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Originally Posted by Cinnamonbear


Ilinca, I saw a YouTube masterclass with Barneboim teaching the young up-and-comers to play Beethoven. To one of them, he said something like, "Of course we know when we strike a piano key, the note does not crescendo. But imagine that it does! You have to imagine that that one note will crescendo when you play it!" He was putting this student on a line of thought that would help him shape the phrase. I thought it was an amazing idea, and your notion prompted the memory. Thank you!



Hi Cinnamonbear,

Thank you for your example with Barenboim's masterclass! Indeed, the power of our imagination has no limits and, if we know how to do it, we can go beyond the physical limitations of the piano and we can make it sound like the voice, or the violin, or the orchestra... including creating the illusion that we can make crescendo on a note (which is physically impossible!). This is a fascinating subject, even if it is not exactly related to our current topic smile.

Regarding the second half of your message - no matter what we play on the piano (even scales and other technical exercises), we have to hear the result first in our mind and only then transfer it to the instrument. If we do it the other way around - "I play and I wait to see what happens" - we risk never attaining a good result.

We have to imagine first, and then try to increase our awareness (through recordings and advices from teachers, colleagues etc.) until we can objectively hear our playing without external help. Then, we have to 'attract' the objective sound towards the image we have in our mind, until they become one smile.


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Originally Posted by polyphasicpianist
Originally Posted by david_a
Even so, there's nothing wrong with any of the six, and getting only a couple of them means you're better than you were yesterday.

If teachers were forbidden from presenting any idea that could conceivably be followed by the question "What do you mean by that?" we'd all be pretty much silent. Not that everybody would consider that a bad thing... smile


Just so everyone is clear on this, I am not saying there is anything wrong with the six points keystring made. What I am saying is that if you want to tell a student, for instance, that he or she should "listen to see if the notes are fading in and out because of lack of control," then you should tell the student precisely that, and not couch it in some cryptic sentence like "you need to learn to listen to yourself more" or, "you have to really . . . listen."


I tend to disagree with that--as much as I'd like to get concrete, specific instructions, because I'm brought up the quantitative and analytic kind, I've learned in my years that ultimately, I'm the one supposed to figure things out.

As an undergrad, like many other math and science students, we made fun of statements like "learn to listen to yourself play", because, we thought, there was zero content in such a statement. For instance, all my teachers told me, "you have to play with more emotion". My college professor even said "may you need to find a girlfriend" for said purpose.

What does "play with more emotion" mean? Back then, to me, nothing. Indeed--I probably would have regarded "listen to yourself play" just as empty of a statement.

But just because my level wasn't there doesn't mean they say it to make themselves sound more "profound" than they are. More likely, they couldn't figure out exactly why I'm doing certain things certain ways. When it's so widespread, the teacher need to let the student figure things out.

And once you get over the hump, with or without teacher's assistance, you realize these kind of statements are not that vague after all. It's a principle, a guideline, a wise statement.

One of my friends who were really into analytic philosophy were quite dismissive of many Chinese "philosophies", especially Confucianism. But later we all realized that just because not everything is clearly defined doesn't mean there isn't content in them. Just because they could refer to several aspects doesn't mean they're vague.

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Originally Posted by polyphasicpianist
Originally Posted by david_a
Even so, there's nothing wrong with any of the six, and getting only a couple of them means you're better than you were yesterday.

If teachers were forbidden from presenting any idea that could conceivably be followed by the question "What do you mean by that?" we'd all be pretty much silent. Not that everybody would consider that a bad thing... smile


Just so everyone is clear on this, I am not saying there is anything wrong with the six points keystring made. What I am saying is that if you want to tell a student, for instance, that he or she should "listen to see if the notes are fading in and out because of lack of control," then you should tell the student precisely that, and not couch it in some cryptic sentence like "you need to learn to listen to yourself more" or, "you have to really . . . listen."
I dsiagree with your main point. Telling a student that he needs to improve his skills in an entire category is perfectly legitimate. Of course it's necessary to then (preferably immediately) get into some specifics - but it's a mistake to single out one thing and omit the rest, if there actually are half a dozen things necessary that all belong to the same category. Don't confuse "being precise" with "leaving out five-sixths of the issue".


