Playing the piano is surely a fantastic way to develop your listening skills, as listening to the sound you produce when striking a key, and making sure that each note is played in the right manner within the musical context, is as important as playing.
Listening is key to all effective communication, and it is an essential skill to develop in order to become truly successful in your professional and personal life.
It is so important that many employers provide listening skills training for their employees!
Don’t you think that it would be more enjoyable to develop this ability while learning how to play the piano?
Playing the piano certainly helps you improve this capacity drastically for the following reasons:
You must hear the sound that you wish to produce before touching the keyboard
All the greatest pianists have developed the extraordinary ability to hear how a note should be played before striking a key. It is actually indispensable to acquire this aptitude, as you should decide the colour and the strength of a note before playing it; Otherwise, it is equivalent to start walking without knowing where you wish to go. You could very possibly end up in an unpleasant area!
When proficient pianists succeed in getting a wonderful sound out of the piano, it is never by chance or luck. They always plan in advance and adapt the way they strike the keys to match the sound that they wish to produce.
While playing the piano, there are various ways to modify the sound. These variations include the amount of weight released from the shoulder, arm, hand and finger, or even the way the fingers are bent (bend fingers to obtain a brilliant sound and flatter fingers for a rounder and more melodic sound).
I have myself spent countless hours listening to a piece of music in my head, in order to decide how I would use my body to produce the sound that I would first imagine. It is an exercise that requires a huge experience but establishing how a note should sound before playing it is the only way to obtain satisfying results.
You must be focused on the sound you are producing at all time, to ensure that each note is played in its musical context
It is essential to listen to each note you are playing without failing to ensure that they all make sense in their musical context. If you stop listening, you will lose control and will take the risk to deform a musical phrase by playing some notes too loud, too soft, too round or too sharp.
It is only by listening carefully that you will be able to realise it and correct the mistake.
As I am writing this article, I am listening to Dinu Lipatti playing Mozart’s piano concerto No 21.
If you do not know this extraordinary pianist, it is time for you to discover it. He has unfortunately passed away in 1950, but it is easy to find his recordings.
I appreciate many pianists such as Walter Gieseking, Heinrich Neuhaus, Samson Francois, Alfred Cortot and Artur Schnabel but I think that Dinu Lipatti had an exceptional command of his body, an unparalleled understanding of music and especially a phenomenal ability to control each note. If you listen to him attentively, you will immediately hear that he sincerely cares about each and every single note and that he succeed in giving them each a life of their own.
You must listen to the sound left after striking a key to judge how you should strike the next one.
Hearing a note in your head before playing it, and listening to the sound that came out of the piano are fundamental but listening to the sound that is left after the hammers have pressed again the strings is equally important.
In piano playing, the relation between each note is extremely important to ensure a perfect smoothness.
If you wish to perform a superb crescendo (gradual increase in loudness in a piece of music) or an impeccable diminuendo (a decrease in loudness), you must keep listening to judge how loud or how soft you will play the next note.
It is essential as the sound initially heard when striking the key will decrease almost immediately afterwards. It is why you should play the next note in relation to the sound left after the initial production.
If you listen carefully, you will then be able to vary the intensity of the notes of a melodic line immaculately well![
You must listen to be able to adapt to the piano you are playing on and the room you are playing in
As a pianist, you will often be in the situation to play on different instruments, and in different rooms; The only support that you have when playing on a piano that you do not know and in a room that has a different acoustic to your usual practice room, is your ears.
When beginning a performance on a piano that you have never touched before is daunting, as you have no idea of its reaction yet. You do not know how hard or soft the keys are, or whether it has a brilliant or a round sound.
The only way to adapt your playing to a specific new instrument and a different room is to spend the first minutes of your performance to listen and adjust your playing.
For example, playing in a church would be very different from playing in your practice room, as the reverberation will tend to mix the sounds. You must then reduce the amount of pedal you are using, and give a bit more space in between the musical phrases.
Once again, listening is key to a beautiful performance.
Playing in a chamber music format is also an excellent way to improve your listening skills.
Another fantastic way to develop your listening skills is to join a chamber music ensemble, as you do not have a choice but to listen to your music partners to ensure a coherent performance.
In a chamber music setting, the piano is considered as the pillar of the ensemble so you are mainly responsible for the intelligibility of the performance.
While playing with others, you must carefully listen to their playing or singing in order to adapt your own playing. You must listen to the way they carry a musical phrase and the way they breeze to be able to strike the keys at the right time, especially if you have to play some notes simultaneously.
You must also listen to your partners at all times in case of the mistakes that they could possibly make. If you are not listening, you might not realise that the violinist has skipped a beat and that you are not playing together anymore!
The beauty of a chamber music performance is created by the unity of the different musicians; The ultimate objective being to make the performance sound as if only one person would be playing. Listening to the other members of the ensemble is therefore essential to reach this goal.
I believe that it is a wonderful exercise as you must focus on your own sound production while listening to one, two or three other musicians at the same time.
It could seem difficult at first, but mastering it will greatly enhance your listening skills.
Playing the piano also teaches you the effect your words or actions can have on others
So far, I have been discussing the importance of listening while playing the piano, and how it can improve your listening skills in your daily life, but I would also like to talk about another fundamental point: Playing the piano teaches you the ability to know the effects that your words or actions can have on others.
I believe that it is vital to develop this ability in order to avoid unnecessary misunderstandings and unneeded arguments.
I have explained the concept of hearing a sound in your head and using your fingers, hands and arms in a certain way to obtain the expected result.
It is a wonderful exercise, as it teaches you in-depth that different actions lead to different results.
If you show love to your loved one, you will get a smile back, but if you neglect him or her, you will see some tears.
The same principle is used while playing the piano. If you mainly use your muscles in a specific passage, you will obtain a percussive sound. On the opposite, you will obtain a round sound if you use your weight instead.
Would you have thought that playing the piano could help you improve the understanding that you have of the action/reaction principle?
Listening attentively to your performance has got another incredible power
Listening attentively to the music you are playing is extremely powerful as an exceptional and focused listening will increase your level of concentration and help you connect with the composer and the music itself.
You will then ignore your surrounding and enter the world of music. Being entirely absorbed by the piece you are playing will then drastically improve the beauty of your performance!
Why would others listen to your performance if you are not listening to yourself?
I would like to end this article with an obvious idea that too few pianists actually think about.
Why would others listen to your performance if you are not listening to yourself?
When giving a performance, you must remember that you are not playing for yourself but for others. You must keep the audience interested and captivated by your piano playing. You must keep them with you as if they were watching a well-produced thriller.
The only way to achieve this goal, you must listen to yourself at all time.
If you stop listening, they will stop listening. You will lose the thread of your performance and therefore lose your audience!
I hope that you have found this article interesting and stimulating. Some of the concepts discussed are certainly new to you, but they are a large part of the life of a professional pianist.
As you might have understood, playing the piano is much more enriching that one could think at first, and I would greatly encourage you to add music into your life if you have not done it yet!
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