David Hicken ~ Pianist & Composer

Advice For Pianists

Great pianists have excellent listening skills, which are essential for successful performances.

You may assume that because you cannot switch off your hearing, that you are listening all the time, however there is a difference between active listening and passive listening.  Many piano students don't pay attention to the sounds that they are producing, and simply keep banging away at the notes.

When you practice, your brain is processing visual information first (if you are looking at music), followed by kinesthetic (feel) as it processes where your hands and fingers should go.  It is no wonder that auditory information is processed third on the list.  As much as you may think that all three things happen at the same time, they cannot.  The brain processes one piece of information at a time, but it does so very quickly.

So how do you improve your listening skills? Simply by paying more attention. Here is an example for you to think about:

As you practice your scales, your thumb passes under your third and fourth fingers.  The thumb tends to land on notes more heavily than the other fingers which will cause your scales to have rhythms of 123, 1234 etc.  However, the rhythm of your scales should be 1234, 1234 etc.

Although this may never have been pointed out to you before, the fact that I have brought it to your attention, will add another aspect to your listening.  Some of you who read this will never again be able to play your scales without paying attention to this issue.  This is active listening.

The most important part of a piece of music is the melody, and many students fail to successfully make the melody stand out.  Part of this is due to lack of technique, but it is also due to not listening carefully.

Often, students think that they are getting louder or softer, only to be told by their teacher that they are not.  The mind can play tricks because again, the brain is relying more heavily on visual and kinesthetic information rather than auditory.  You can change this by focusing more carefully on the sounds you produce.

Good listening skills will help you to quickly correct errors in notes and rhythms as well as produce good contrast between melody and accompaniment.  Perhaps even more important, it will help you to create sweeping dynamic changes.

Aural training is an extremely important part of your piano education, which I shall write about more in a future post.  However, aural training is more about understanding and analyzing what you are listening to, rather than simply fine-tuning your listening skills.

As you practice the piano today, listen more carefully to what you are doing.  Hear each of the individual notes and consider whether they are sounding exactly as you had intended.  Make subtle adjustments as necessary.  You will soon be well on your way to being a very good listener, and I can assure you, that this will help immensely in other parts of your life too :)

Happy listening!!

David Hicken

All of the concepts that I write about here are detailed in my eBook "Secrets To Better Piano Playing" .  Click the image below to find out more.