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What Is the Most Important Musical Skill I Teach?

It is not technique, music reading, theory, transposing, ear training, singing while playing, phrasing.

Those are all skills I teach and are all very important.,

The most important skill I teach is - - -listening.

I am insistent from Day One of lessons that students learn good technique, how to use their hands, elbows, shoulders, feet to produce the sound that best fits the music.

All my students learn to read music, understand at least basic theory, how to phrase using slurs, staccatos, dynamics, etc. etc.

But they are not true musicians until they learn to listen to what they are doing and then improve it using all the other skills I have taught them.

I have listened to students blissfully playing wrong notes (not just the "sort of" wrong notes, but the "cringing" kind), wrong rhythms, playing staccato instead of legato and vice versa, changing tempo constantly and ignoring dynamics.

For beginners, there is a lot of correction that must be done, but even then I do not just tell a student the correct note, or show them how to play the rhythm. In order for them to become problem-solving musicians, I will ask them to tell me the name of the wrong note, then play it for me. For rhythms, they have to clap and say the rhythm themselves, then play it. This takes longer to learn a particular piece, but this way they will become independent musicians.

For students who have been with me for 2-3 years, I sometimes just ask them to stop playing. "Go back. Without me saying anything, just listen to yourself, and see if you can play it better"

Sometimes they struggle. I might then play the piece, and say "Yell too fast" if I change the tempos. It is a fun game, and makes them more aware of what they are doing. If they are playing slurs and staccatos wrong, I might play the piece the way they did, and ask them to point out when I did not play the staccatos. They then play again, and listen to make sure they are playing with the best articulation.

For ear training, one of the games I play is playing the wrong note (or more) in a sample, and the student has to find it and tell me the exact note I played instead.

And then there is the importance of listening to what the music is trying to say. If it is a sad piece, what should our tempo be like? After they play, I might ask, "did that sound sad? How can we make it sound sadder?' LISTEN to what you are doing this time." Unless it is a really bad day, students almost always play a piece better when reminded to listen.

Teaching a student to listen to what they are doing, can, and I believe, does, carry over in to the kind of person they become. We live in a world where everyone wants to express their opinion in CAPITAL LETTERS no less, but too few want to listen to what they themselves are saying,what it means, and what others are saying, and what that means.

Let's all be better listeners.

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