What are your teaching goals for 2015? All teachers need yearly goals to further their art and students. For 2015 one of my pedagogical goals is listening. The more I teach, the more convinced I am that a student, parent, teacher, and /or artist will gain immeasurably by listening to the pieces that he or she is working on. You are never too young, too old, too inexperienced, or too experienced to listen to great performances. Dr. Suzuki is correct on this point, listening is indispensable to progress!
“It is of utmost importance that parents and children understand the value of listening to recordings at home. Listening is central to the development of musical sensitivity.” ~Shinichi Suzuki
Just like in any field of study, professional music educators have differing positions, even when it comes to the role of listening to recordings in the training of the musician. Sometimes music teachers are very passionate about their perspective on how to teach.
Here are two main reasons that are given often why musicians should not listen to recordings:
- Creates Robots. There is the concern that listening to recordings will just turn a musician, especially a young student, into a little music robot, just copying what he hears. This leads to the ruin of a musician’s creativity.
- Illiterate Musicians. By listening to recordings of the pieces that they are learning, it will also lead the musician to ignore note reading and play what he has heard. So, listening to recordings prevent musicians from learning to read music proficiently, which is very important.
Maybe YesIt is important to take these concerns seriously, because every musician desires to be creative and most musicians, especially classical musicians, find note reading essential. With that in mind, here are some reasons why listening to recordings is indispensable, not harmful:
- It inspires. For many musicians hearing a great performer is what inspired them to learn an instrument or sing. Excellent performers move our emotions and excite us in ways other things cannot. After starting to study an instrument, great performances motivates the student to persevere when it seems like he will never improve. As the student progresses, great performances will inspire him to aim higher, to not be satisfied with his current level of playing.
- The foundation. Starting from day one a student listens to his teacher demonstrate how to do things. Students that listen at home build their sense of intonation, rhythm, tone, phrasing, expression, etc. For young students this is not necessarily something they are aware of, to them it is just to get to know “how a song goes.” This is exactly what happens in the lesson with the teacher. The teacher demonstrates how to play notes in tune, with the correct rhythm, beautiful tone, expressiveness, etc. It makes the process of learning easier and more enjoyable. Students that I teach learn this way from me, but I also have them learn to read the notes and understand the connection of what the hear with what they see. This is why students are also challenged to sight read a piece in lessons. They get a few seconds to figure out the song with my assistance and then play it all the way through without stopping. The aural and the visual are both stimulated to grow. If done wisely, listening to recordings can boost note reading along with many other foundational skills.
- Gives possibilities. No teacher wants musical robots, so instead of giving up all the benefits of listening to great performers I talk to students about possibilities. After the notes and dynamics are learned, we are ready to make some real music. It is at this stage that the recordings are considered valid and good ways to perform the song. It is not the only way, but one good way of performing. Next, the student will try to imitate the master in the expressiveness of the piece. All of us imitate to learn; it happens in sports, public speaking, medicine, you name it, we all imitate, but we don’t stop there. After trying the way of one of these master musicians, I guide the student to try the piece in other ways. This is fun, not burdensome or dread. We enjoy trying things in different ways, that is why we have all kinds of cars, homes, clothes, and many other things. The same goes with music, we learn, imitate and then get personally creative with what we’ve done.
Using great performances this way is not easy, it takes patience, explaining, guiding, being comfortable to try new things and a love for the excellent. There is no need for a musician to forgo all the benefits of listening due to feeling he is cheating or feeling like he is taking the easy way out. Keep listening, it’s indispensable!