Robert Estrin - piano expert

Should You Learn Your Music by Ear?

Should all musicians listen to recordings when learning a piece of music?

In this video, Robert discusses the pros and cons of listening to recordings of music you are learning.

Released on August 19, 2020

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi, I'm Robert Estrin. This is Welcome. Today the subject is, When to Listen to Recordings of Music You are Learning. I know a lot of students they like to listen to a bunch of recordings to get familiar with the piece, just to see what they like. And then as they're learning it, they keep listening and listening. Maybe they find one performance they particularly like and they just listen to that incessantly and naturally they're going to imitate that performance. Well, there are two reasons why I recommend not doing this. As far as listening to performances just to see what music you're interested in learning, that's great. Of course listening to music is enjoyable and valuable. However, when you want to learn a piece of music, you don't want to be highly influenced by any one particular interpretation. That's number one. Number two, you want to challenge yourself to see if you can learn something from the written page and see what you come up with.

What I like to do personally is ... Sure, I mean I usually will sight read through a piece a couple times and oftentimes I might know the piece. I've heard it before, but when I start working on it, I don't listen to any recordings at all. And I learn the whole piece until I have it on performance level. And I've carved out a concept of how to play that piece. That's when I first listen to recordings. And that way, when I listen to those recordings, they don't overly influence me. I get a different take. Oh, that's interesting. But I come to my own convictions about the music and I think you should do the same thing. Not only that, but it really helps you to understand how to decipher rhythms, phrasing, expression, not to mention the notes, of a piece of music and to come to an idea of what tempo you like.

Now, after you've learned a piece of music, if you listen to half a dozen recordings and everybody plays it way faster or slower than you do, you might rethink what you're doing. Maybe there's some validity to the common wisdom. Maybe there isn't though. Have you ever heard some Glen Gould recordings where he plays tempos that are drastically different from other people? And sometimes they can be enlightening. So, go with your convictions and the only way to have convictions is to not be influenced before you learn something. So don't depend upon recordings to help you learn pieces by ear because you'll never be able to express your true inclinations of the music if you never give yourself an opportunity to explore them. Again, I'm Robert Estrin. This is, your online piano resource. You're welcome to subscribe here. Add a Patreon for even more. See you next time.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

amber chiang on August 19, 2020 @11:47 am PST
do suggest that with beginners?
Robert - host, on August 19, 2020 @2:18 pm PST
This applies to most students. However, extremely young students (4-5 years old) are often taught by rote and by ear. This can be very effective. A good example of this is the Suzuki program for both string instruments and piano.
amber chiang on August 19, 2020 @2:46 pm PST
Thanks Robert!
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