Robert Estrin - piano expert

Should you Listen to a Piece of Music Before you Learn It? - Video 2

An answer to a pretty common question among musicians

In this video, Robert answers a question musicians often ask themselves.

Released on May 28, 2014

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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 and here at with a great question which is, should you listen to a piece of music first before learning it? All right, before we cover this topic we should think about the type of music we're talking about. You know, classical music is distinctively different from jazz and some other styles where you're basically playing by ear. If you're playing jazz, you really should listen to the original before you try to play it because the music itself is just a skeleton to refresh your memory as to what the original tune or recording is like. So in jazz and rock absolutely listen to the music that is your source of the song or the composition. Where classical music every note is written out, and you know, it's very important for a student to be able to learn a piece without listening to it first. It's actually a big help.

Growing up, my older sister Coren Mino is a wonderful pianist and she was always more advance than me growing up being just a little bit older, and so I would hear all the pieces that I'd get to study later and I'm sure that helped me a lot because you could pick it up by ear a lot. But it's also very important to be able to digest the score just by reading it because what if you're playing a piece that a friend of yours or a composer writes something for your or a piece that there are no recording available. If you've never been able to learn a piece except by listening to it, you're in a big disadvantage. So I think it's important to be able to learn a classical piece just from the score.

After you've learned it and you have your own concept then go ahead and listen to a variety of recordings. You'll find that if you listen to a recording before you've learned a piece, you're going to be highly influenced by that recording and you'll end up not forming your own interpretation so much. So you're better off learning it first and reward yourself later after you can play it by listening to not just one but several recordings.

Thanks for the great question. Remember with jazz and other styles, listen a lot. That is your source of the score ultimately. Great, thanks for the question and we'll be joining me next time here on
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Cheryl on July 16, 2014 @12:15 pm PST
Thank you. I have always learned classical music from the score first and so have approached jazz, etc the same - which hasn't worked out real well. Now I understand why. The page is not the original source, you must listen to a performance to really get an idea of how this will sound. ......and the lightbulb flickered on.
Teo on June 7, 2014 @10:51 am PST
Thanks again Robert! I like how you mention the different issues for different styles. Romantic piano, which I love, it's strange to listen sometimes because if they are too "rubato," out-of-time, it sort of messes my thinking up! But then when playing Chopin with 7lets and 14lets I realize there is a freedom expected. Are there different suggestions if you are say, reading a partita and then boiling it down to a piano reduction in real time? I heard Glen Gould's teacher would have him read a full song then without the score go play it! Also he had some finger-tapping techniques?!? Thanks for these awesome videos and feedback opportunities! Regards, Teo
Robert - host, on June 7, 2014 @2:18 pm PST
You are right - different period styles of music require unique approaches. Also, reading through music is distinctly different from learning a score. I wish I could read through a piece once and have it memorized! For most of us it is necessary to break things down and digest a little bit at a time. When reading through a piece sometimes you can get a sense of the piece and construct a skeletal outline of the work to get a feel for it. The important thing is to be aware of what is appropriate for the period style and to know what your purpose is in practicing the piece.
Ken * VSM MEMBER * on May 28, 2014 @1:08 pm PST
On the other hand, I often learn classical pieces *because* I've heard them and want to play them.
Dr jose l Cruz * VSM MEMBER * on May 28, 2014 @8:31 am PST
I am no t that good reading music,but i have a very good ear for music and i can learn the piece in 1-2 hr.What do you recommend?
Robert - host, on May 28, 2014 @12:13 pm PST
Jim Conlon * VSM MEMBER * on May 28, 2014 @6:50 am PST
I try to play some classical guitar music. Over the years, I have learned 3 pieces that I can play without reading the dots. I even recorded them on tape and then lost the tape recording I am still working on Asturias (Leyenda). This is sort of amusing because I have carpel tunnel syndrome in my right wrist and also have a hearing problem. I use hearing aids. I have to remove one of them when I play classical because the sound is too sharp or treble..ish. The tone is also impacted. What I like about your videos is the clarity that you have. I understand what you are trying to convey even if it is all about piano. I never had formal training so I muddle through my problems. I have very poor sight reading ability or worse than that. I have a very poor understanding of timing even though I have some understanding of the rests etc. So, your comment on not hearing the piece beforehand and then trying to actually play it (classical) caught my attention. I agree with what you said. I always thought that I wanted to play pieces that I never heard before so that I had to try and determine what the composer had in mind. Of course, I need help or a miracle. I am a spirited 77 year old male. Thank you.
M Baguley * VSM MEMBER * on May 28, 2014 @4:52 am PST
Thanks, Robert for another piece of good advice. However I think there are times when listening to a classical piece before trying to play it is more help than hindrance. I have in mind particularly ensemble music when you are playing one instrument eg string quartet. Particularly if the piece is at threshold of one's playing ability then I find it helpful to hear the whole piece before tackling one part. That way you get an idea of the geography of the music. Does this make sense to you?
Thanks again for all your excellent advice.
Robert - host, on May 28, 2014 @12:16 pm PST
You are absolutely right! When playing chamber music or music for larger ensembles, it is essential to listen to the complete work to understand the context of your part. Thank you for sharing this important point.
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