How to select the best musical recordings? There is no wrong answer!

A big part of music study at CYM is regular listening to beautiful recordings. While there really is no “wrong” music to listen to, there are ways to make the most of your music selections.

Our instrumental students listen to recordings of the pieces they are studying to learn proper tone, rhythm and dynamics. Ideally, students should listen to more than one version of their pieces, says Leah Givelber, CYM’s Academic Manager and a violin faculty member for over 20 years. These might be live and recorded performances, performances by various musicians, or even recordings played with different instruments.

“For me, it is really about the piece and interpretation,” Ms. Leah says. “It’s always worthwhile to compare and contrast recordings. Students can hear how different people can approach pieces, and how the same piece of music can get so much different treatment.”

She suggests students talk to their CYM teachers for guidance on what to notice in an artist’s performance, or what are the most appropriate recordings for a student to hear. “There are older ways of interpreting pieces. If you are listening to a more dated recording, your teacher could suggest a more up-to-date or historically accurate performance,” she adds.

CYM recommends its families regularly listen to a broad range of music to deepen understanding and appreciation of music generally. Even a parent’s favorite college playlist can be part of the lineup. Listening to a variety of genres, styles and performances helps students see the connections between what they are learning and other more complex pieces, Ms. Leah says. While digital recordings are the easiest to come by and have great quality, listening to CDs, tape cassettes, and vinyl records, if families have access to these, can also be interesting for appreciating the differences in sound, she notes. 

A family doesn’t have to come to music studies with knowledge of composers’ best works, or accomplished performers. Go exploring on YouTube and streaming services like Spotify, Ms. Leah says. Spotify Stations and Pandora offer free options for searching music by instrument or composer, and selecting performances. The apps then suggest new pieces based on the selections.

Remember to include a good mix of passive listening – where music is played while the listener is doing something else, like a chore or playing with a toy; and active listening – where the listener attends to the music closely, perhaps following along on the sheet music.

Students might enjoy the exercises suggested in these articles for analyzing popular music as well as active listening from the perspective of a producer.

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