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I've been thinking quite a bit lately about the role of now-ubiquitous YouTube videos of the great pianists, and how that changes the way we learn piano. I recently wrote a blog post about it - https://doublebarline.com/recording/. I'm new to both the forum and to blogging, and I'd love to hear other people's reactions and thoughts!

Thanks so much!

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I read quite a bit but not all of your blog post. I think one's level has a lot to do with whether or not one should listen to recordings when learning a piece. Up to a fairly advanced level I think listening to a recording makes a lot of sense for most, especially if one does not just blindly copy a performance but thinks about what one likes or dislikes about it.

Listening to a recording is not that different from taking a lesson or using an edition by a famous pianist or excellent editor. For beginners and early intermediates I think listening to a performance is an important tool that should be encouraged by a teacher. I think the university pedagogy project I've mentioned quite a few times that Kreisler, one of the PW moderators is involved with, is a terrific idea. I'm talking about the project, whose name I can never seem to remember, where thousands of beginner and early intermediate teaching pieces, ones that usually can't be found in professional YouTube recordings, are being recorded.

When one reaches the very high level of playing Ondine, like yourself, IMO the argument of avoiding too much listening seems more reasonable although even there I don't think it's a black and white issue. At the many conservatory master classes I've attended, a fairly high percent of the teacher's comments are not about interpretation(ideas that can vary and still be valid)but about mistakes in musical understanding that might have been avoided by listening to a high level performance.

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The ubiquitous recordings whether on YouTube or via streaming services can be both a curse and a blessing.

I think (rather sadly) of the of the student - and there are some if not many - who haven't learned that the score can show them almost all they need to know about how to play a piece of music. They are the ones who ask their teacher (and the teacher often obliges) to play it for them so that they can hear "how it goes" or "how it should sound." There are others who scour the Internet for the same purpose. This phenomenon is allied, I think, to the increased need for instant response, instant gratification. Why should I have to work it all out when the "answer" is already there on YouTube?

On the other hand, hearing performances of master pianists can often shed new light on what interpretive nuances can do to enhance a performance and, in that respect, we perhaps should be grateful that so much of recorded pianistic history is available at the click of a mouse.

For me, when I am learning a new piece of music I never listen to any performances until I have the notes well in hand and until I have decided to some degree what my own feeling about the piece may be, based on what the score tells me. Then I look for added insight from other performers of repute. I think - I hope - that this avoids the tendency simply to copy what one has heard which may sometimes be the case of those who can't figure out the score by themselves.

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I disagree and agree with you Bruce.

I disagree that “the score can show them almost all they need to know”. Many non-advanced pianists are satisfied with just doing what the score says but I, and I know you, Bruce, want to dig deeper and find the magic that is beyond the printed score. Finding how to interpret the piece beyond the score markings is perhaps the hardest and most satisfying part of making music.

I agree with Bruce about avoiding imitation and am especially appalled by midi instructions. My custom is to superficially listen to a recording once or twice to familiarize myself with the overall landscape of a piece and to find a target tempo. I won’t listen again until the piece is mine, nearly polished and I have created with my own interpretation. At that point I might study a favorite recording carefully to identify wrong notes or to listen for a musical idea I like and want to add to my own.

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Originally Posted by BruceD
I think (rather sadly) of the of the student - and there are some if not many - who haven't learned that the score can show them almost all they need to know about how to play a piece of music. They are the ones who ask their teacher (and the teacher often obliges) to play it for them so that they can hear "how it goes" or "how it should sound." There are others who scour the Internet for the same purpose. This phenomenon is allied, I think, to the increased need for instant response, instant gratification. Why should I have to work it all out when the "answer" is already there on YouTube?
You make many interesting points.

When I (and perhaps you) was learning piano I had no recordings to listen to so I was on my own with my teacher's help almost all the time. OTOH I'm sure that if I had recordings easily available(like YouTube) I would have listened to them. I do remember one instance of listening to Horowitz's recording the the Scriabin B flat minor Etude and adding every crescendo or rubato he did onto my score haha.

I think it takes quite a while for all but the most talented students to become aware of general musical ideas and even learn to look at and try to follow all the markings in the score. I really can't remember well, but I think as a teenager I wasn't all that concerned with following or even aware of all the markings on a score. (The second thing is something my college teacher tried to emphasize in my lessons.)

Even if a student is taught to try to follow everything in the score it's perhaps too much to take in. Perhaps learning the piano is something like learning your way around a computer. In the beginning there can be too much on the screen to process. That's why I think until students reach a certain very high level it's not so bad for them to listen to recordings. OTOH one could argue that if students were required to carefully follow the score from the very beginning they might be able to do this even as the pieces became more complex and numerous.

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Thanks all for the thoughtful replies. I certainly agree with the overall feeling that recordings are more helpful to the beginning/intermediate student than the advanced student. Here's the follow-up: before the advanced student is advanced, she is an intermediate, and before that, a beginner. Partially to pianoloverus's final point, if she listens to recordings as a beginner and intermediate, will she have the necessary discipline to do the "hard work" for herself when she becomes advanced?

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I’m not sure where I fall anymore on the intermediate to advanced scale but I take great pains not to imitate anyone else. I would be horrified at that thought as music is a personal experience and not a mimic.

Do I listen to recordings? Yes. I choose about five when I am starting the piece.... and listen once each. Enough to get a flavor but not enough to copy. The rest is up to me.


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I don’t know where I fall either on my piano playing level....., definitely somewhere in the intermediate to early advanced stage perhaps, but I do listen to many recordings to get a flavor for melodies and overall structure. But I know the professional recordings are just a finished product so I try to focus on the tutorials for the piece when I am first learning it.

