Music is a language that transcends logic, yet it requires rigour and calculated study before expression can flourish.
Delving deep into a new piece of music can bring about a range of feelings – from sheer delight to utter frustration – depending on one’s reasons for needing to learn the piece, and how close the deadline is.
I tend to read a musical score at the piano before I listen to any recording of it. I don’t like it when another version of a piece interferes with my practice, as I may try to unconsciously emulate it.
However, I do enjoy listening to other interpretations for inspiration once I have played through the music a few times.
Some people may find music notation daunting and incomprehensible, though there are many fine musicians who don’t read, particularly those from cultures with aural traditions. Nevertheless, the ability to sight-read will serve a performer well if they need to learn the music quickly. It also increases one’s confidence by developing their musical independence.
Semantics aside, the dots on the page aren’t music. It’s the performer who brings life to music. A performer’s craftsmanship is dependent on their imagination and skill. The music exists only through its maker and when one makes music through collaboration with others it truly comes alive. It is one of the most valuable experiences when it is shared.
The appreciation of music heightens one’s senses. I am sensitive to the sounds of rain, to the rhythm of people’s feet walking through corridors, and I have a habit of identifying the pitch of everyday noises like pedestrian crossings, screeching of car tyres, and bird calls. Yes, it’s weird but I’ve learnt to notice such things. I would say I’m a good listener.
Shinichi Suzuki’s method of teaching endorses proactive listening to a work to establish familiarity before playing a single note.
I see immense value in this method, and I know it works as I myself was mentored by a Suzuki piano teacher who ran a very successful studio in Sydney.
However, I choose to study new music from a score, partly to keep my sight-reading abilities intact, and because I feel it’s the best way to allow my unique interpretation.
The internet is laden with covers of other people’s music and singers who try to mimic their favourite star.
While there is merit in being able to sound like someone else, arguably there is something unique that every performer can contribute to their artistic landscape. Why would you want to be a copy?
“I am the one thing in life I can control. I am inimitable, I am an original…” – Lin Manuel Miranda (Hamilton, 2016)
Sadly, few people dig deep enough to discover what their niche is; they’re too busy trying to be somebody else. It’s important to respect the composer’s artistic intention, but it is vital to one’s own artistry to find themselves within a piece of music.
Discover your own interpretation through rigour and persistence, and enjoy the process of creating yourself.