I contribute to Pianist magazine’s newsletter, in addition to writing a ‘how-to-play’ article in the magazine, which pops into a subscriber’s e mail box every other month. It’s full of interesting articles, competitions and everything piano.
The most recent newsletter article contains 5 tips designed to cultivate and improve our listening skills, and I thought it may be of interest to readers; hope you find them useful.
We might think we hear what we play, but often our attention is focused elsewhere; finding notes, reading the score, pedalling – the list is endless. But when we are finally able and ready to concentrate on the sound we produce, we can really elevate our piano playing.
1. Begin with a few single notes, hands separately. Play each note softly at first, listening to and noting the sound as it dies away. Only play another note once the sound from the previous note has ceased.
2. Now play single notes with greater sonority, but this time don’t allow the tone to die completely, instead sound a further note and ‘match’ the timbre and dynamic to that of the dying first note. This requires careful listening and will attune the ears.
3. Experiment with chords (perhaps a C major triad in both hands). Start pianissimo, and build to fortissimo through a series of 8 or 10 chords. Each one must be placed more powerfully than the last, again fine tuning listening skills.
4. We can learn to hear our own playing when we release ourselves from looking at the score. Once learnt thoroughly, if possible, play through a passage from memory, and when secure, you are free to listen to every note with a clearer perspective. Now record yourself, checking whether the performance is the same as you imagined you heard whilst playing it.
5. Aim to observe the way your body moves; a flexible wrist, arm, and upper torso has an important impact on tonal quality, and by moving freely and encouraging flexibility, you can expect to hear a warmer, richer sound.
By implementing a few of these suggestions, you will hopefully unlock the key to ‘hearing’ with a sharpened perception.
Melanie Spanswick has written and published a wide range of courses, anthologies, examination syllabuses, and text books, including Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). This best-selling graded, progressive piano course contains a large selection of repertoire featuring a huge array of styles and genres, with copious practice tips and suggestions for every piece.
For more information, please visit the publications page, here.