Listening Guidelines for Piano Students
- Composer name and years of composer's life
- Title of piece
- Performer name and date of recording
General features of the music
- Beat: the underlying pulse
- Tempo: the speed of the music
- Meter: structure of beats; regular grouping of beats
- Dynamics: levels of soft and loud
- Texture: tonal layers; thick? thin? dry?
- Melodic contour: the shape of the tune
- One continuous mood vs. changing moods?
- Setting vs. dramatic action: Think of the piece as a narrative. Some sections of the music may be for atmosphere or general setting of the scene, while others sound like distinctive identities or events. How does the composer use figuration, texture, rhythm, etc. to describe these elements? The speaker: Is there a main character or multiple characters interacting? Where is the main conflict or climactic moment of the piece?
- Free association: What descriptive words does the music evoke for you? What colors capture the sensations evoked by the piece?
- Focus on the melody line throughout the piece.
- Tap the beat. Discern the meter. (How many beats per regular group of beats?)
- Look for distinct sections and changes in structure. Can the structure be defined easily as ABA form? Sonata form?
- Listen for patterns: rhythmic shapes that repeat, melodic shapes that repeat.
- 5. How do you feel after hearing the piece? What do you think the composer is trying to express? Did you enjoy the experience of listening to this piece?
- Composer familiarity and recognition: compare various works of one composer. Also compare interpretations of the composer by various pianists.
- Pianist familiarity: compare various performances by the same pianist. Get to know the personality, tendencies, strengths and weaknesses of this performer. Great pianists to explore: Vladimir Horowitz, Alfred Cortot, Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Walter Gieseking, Sviatoslav Richter, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, Glenn Gould, Martha Argerich
- Particularities of the instrument: The tonal personality of each instrument is different. Consider this when forming judgments about the performance.
- Recording quality: Another influence on your perception—consider this, as well as whether or not the recording is of a live performance. Try to listen through these factors to hear the performance more purely.