I was working with a student on his upcoming recital and we had a great discussion on listening. So many musicians have a hard time listening to their own recordings; one of the most difficult lessons that a performer must learn is to address our own playing as it really is and not as we want it to be. I would like to suggest this simple technique to help guide the performer through this very important process. That technique is to listen in layers.
The first step is to turn of the performer’s ears and engage the editor’s ears. Think of yourself as a creative writer. When writing a great poem or essay, the first step is to put the ideas on paper, for a performer that is the act of performing. Perform for yourself in your practice space and document the event with a video or audio recorder. Once the performance is concluded, and you go back to listen to your recording, acknowledge that you are no longer the performer, you are now the editor. When you are in the editing phase, listen in layers and use a rubric to guide your critique. I am including a sample rubric, feel free to use or adapt it to your own needs.
Layer One: Time
Am I playing with an accurate sense of pulse? When does my pulse lose integrity and when it does, what is the cause? Am I playing the rhythms on the page accurately? Are there certain rhythmic patterns that I tend to play inaccurately?
Layer Two: Pitch
When am I playing out of tune? Is it on certain notes? Is it at a certain point in the phrase? Is it related to the dynamics or articulations?
Layer Three: Technique
Am I playing the correct notes? When I am not playing the correct note what is the cause? Am I hearing the right notes in my head? Is my hand position and posture helping me maximize my technique?
Layer Four: Breathing
Are my breaths full and relaxed? Am I following my breathing plan?
Layer Five: Phrasing
Have I identified where the phrases are in the music? Am I conveying that to the audience? Are problems with the other layers of music detracting from my concept of phrase?
Layer Six: Dynamics
Am I playing the dynamics on the page and can that be heard on the recording? Is my attempt to play with dynamic contrast causing other layers to go haywire?
Layer Seven: Vibrato
How does my vibrato fit the character of the music? Does it enhance or detract from the music? Is it appropriate to the style and mood of that moment? Does it engage the listener and enhance projection?
Layer Eight: Articulation
Am I playing the correct articulations? Do the articulations match the style and mood of the moment? Is the articulation aiding in tonal clarity, projection and stylistic understanding?
Layer Nine: Tone Quality
Is the tone appropriate to the style and mood of the moment? Does the tone quality remain static or is it varied? Is the core sound pleasing to the ear?
Layer Ten: Style and Interpretation
Does the interpretation show an understanding of stylistic practices specific to the time period, geographical location, and language of the particular composer?
flutist, writer, traveler, teacher