5 top tips for improving your listening skills

27 October 2016
By Melanie Spanswick
Piano with headphones Piano with headphones
Pianist contributor Melanie Spanswick offers up 5 top tips in order to improve your listening skills.

We might think we hear what we play, but often our attention is focused elsewhere; finding notes, reading the score, pedalling – the list is endless. But when we are finally able and ready to concentrate on the sound we produce, we can really elevate our piano playing.


1. Begin with a few single notes, hands separately

Play each note softly at first, listening to and noting the sound as it dies away. Only play another note once the sound from the previous note has ceased.


2. Play the single notes with greater sonority

This time don’t allow the tone to die completely. Instead, sound a further note and ‘match’ the timbre and dynamic to that of the dying first note. This requires careful listening and will attune the ears.


3. Experiment with chords

Try a C major triad in both hands). Start pianissimo, and build to fortissimo through a series of 8 or 10 chords. Each one must be placed more powerfully than the last, again fine tuning listening skills.


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4. We can learn to hear our own playing when we release ourselves from looking at the score

Once learnt thoroughly, if possible, play through a passage from memory, and when secure, you are free to listen to every note with a clearer perspective. Now record yourself, checking whether the performance is the same as you imagined you heard whilst playing it.


5. Aim to observe the way your body moves

A flexible wrist, arm, and upper torso has an important impact on tonal quality, and by moving freely and encouraging flexibility, you can expect to hear a warmer, richer sound.


By implementing a few of these suggestions, you will hopefully unlock the key to ‘hearing’ with a sharpened perception.  


Melanie Spanswick gives the Beginner 'How to Play' masterclass inside every issue of Pianist. View further information about Melanie Spanswick