Updated: Aug 17, 2020
All great pianists are deeply attuned to their ears, they know how to listen. Sure practice and experience performing is essential, but listening is like the secret ingredient in playing well.
Let's get one thing out of the way, hearing and listening are two different things.
Hearing is just what your ears do, they just pick up sound without any conscious thought.
Listening is a focused, active, and intentional activity that you choose to do.
You can hear background noise in a busy restaurant, but you can choose to listen to practically any noise possible.
Try it. Next time you are in a restaurant, try honing your ears on something, footsteps, cash registers, glasses clinking, a conversation, can you maintain listening to one thing?
In every day language, we don't say we are hearing music, we say we are listening to music. But how many of us really listen. Can you take apart a song with your mind by listening to all the separate parts; drums, bass, guitar, synths, trumpet, ambient background noise etc. It is more of a hearing process when we "listen" to music because we are hearing the song without thought, we are just enjoying the tune. But listening is quite enjoyable the more you do it, because you will notice things you have never heard before, even though you have "listened" to that song a million times.
Can you detect the differences in how pianists play the same piece?
Try it. It is a great exercise, start with a classical piece say Mozart's famous Sonata in C k.545. Watch and listen many pianists play it. Why is one different than another? And what makes one performance better than another?
One answer is, when we are anxious, fearful, timid, even cocky, that state of mind does not allow us to listen and if we can't listen to ourselves then what comes out will end up being lack luster performance. However, when we are at peace, calm, confident, and well prepared, we are ready to receive instantaneous feedback to ourselves.
When we listen we are in tune with ourselves and the piano, when that happens, we are in the moment, which is the state many performers (sports, business, public speaking, basically any thing that demands thought, performance, and preparation) strive to be in.
Listening is a skill and requires conscious effort to get better at it. In another post I will describe in detail, 7 ways in which you can improve your listening skills.
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