Why Listening to Recordings Totally Counts as Practicing
I would be the first to admit I have a pretty fierce independent streak. When I set a goal for myself, I have to do it all by myself—just my own ideas and skills. I have two exceptions, however:
1. I always consult with a flute teacher or play for trusted colleagues.
2. I always listen to quality recordings of the pieces I’m working on.
I used to think listening to recordings was cheating, largely because I wasn’t “learning” the rhythms and melodies on my own. And to a degree, that is still true. If you rely on a recording to show you how the piece is supposed to go rather than properly learning the notes and rhythms, you are cheating yourself. You’ve learned an approximation, not the actual music. But once you’ve done the basic leg work yourself, learning how the best in the business play that piece is not only helpful, but essential.
Take inspiration from as many different recordings as you can get your hands on. The internet is a wonderful place where we have access to more live and studio recordings than ever before. Search Youtube, Spotify, iTunes, Naxos, or whatever platform you prefer. Naxos is particularly great for archival recordings no longer in production. Check with your local library as they may have online subscriptions available to anyone with a valid library card.
The important thing is that you can’t listen to just one or two interpretations of a piece. The minimum, I’d say, is at least five. For anything standard, listening to fewer than ten different recordings means you’re selling yourself short. It’s an important thing for any musician to know what their favourite recordings are and which are most complimentary to their own playing style.
The more you’re able to listen critically, the more you’ll hear. Make notes of what you like, try out different styles in your own practice, and see what you can add to your own performances. Some things may work, some may not, but that’s ok. The experimentation is crucial to your growth as a musician; it’s what will elevate you from a technician of your instrument to a true artist.
You’ll soon find you’re totally bogged down with different interpretations. That’s when recording yourself and checking in with your flute teacher become important. Getting a second opinion to help you figure out what works and what doesn’t, both musically and for your own personal style, is the all-important second step in this process.
We sometimes forget that music isn’t just about the notes and rhythms. Learning about the countless ways a piece, or even just a passage, can be played is an integral part of the process. So pull up a recording by your favourite flutist (or maybe one you’ve never heard before!), grab your music, and hunker down. It's time well spent, and it totally counts as practice.
Do you have a favourite performer or recording? Let me know in the comments! If you have questions about how I incorporate recordings into my daily practice, contact me using the form at the bottom of the page.