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Special Listening

Listening to great music played by great musicians is one of the best and most important ways to learn about music and develop your own skills and musicianship.

Why is it called “special” listening?

Because it is an assignment beyond the “listening” assignment, which means listening to the recording of the Suzuki book you are working on or other current pieces.

Here’s how you should do it:

Pick a piece from the sample list or find one on your own. Start with shorter pieces. Explore longer ones after you get more experience. If you play the violin, listen to a lot of music that features the violinist as soloist such as concertos, sonatas, encore pieces, solo violin pieces, etc. There is also orchestral music such as symphonies, overtures, tone-poems, waltzes, etc. Chamber music should be explored: string quartets, violin and piano sonatas, and any other combination of instruments. Listening to other instruments and singers will expand your musical horizons even further.

Do I have to just sit still and listen?

You should do both active and passive listening. There will be a blog post about listening. For now:

Active listening: Sometimes you should just stop everything else you are doing and just listen. Maybe even close your eyes and just listen. You deserve this. You should take some time to really experience and enjoy one of humanity’s great creations.

Passive listening: Sometimes you may have the music playing while you are cleaning up your room, doing the dishes, walking outside, weeding the garden, even doing homework (only if you can focus on homework with music playing- I never could do that).

How much listening is best?

Listen to the piece every day, preferably many times a day

Keep listening to that piece for at least a couple weeks. For longer pieces, you may want to take more time to fully absorb it. Really get to know it. How will you know if you’ve listened enough? If you find yourself singing it or hearing it in your mind regularly, you’re definitely on the right track. If your dog can sing it, you probably are listening enough. If your neighbor’s dog can sing it, you have definitely been listening enough.

What will you get out of all this listening? That will be another blog post. For now let me quote what a former student’s mother told me when he graduated high school: “I realize now that the special listening was where he learned the most about music and was most inspired to practice. Doing it consistently for years had a cumulative effect and produced results which I couldn’t have imagined when he was 5 or 6 years old.”

Some of the last pieces I remember this student playing in lessons included Ravel’s Tzigane and Saint-Saens’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso. You should listen to them some time. Some of my fondest memories of teaching include playing the DeBeriot Duos Concertants, and other chamber music with him. He always quickly understood the how to bring the music to life, in large part because of his extensive listening experience. By the way, the last I heard from him he is still playing on a very high level and was in relationship with a lovely woman who also is a fine violinist.

Tell me about it.

Be ready to tell me about your special listening at the beginning of each lesson. Start with the title, then the composer, then the artist. Always do it in this order so that it is easy to remember. Always practice saying it in this order so that it is easy to remember.


Flight of the Bumblebee, by Rimsky-Korsakov, played by Heifetz

Hungarian Dance Number 5 written by Brahms, performed by Perlman

Concerto in D major, composed by Paganini; played by Hilary Hahn

‘Summer’ from the Four Seasons by Antonio Vivaldi, performed by Pinchas Zukerman with the English Chamber Orchestra.

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