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Originally Posted by david_a
I dsiagree with your main point. Telling a student that he needs to improve his skills in an entire category is perfectly legitimate. Of course it's necessary to then (preferably immediately) get into some specifics - but it's a mistake to single out one thing and omit the rest, if there actually are half a dozen things necessary that all belong to the same category. Don't confuse "being precise" with "leaving out five-sixths of the issue".


If the phrase is such that it requires you to later clarify with specifics, then why not just start with the specifics in the first place and omit the phrase altogether? This would save time and confusion.

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Originally Posted by david_a
Telling a student that he needs to improve his skills in an entire category is perfectly legitimate. Of course it's necessary to then (preferably immediately) get into some specifics - but it's a mistake to single out one thing and omit the rest, if there actually are half a dozen things necessary that all belong to the same category. Don't confuse "being precise" with "leaving out five-sixths of the issue".


Can you give an example of such general advice and what the follow-up is on the part of the student? How can the student get at the general goals that the teacher has given? Does the student have the means and does the student know what that goal actually entails?

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Perhaps an analogy is apt to show my point. Suppose there is a pianist who really wants to practice but just can't seem to bring himself to do it. So, in a effort to correct this he asks his piano instructor what he needs to do to practice more. Their response is "you need to develop willpower."

This phrase "you need to develop willpower" does help the student in any sense whatsoever. Likewise it is with the phrase "you must learn to. . . Listen."

It just begs the question "how should I learn to listen?," "what should I be listening for?" ect.

As I said in my previous post: if the phrase is such that it requires you to later clarify with specifics, then why not just start with the specifics in the first place and omit the phrase altogether? This would save time and confusion.


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Originally Posted by Ilinka
we have to hear the result first in our mind and only then transfer it to the instrument. If we do it the other way around - "I play and I wait to see what happens" - we risk never attaining a good result.

We have to imagine first, and then try to increase our awareness (through recordings and advices from teachers, colleagues etc.) until we can objectively hear our playing without external help. Then, we have to 'attract' the objective sound towards the image we have in our mind, until they become one


I think this is one of the reasons that really hearing oneself in general is so difficult. In effect we are processing the imagined sound that we want, and monitoring the sound that comes out of our piano. It's no surprise that people say that the big difference between good students and excellent students is the ability to Really Listen. It is general and fundamental, and worth stating as such!

Another thing that makes really listening difficult is habituation to one's playing such that you stop examining the detail. It feels like the brain is comfortably saying, "oh i've heard this so many times, I know how it goes, I haven't evolved to be remotely interested in the tiny differences between this play-through and the previous one... <yawn>... can we go and kill a bison now?"



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Originally Posted by polyphasicpianist


As I said in my previous post: if the phrase is such that it requires you to later clarify with specifics, then why not just start with the specifics in the first place and omit the phrase altogether? This would save time and confusion.



Once again, with a good teacher the "later clarify with specifics" is in the very next sentences.

I see nothing wrong with stating the overview, and immediately getting into specifics.

In fact, that is what many good teachers do...start with the overview, then delve into the specifics.

As for "saving time," how long does it take to say the first introductory sentence?

As an analogy, a teacher might say, "Today we are going to study how to cook Italian food", (vague broad subject) immediately followed by, "We will begin with cooking pasta". (specifics).

Not much time wasted.



Last edited by rocket88; 07/17/11 11:51 PM. Reason: clarity

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Originally Posted by rocket88


Once again, with a good teacher the "later clarify with specifics" is in the very next sentences.

I see nothing wrong with stating the overview, and immediately getting into specifics.

In fact, that is what many good teachers do...start with the overview, then delve into the specifics.

As for "saving time," how long does it take to say the first introductory sentence?

As an analogy, a teacher might say, "Today we are going to study how to cook Italian food", (vague broad subject) immediately followed by, "We will begin with cooking pasta". (specifics).

Not much time wasted.


