Should pianists consult performances of others to grow their learning process?

I posed the following question to six well-regarded pianists/teachers whose responses were varied and informative.

“If after you have performed a concerto, or composition many times over, or if you are learning new repertoire, or are revisiting works in your recital repertoire, will you search for other performances on the concert stage, (or by CD) or even by way of YOU TUBE, to further your awakening/discovery about nuances of interpretation, tempo, etc.?”

(NOTE: This particular exploration was meant to distill the common “copying” cliche that’s often echoed by music critics who berate recitalists for lacking “originality.”)

Marianna Prjevalskaya

When I work on a new composition, I often listen to other performers either on YouTube, Spotify or even in a live concert because I am just too curious to know how differently the same music can be interpreted. However, it doesn’t mean that I want to base my interpretation on what I heard. There is always a danger of being influenced in this way. So, perhaps I would say that I listen to others when I’ve worked on a piece significantly by myself and have already built my own interpretation. Sometimes I might disagree with what I hear, and that reinforces my own ideas, my own view of the work, or I can be pleasantly surprised and even inspired by what would trigger a deeper emotional connection to the music and also open new horizons of perception.

Beth Levin

I don’t usually like to listen to other interpretations especially in the initial stages of learning a work- I do love to discover things in the music on my own and feel somewhat certain about my own ideas before looking outward. Although recently I found a Solomon performance of the Hammerklavier sonata on YouTube that I felt compelled to visit-really snippets here and there-and found it so inspiring. His imagination, freedom and sense of color affected me deeply. I remember loving a Schnabel Op. 110 for similar reasons- but again only sneaking small sections at a time.


Seymour Bernstein

I personally never listen to performers on YouTube performing a work that is in progress. For me the challenge is to gain as deep an insight into the work as I can and not copy what I hear from others. After I have convictions about musical and technical details I find it crucial to listen to other performers. For who am I to think that I have covered all areas of interpretation, or even correct notes and rhythms? I listen to many formidable young pianists who have embarked on major careers, and I realize that they have either stopped studying with mentors, or else they are juggling too many works in their repertoire to find the time to perfect musical issues. In short, we must remain students throughout our lifetime.

Rami Bar-Niv

Personally, I do not seek other performances of pieces I play. I do not need other people’s ideas for my own interpretations.

The score is my bible (and the composer is my god).

I also do not encourage my students to consult other performances of works they’re playing/studying.
That said, one cannot interpret music in a vacuum. One first needs to be well educated in music: Study history, theory, harmony, counterpoint, literature, listen to a lot of music, go to concerts, symphony, opera, chamber music, etc.


Diana Dumlavwalla, DMA
Assistant Professor of Piano Pedagogy
Florida State University, College of Music

Yes! Absolutely. I will always search for other performances, whether they be “live” on the concert stage or as a CD recording or on Youtube. Listening to various interpretations always informs my understanding of performance practice. In order to avoid “copying,” I try to ensure that I listen to several recordings so that I am exposed to many different interpretations. It’s like listening to many sides of a political debate. It keeps one “in check” and open to other perspectives. I may also go through different listening phases as I live with certain pieces. There may be times when I want to expose my ears to many other interpretations. However, there may also be other instances when I just want to live with the repertoire by myself.

From The Cross-Eyed Pianist blog
Frances Wilson – pianist, writer, blogger and music lover

“Listening to great recordings and performances does no harm. They can inspire and inform, highlighting aspects of the score which may not be obvious from our initial study of it, sparking ideas, expanding our perspective and nourishing our perceptions of the music. We can admire the great interpretations of the music we are studying, but should never seek to imitate nor borrow from someone else’s version. Acknowledging the greatness rather than revering it can be helpful too: after all, if we continually keep the music on unreachably high pedestals, we may never actually play it, thus denying ourselves the opportunity of experiencing something truly wonderful and the feeling of being part of an ongoing process of recreation every time we play or perform the music.”

4 thoughts on “Should pianists consult performances of others to grow their learning process?”

  1. Thank you Shirley.
    Speaking as a student of piano/music its vital to hear as many versions of a piece as possible. My amateurish will ensure i find my own interpretation of a piece, but a page of little ants footprints is sometimes a barrier to the understandings of a new piece.
    Accept though the i fluence others may have on finding your own interpretation. For example, its so important to read the book before watching the film of it as forever the film characters will dominate your inner mind’s characters.
    As always Shirley wonderful articles/videos.


  2. I think that listening to recordings is very important in the learning process! I personally do it all the time. The biggest concern I’ve heard in the responses is the fear of not having your own personal interpretation. It is actually very very hard to copy other recordings, much harder then you would think. A friend of mine LOVED Rubinstein’s recording of a Chopin nocturne and it was the ONLY recording she listened to as she sought to do exactly what he did. After learning it herself and comparing, she found it was totally different in almost every way. Because this thought that your interpretations will be the same or ‘copy and pasted’ is simply not true. Music is art, and artist are unique. A great artist couldn’t copy the style of another even if they tried. Because every pianist has they’re own distinct sound and way they heard phrase and robato. If you play with a recording you will actually find how difficult it is to do everything someone’s else does. Now, moving on from this, listening to music is the way you grow your personal sound! This is how you feed your personal artistic voice, by ‘getting inspired by other artist works’ in the same way Schubert got inspired by the style of Beethoven, but he sounds like Schubert, had he never been exposed, we wouldnt have Schubert. Same with pretty much every composer, they sort of listen and do what the greats of the past did and that in turn helps them find their voice. They’re sound is nevercopy and pasted but simply works as source of inspirations and exporation of other artists. The same can be said when you perform piano because it is important to feed your artistic vision.

    Liked by 1 person

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