A Fine Ear

What all fine musicians have in common is a good ear. Music is aural, so the ear gets to make all the final calls. A more discerning ear can detect more ranges of sound and nuance. To “laypeople”, a Steinway grand may sound much like a Kawai upright, and a first year Conservatorium student may sound much like a professional artist.

When you learn a musical instrument long enough, you get to a stage where you are no longer simply concerned with merely playing the right notes. Even louds and softs become obsolete. The way in which you judge the quality of sound has to become so refined. The word “soft” by itself isn’t descriptive enough. What kind of soft? A rounded, pebbly sound? Or a bright, sparkly sound? I often find I revert to visually descriptive words to talk about the kind of sound I want. My teacher, on the other hand, always tends towards describing sound as an energy force. Even the mystery of music as an emotive force is an illusion created by sound.

The difference between a fantastic piano and an average piano, is that the average piano will always sound, well, average. Upright pianos of fairly decent quality usually sound pretty unoffensive. A really awesome grand piano, like the Steinway grands we have at the Con are much harder to control. They can sound pretty awful if you bang away on them, not knowing what you’re doing. (Like how I played for most of my time as a student.) But they are capable of a huge range of sounds. To make the most of the instrument’s capabilities, the pianist has to have a large arsenal of playing techniques to draw upon, and, most importantly, the ear to detect what sound they want, and whether or not they have achieved that.

When I started out at the Conservatorium, I was playing without listening. I came from an electronic organ background, so I knew that piano technique would be the difficult thing for me to master. Only now that I have reached Honours level have I begun to make the connection between the ear and technique. Technique is nothing without ear.

Sigh. I’m rambling. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, my first Honours recital is coming up. So I’ve been preoccupied with piano things. In other news, the music room gets devilishly hot when the weather’s warm, as it has been recently. I’ve moved a fan in there, making it more bearable, but I still have to come out for frequent breaks.

Besides recital stuff, term 4 is always a busy term for teachers. There’s a bunch of concerts and things to prepare for at Yamaha. So… much… to… do!!

Well, bye for now.

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One thought on “A Fine Ear

  1. Makes sense! I’d like to say I can tell the difference between a Steinway Grand and a Kawai (heh kawaii) Upright, but I doubt I could. You must be hating this weather at the moment, no respite for the next week or so 😦

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