If teachers and pianists actually talked the way you are describing then I would agree with you. But you have to admit a lot of times when you here the phrase "the most important thing is that you learn to . . . Listen to yourself." Then that is pretty much the end of the conversation. There is a video I recall, of I believe, Rubistein giving this advice. Does he go into any detail whatsoever in this regard? Nope. Nothing. He could have provided one or two examples just so the zillions of beginners who worship him understood at least vaguely what he was talking about. But he didn't. And I believe this is a common thing among pianists. Numerous people in various threads (esp. the ABF) have cited the importance of "learning to listen." But it is never actually clarified in any real way. Even in this thread which has the specific purpose of clarifying the phrase has not succeed as this post elegantly shows:
http://www.pianoworld.com/forum/ubb...20listen%20to%20oneself.html#Post1714829

Furthermore, my first post in this thread accused the phrase of being vague and ambiguous. And nobody can deny, that after reading the countless interpretations of the phrase in this thread, that it isn't. You gain nothing by mentioning the phrase as a introduction because it provides no actual information which is what an intro (or and overview for that matter) is supposed to do. The fact is that using the term from a pedagogical point of view holds no water. The phrase is used to romanticise the act of listening. This is the sense in which Rubinstein used it and is the sense in which most other pianists use it.

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Originally Posted by polyphasicpianist
Perhaps an analogy is apt to show my point. Suppose there is a pianist who really wants to practice but just can't seem to bring himself to do it. So, in a effort to correct this he asks his piano instructor what he needs to do to practice more. Their response is "you need to develop willpower."

This phrase "you need to develop willpower" does help the student in any sense whatsoever. Likewise it is with the phrase "you must learn to. . . Listen."

It just begs the question "how should I learn to listen?," "what should I be listening for?" ect.

As I said in my previous post: if the phrase is such that it requires you to later clarify with specifics, then why not just start with the specifics in the first place and omit the phrase altogether? This would save time and confusion.

Your analogy is not a good one, since willpower can't helpfully be treated as a large subject with sub-categories.


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Originally Posted by polyphasicpianist
The phrase "you have to learn to listen to yourself" is so sufficiently vague and ambiguous as to be meaningless. It is just one of those things pianists say when they want to sound more profound then they actually are.


This reminds me of a story from my college days.

I was a sophomore and playing Haydn's B Minor Sonata. I kept making some mistakes in the development section. This was one of my first lessons with my new piano teacher, and he kept telling me that if I would only listen to what I was playing, then I wouldn't make those mistakes, because it wouldn't make sense to play those wrong notes. I remember sitting there hopelessly, listening very carefully to every note I was playing, but not knowing how I could possibly know what "wrong" sounded like, and this same scenario repeated over the years.

There's another part to the story.

At that same lesson, he asked me to tell him what key the development began in, and what key it moved to first. He kept telling me, "just look at the score and tell me". I remember sitting there hopelessly not knowing how to figure out from looking at the score what key the development had modulated to.

His point was that if I really understood what key I was in, and I was really listening to what I was playing, then I would hear that what I was playing sounded incomprehensible in that key, and I wouldn't make those mistakes in the first place.

I was hopeless then, but in hindsight, I realize that he was so right, as I now know because of the following reasons:

1) I now understand music theory infinitely better than I did then.
2) Tonality and modulations feel much more natural to me now, as a result of study and experience.
3) I recognize notes, cadences, and other common patterns on the page much more quickly, also as a result of study and experience.
4) When I listen to myself playing, mistakes jump out at me because of the above reasons, or I don't even make as many mistakes in the first place because they wouldn't make sense to play.

The problem with those early experiences is that I knew how to listen to myself, but I didn't know what to listen for. It doesn't matter if you can hear what you are playing if you don't have the ability to discern what it is that you're playing. I was sitting there hopeless *listening* to myself play lots of notes, but without knowing that the notes I was playing were wrong.

So in my mind, "listening to oneself" is something which requires much experience and knowledge to be able to do at a high degree. At its highest level, it requires a solid understanding of both music theory and piano technique, and a high level of comfort with common patterns in music and piano playing, all of which comes from experience. Because otherwise, what good does it do to "listen" to what you're playing, if you don't know what it is that you're "listening" to or for?


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Originally Posted by david_a
Your analogy is not a good one, since willpower can't helpfully be treated as a large subject with sub-categories.