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If I could do a good imitation of one of the greats, I would be ecstatic. I've loved classical music my entire life (77 years) but I'm a beginner on piano (about 10 years or so) after being a professional guitarist, teacher and maker forever (it seems) I'm now relegated to playing easy pieces on piano due to arthritis. What's wrong with listening to Landowska to hear how Bach should be played?


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Interesting but in non-classical music, pianist learn by listening to others not by reading scores.

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Originally Posted by Serge88
Interesting but in non-classical music, pianist learn by listening to others not by reading scores.

Serge



Yes because in most cases it's a lot easier and straightforward.


Originally Posted by BruceD

For me, when I am learning a new piece of music I never listen to any performances until I have the notes well in hand and until I have decided to some degree what my own feeling about the piece may be, based on what the score tells me.


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Originally Posted by jshelton
If I could do a good imitation of one of the greats, I would be ecstatic.


I was going to post the same thing!

Seriously though, it's been a long time since I learnt any music that I didn't know well as a listener, but of course there's a huge gulf between knowing how something goes and actually copying someone else's performance.

I often try to figure out how a particular pianist made something sound a particular way, which I think is an important part of learning the piano. I remember, for example, having a long discussion with a concert pianist friend of mine about how Sokolov got a particular sound from the piano in one piece.

We can learn from recordings without losing our independence as musicians.

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Originally Posted by johnstaf
Seriously though, it's been a long time since I learnt any music that I didn't know well as a listener, but of course there's a huge gulf between knowing how something goes and actually copying someone else's performance. I often try to figure out how a particular pianist made something sound a particular way, which I think is an important part of learning the piano. I remember, for example, having a long discussion with a concert pianist friend of mine about how Sokolov got a particular sound from the piano in one piece.We can learn from recordings without losing our independence as musicians.
Well said !! thumb


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As a largely self taught, lapsed and now starting again player, for satisfaction rather than performing it's a mix of the two. 'Intermediate' level at a guess, btw. I play a lot of (probably mostly) pieces I haven't or hadn't heard played by anybody else and there is a lot of pleasure in finding one's own way through the music.
It isn't (in my opinion) that the score tells one everything that one needs to know - sometimes I think it is a fairly blunt instrument and can be quite uninformative - but that playing through, hearing and understanding how a piece fits together, not in terms of what progressions or any technicalities but in the effect the music has (I don't think that describes things adequately, but I'm sure you understand what I mean) it comes to life in a way that appeals to me and that determines the way I play it. It's a very enjoyable experience.
How far out are my efforts? Well, apart from usually being slower (I like slow music - I can follow it better, and I'm not exactly a skilled player) I have subsequently listened to recording and yes, there were occasional differences of emphasis (or phrasing) at times (ignoring 'errors' - as mentioned, my playing isn't exactly at a high standard), as a result of which I have sometimes (but not always) incorporated them. Best examples of that are the John Field Nocturnes.
For music I have heard before playing I think I have a tendency to have my favourite recording in mind (and unfortunately for me I can usually remember it in a lot of detail because the score reminds me as I go along), which tends to make it closer to imitation and is not as satisfying.


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Why are we so afraid of copying from Youtube? It is very unlikely to happen.

Beginners have no ability to play like a professional. Regardless of how much they try to copy, they won't sound like those professional pianists.
Advance pianists won't be interested in copying a professional pianist. They know what they like and want to do, and they do not want people to tell them that they copy Horowitz, etc.

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Originally Posted by jshelton
If I could do a good imitation of one of the greats, I would be ecstatic.


Many people in this forum think/believe that they can easily copy professional pianists! Let's not overestimate your ability. I guarantee 99.99999% of people here cannot do that.

To be honest, you'd better copy a professional piano and can play, say, 80% like what they play. You will sound great. If you can copy 80%, the next 20% you need to be cautious that you do not sound too similar!!!!

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The question, though, is why do we play? There's an argument that you should play (or really make art generally) because you have something to say, and if you're copying someone else, then what they're saying may not fit you as an individual. If we play just to hear beautiful sounds, why not just listen to a recording?

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......I have learnt lots of pieces in my time that I have never heard anyone else play - ever - or until many years later, and I still do so now. I have also sight-read through a lot of stuff that I have never heard another performance of to this day - not too difficult to do if you have an inquisitive bent and an exploratory mind......and a disdain of much of YouTube rubbish 😜.

To me, deliberately listening to someone else’s playing before learning a new piece is like listening to someone reading a book for you before you decide to read it yourself. Though I do learn many pieces that I have heard before (unavoidable if you are a serious classical buff), I never get quite the same satisfaction from learning them compared to learning even appealing pieces that I have heard before........


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Originally Posted by zweinz
The question, though, is why do we play? There's an argument that you should play (or really make art generally) because you have something to say, and if you're copying someone else, then what they're saying may not fit you as an individual. If we play just to hear beautiful sounds, why not just listen to a recording?
I think there's a difference between "hearing beautiful sounds" and making them yourself.

In regards to having playing because one has "something to say" and "making art", I find those very pretentious phrases. Everyone has some idea how they want a piece to sound but their ideas are not always particularly important or even good. Nor do they have to be in order to play the piece. In fact, they may be playing the piece just for themselves and not saying anything to someone else.

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For advanced players, listening to recordings AFTER having learned the piece is very helpful. You know the work inside and out, you know your own interpretation of it, so small differences between interpretations jump out at you at that point. Same goes for attending a concert of a work you've learned. You can get a lot of great new ideas that way. You may also discover things in the score you've overlooked...


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