Classical Piano Lessons – Vaired Recordings

This article explores using different recordings of the same piano work to supplement study of a piece. Intermediate to advanced piano students studying classical repertoire will find great benefit from adding this component to their weekly practice.

When classical piano students get to a point where they are out of method books and at an intermediate to early advanced level, many choose to continue their study of classical piano literature as their primary focus on the instrument. As a piano teacher, I have several students who are solely interested in classical study, and when they start working on intermediate to advanced pieces that are in “original form” (not arranged to be easier in difficulty, but instead, as the composer intended it), it becomes necessary for them to start listening to recorded performances of what they are playing as a part of their study.
The reason for this practice is to convey the performance goal to the student, as well as show the variation different performers can incorporate into the same piece. Also, it begins to fine tune the ear of students to listen to intricate details of musical aspects discussed during their piano lessons.
Here is a short summary of guidelines I give to students when studying their pieces with recordings:

Pick Three Different Recordings of Your Piece

With YouTube, iTunes, etc., it’s never hard to find three very good recordings by professional performers and artists. I encourage students to dodge other student performances in the results on YouTube, as the goal is to listen to the top, most professional examples you can find. However, my preference is to purchase music through iTunes or on CD, that way, you can playlist your music a little easier and have the best sound quality.

Observe the Differences

On the first round of getting your three recordings, listen to them consecutively. Notice the subtle differences in tempo, phrasing, voicing, and articulation amongst the different recordings, and make note of which one was your favorite. There is no wrong answer here, but analyzing what you are hearing in this way helps you understand the range of flexibility in a piece and develop your own personal taste.
As an added note, comparing recordings of a single piece also helps you realize the aspects that don’t change between performers and should be incorporated into your preparation of the work.

Study with the Score

After you’ve selected your favorite recording, study it with the score (or sheet music) in front of you. This means reading the music along with listening at the same time. This is definitely not a one time ordeal, and on the first iteration of this practice, try to do it at least twice. Just read along the first time, and on the second time, pencil in some notes throughout the music to describe what you are hearing that may be useful in your own interpretation.

Don’t Get Discouraged

Remember that the recordings you are listening to were performed by professional musicians and are in their final presented form. When initiating your study, the tempo at which you are playing and the difficult areas of the piece are still “in progress”. Keep an open mind to what you are listening to and use it for inspiration, not as an unattainable goal.

In Conclusion

Studying recordings of classical piano repertoire is a must for piano students who are working on intermediate and advanced piano literature. It develops your ear and sets a standard for how a well-known piece is played. By using three different recordings, you get a fairly complete range of how an artist can personalize a piece and what aspects remain constant. So get listening to what you are playing, and enjoy the beauty of piano music!

Classical Piano Lessons

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