Actually it can, if you view willpower and self-control as the same thing you can easily break it up into sub-categories.

For example:
antecedents, behaviours, consequences


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Ah polypp (and others), I begin to understand. You are saying that a player needs to know
- what to listen for
- what the music means (theoretically, structurally, historically...)

I was refering only to the gap between what the player thinks he sounds like and what he actually sounded like, measured effectively by recording and playing back. This surprise "I sound so clunky here, laboured there, uneven rhythm. Funny, I really thought I sounded more like fave recording of Richter..." To me, this is the essence of the strange difficulty of Listening. How is it that in the same room, with ears not deaf-folded, a filter is applied when the listener is the player, but not otherwise.

The next question is what can a student do to close the gap between actual and imagined sound. Recording oneself is a great suggestion of course, but what else? My thought is that the habituation to one's playing of Piece X has to be disrupted regularly and often. To state it backwards: if a student always plays from the beginning, same tempo, same intention and does this many many many times, eventually she will have automatic memory of the fingers and also habituation of the ears to this piece. Probably the student could enjoy TV while playing.

To state it forwards (some suggestions):
- often change the tempo, especially several varieties of slow
- play with RH too loud and LH too soft, And reverse

- play the RH of the first bar, then LH of the second, then RH of the third etc. Your aural imagination is forced to complete the picture.
- Play the first bar, silence for the second, play the third, silence for the fourth. Again aural imagination is exercised.

- Play with metronome
- Play hands separately, with or without singing or imagining other part.
- Play with no sustain pedal

- Play the way you would perform it!

The ways of playing that are not the final one keep the ears and imagination fresh and flexible so that one can Really Listen when doing the last option, and be responsive. I perform much better after practising in all ways that are not a performance play through. I'd be interested to hear whether others find this, or maybe I'm different?

And I would love to know if anyone finds things in this list useful, Thanks.



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Some excerpts from the book "Just Play Naturally", Viven Mackie (Cellist and Alexander Technique Teacher), who took lessons with Pablo Casals, that may shed some light on the subject:

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(pg. 14) "Then we began to work on the concerto, and he stopped me at the first note and said it was too sharp. So I adjusted it, and he said it was still too sharp. He kept on saying, 'It's too sharp' or 'too flat' until we found the one that made him say 'That one - but it is piano.' So I played it softer. 'But it is "piano" for a concerto.' Then it was too sharp again, and at last 'just right - but with diminuendo', he said. And so on, and so on... And whenever he said, 'That's it!' I was surprised, because I couldn't tell. I had thought every offering I made was good enough - and it just wasn't. So I had a 'blind ear', you might say. He was leading my blind ear, my groping ear, and showing it where to go."


After a few months of lessons...

Quote
(pg.28) "We were trying cellos, and Christopher was playing. He asked me if I would like to play the slow movement of the Haydn, and he offered to play an accompaniment for me. And I tried, but I found I couldn't do it. My 'new ear' just couldn't bear to hear so many imperfections."


Quote
(pg.39) "Casals made it very obvious that if you plan and set up what you're going to do with enough care and completeness, you find you get first time the result you had in mind... I also had to learn to hear what I'd done and not what I thought I'd done. That was very hard. It's so easy to be mistaken as to how you've actually played because you're so wrapped up in youu intention that that's what you hear. You know, you have to plan. And then execute. Then only after that can you tell whether it was good or not. If the planning has been good enough, the result must be good."


Casal's basic approach was that you do everything right from the first note, dynamics, intonation, musicality, rhythm, everything. You only move on to the next note when you have mastered the previous one. Mackie observes that here first piece took a very long time to learn, but helped to radically reshape her playing and her ear. Her observation about having a 'plan' before playing seems to indicate that you have to know exactly what the sound you are going for is in order to have any hope of knowing if what you played should be considered 'good'. For Mackie, it was essential to have a teacher to get her started on the process, to guide her ear as to what was good or not.

