for posterity grin (I have several tapes of my juvenile playing from my school and university years.....). And I can easily compare it with Backhaus's recordings, because Decca brought out the complete cycle on a bargain CD set a few years ago, which I bought.

Of course, I'd play it differently now, with all those years of listening experience behind me, and having several recordings on CD, not to mention having heard it in concert many times. (But I still wouldn't play it like Backhaus, nor any other pianist I've heard). Yes, those first few years when I arrived in the UK, with unlimited free classical music to listen to on radio, were a steep learning curve for me. I'd say that over 80% of my musical knowledge and musicianship (assuming I have any wink ) is gleaned from listening to BBC Radio 3's music and concert broadcasts (with their informative pre- and post-concert announcements/chat), and educational programs like Antony Hopkins's "Talking about Music", and Record Review (now CD Review of course), and a lot else.

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#2169098 - 10/20/13 07:55 PM Re: Why listening to recordings is good when learning a piece [Re: jazzyprof]
Piano*Dad Offline
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PL,

As a number of people have mentioned (fine pianists like Pogo, for instance), the influence of listening to recordings -- and modern equipment does permit easy repetition -- has many facets. Some are conscious and others less easily controlled.

The advice of a teacher is part of an ongoing and very direct conversation about technique, musicality, music history, and the specific work at hand. I'm guessing you would agree that learning from a recording is not as good as having a teacher?

In addition, the teacher in question (my son's) was not advocating ignoring recorded music altogether. She was positively suggesting working out the details initially in precisely the sort of direct and ongoing conversation I mentioned above. She preferred holding off on studying recordings until that teaching conversation was well under way and the student had begun to build an understanding of the work. Then recordings could enter the picture to enrich the interpretation.

If someone thinks that this process is just a vehicle for the teacher to impose his or her own narrow vision, then perhaps they have had some bad experiences with teachers. I'm sure some teachers do in fact delight in limiting a student to one particular view, but I doubt that jaundiced view of the profession is warranted. I know that wasn't the case in my son's training, and I know it from personal experience since I have occasionally worked with his teacher as well!

edit: while typing this tome, I noticed that others slipped in and made similar points.
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#2169103 - 10/20/13 08:04 PM Re: Why listening to recordings is good when learning a piece [Re: jazzyprof]
BDB Offline
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Remember that eventually you may want to play something that has not been recorded. Listening to recordings should not be a crutch.
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#2169107 - 10/20/13 08:19 PM Re: Why listening to recordings is good when learning a piece [Re: jazzyprof]
Piano*Dad Offline
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In all fairness, I will say that I do use recordings as an aid, but I try to follow the basic path of working through the piece first myself. Much of what I learn these days I figure out on my own -- the two little parts of the Grieg Lyric Pieces recital, for instance. So I don't have the benefit of much instruction.

I chose my pieces by sight reading through a bunch of options. That helped me narrow the list. Then I listened to a recording of the pieces just to get a flavor … sort of like attending a recital, but one where I chose the works played. That helped me select the pieces I would learn.

Then I worked on the pieces for a while to get the structure down, and I paid really close attention to the composer's expressed wishes. But I'm not a professional musician, and I would not pretend to have mastered any particular musical genre well enough to know the material cold, so to speak. I'm also not Norwegian, so there is no folk memory and early schooling to help me "feel" the style!

So, like many in my position, after developing my initial ideas about the piece I then looked around for recordings to see ...

1) the range of tempi.

It was generally faster than I had thought, and that was a big help. I pushed the envelope to match the speed of the pros.

2) how people pedaled the works.

I heard very wet and very dry and punctuated versions. That was reassuring because the choice I had already made seemed very appropriate to me.

and lastly,

3) how people played certain very specific phrases.

I had already worked out my own view, but I was happy to make some adjustments when I heard others play passages that just sounded more convincing to me than what I had constructed.

I had no teacher helping me with these piece. I think I would have operated differently if I had been working with one. And in any case, I worked through the pieces first and added the recordings later.
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#2169109 - 10/20/13 08:23 PM Re: Why listening to recordings is good when learning a piece [Re: Pogorelich.]
pianoloverus Offline
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Registered: 05/29/01
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Loc: New York City
Originally Posted By: Pogorelich.
Because a recording can't talk!!! A good teacher will NEVER dictate everything! There should be discussion and trial and error, but NOT playing a passage over and over for your student and making them play it exactly that way, brainlessly. I know that this is done sometimes. And it is called BAD teaching!!!

That's why listening to a recording over and over again and having a lesson with a (non-mediocre) teacher are two very different things.
Yes, a good teacher will explain the idea behind all of his suggestions. And, because of this I've said almost every time this discussion comes up that learning from recordings is more difficult because the student has to figure out more for them self. But I certainly don't think this means that learning from recordings is impossible or without value.

Rote copying of recording (whether from one listening or listening over and over again) or blindly following a teacher's unexplained suggestion are both bad approaches, but that is not what I'm advocating.

Here's one example from my personal experience I've mentioned several times before. I was learning Keith Jarrett's incredibly beautiful version of Be My Love from his album The Melody And The Night With You:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1s84k5yTho

I listened to Jarrett's recording and not surprisingly found his playing much more beautiful than mine.(I think he's the greatest player of jazz ballads in history). After listening a few more times I found that he tended to start each phrase more emphatically that I often did, and I began adopting that approach in my playing to some extent. It became a possibility that I was not aware of previously,

I don't see how one could argue that anything I did or learned in this experience wasn't positive. And, amusingly enough at a Mannes master class a few weeks later, the teacher, Alexander Braginsky, talked about the same thing in reference to some classical piece being performed. He said something like(I'm paraphrasing here): "In Russia we have a saying that when a phrase begins one should make sure to begin it."

(If anyone would like a copy of the Jarrett transcription, I have the transcriber's permission to share this with anyone who wants it.)


Edited by pianoloverus (10/20/13 08:51 PM)

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#2169114 - 10/20/13 08:28 PM Re: Why listening to recordings is good when learning a piece [Re: Piano*Dad]
pianoloverus Offline
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Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 19265
Loc: New York City
Originally Posted By: Piano*Dad
The advice of a teacher is part of an ongoing and very direct conversation about technique, musicality, music history, and the specific work at hand. I'm guessing you would agree that learning from a recording is not as good as having a teacher?
I would phrase that slightly differently.

I'd say that if one has to choose between a good teacher and recordings the teacher is always better. I'd also say. as I mentioned a little earlier. that learning from a recording is usually much more difficult. But neither of those points means that learning from a recording can't be highly beneficial.

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