In the same book, it also mentions an observation made by Alexander. This was at the time in his life when he was losing his voice, thus bought a a number of mirrors to observe himself when he sang:

Quote
(pg.60) "At first it looked perfectly normal, but then he began to notice that there was a certain thing that he consistently did with his head in relation to his neck... pulling his head back and down. Then he thought, 'What would happen if I stopped doing that?' So he gave himself the instruction to stop doing that - and saw that he did it anyway, as if he'd never given himself the instruction... Then he went back to the beginning of his passage, and he gave himself the instruction to put his head forward and up, which he felt he was doing - but as he watched in the mirror, he saw that he wasn't. So he'd made two rather appalling discoveries. The first was that he didn't know what his own head was doing - he'd assumed he was in charge of his own head. And the second was that he couldn't even trust his feelings about what was going on in himself."


Alexander also made similar observations about others, they're not very good at assessing themselves while they do their task. Ergonomics aside, I think a similar parallel can be drawn between using a mirror to see what one is really doing physically and using an audio recording to hear what one is really doing musically (or a video recording to accomplish both!).

After typing this up, I realized I've never listened to a recording of my playing. I'm going to have to start integrating that into my practice routine as a method of getting more objective feedback (and hopefully training my ability to hear in the process).

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Finally this is getting somewhere! You cannot assume if you are a teacher or had good teachers, that specific guidance is going to be there. Maybe some teachers gradually introduce their students to hearing and listening for things, how theory fits into it, so that the student will have an idea of what "listen" means. The same goes for diligent practice or anything else. But it can and does happen that a student will only get the broad instruction to listen. Somebody pointed out that we have to know what to listen FOR. There are things we aren't even aware of until we are made aware of them. It doesn't happen just because you listen and listen and listen. You will continue to hear the same things, and miss other things.

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Originally Posted by pianojerome

So in my mind, "listening to oneself" is something which requires much experience and knowledge to be able to do at a high degree. At its highest level, it requires a solid understanding of both music theory and piano technique, and a high level of comfort with common patterns in music and piano playing, all of which comes from experience. Because otherwise, what good does it do to "listen" to what you're playing, if you don't know what it is that you're "listening" to or for?


I think that just listening, without having a specific object in mind, is quite useful. Applying that technique to specific aspects of one's playing is, of course, very useful too. But simply learning how to do it in the first place is the most important thing, IMHO, which I think is why it is often heard as a general injunction.

I don't find the meaning of "listening to oneself" particularly baffling. It is just paying undivided attention to the music one is making (or, at least, as close to undivided as you can manage). What may be confusing is it that it seems rather tricky to accomplish for many people, but I don't think the idea itself is particularly difficult or ambiguous.

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Listening isn't baffling. But you CAN find, once you get taught what to listen and aim for, that there are things you were never aware of and so could not have listened for. It can have some interesting side effects. You'll notice this aspect (whatever you learned) in the playing of good musicians, but you never heard it before and now you do. You may find weaker musicians irritating because now you hear this thing is missing or off. You'll hear it missing or wrong in your own playing, which is disturbing - in fact because you can hear more, you may get the impression that your playing has deteriorated. You start fixing this thing you can now hear. Musicians with ears will know what you fixed. Others will hear that your playing "somehow sounds nicer, but I can't put my finger on why."

But first you have to hear it. And you have to know it exists.

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It seems to me that part of the difficult in learning to listen to oneself is that the brain can only do a certain amount of things simultaneously, and while listening to oneself one is also has the major task of playing. I'd guess the easier the passage, the easier it is to listen to oneself. Agree?

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pppianist, i don't know what planet you live on if you actually bother to argue about these points. those are like things we used to debate in college and moved on. i'm assuming you're not in college right? since you do appear to be well-versed in certain aspects of psychology. maybe it's your research--but as my advisor used to say, it's important not to "get stuck in the trenches", you need to see the big picture.

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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
It seems to me that part of the difficult in learning to listen to oneself is that the brain can only do a certain amount of things simultaneously, and while listening to oneself one is also has the major task of playing. I'd guess the easier the passage, the easier it is to listen to oneself. Agree?


I'd agree that is true during the learning process. Later, probably not so much. But in really horribly difficult passages, it may be that many pianists never really get to the "pure" listening to oneself stage, because they are distracted by the difficulty. Sometimes, in concert, I think you can sense a pianist switching modes.

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