More Thoughts on Motivation, Part 2: Listening

At the end of More Thoughts on Motivation, I mentioned listening habits for both Suzuki and non-Suzuki literature. Listening is one of the foundational principles of talent education, really of the study of any instrument. It should be a regularly scheduled practice task, just like the physical work done on the instrument. This article aims to help you find non-Suzuki listening materials, but first I’d like to talk briefly about why listening is so important.

In a nutshell, listening is the most important tool you have at your disposal for learning an instrument, no matter which one you choose to play. Its influence is immeasurable, both psychologically and technically. Listening to good quality recordings gives you a model of tone production to follow and emulate between lessons, as well as helping you learn to focus and guiding you through note issues and bowing styles. It can make or break your success and satisfaction with the violin. Listening can, and likely will, motivate you to play better. It can also motivate you to quit if you are too unrealistic in your expectations. Not listening can cause serious delays in progress, which leads to frustration and tension, which can indirectly motivate you to quit. If you are learning an instrument and don’t listen to any recordings, you are not only cheating yourself out of a lot of really great learning, but also making much more work for yourself.  Yes, it is that important. But I’m also open-minded and fair: If you think it’s not important, I’ll listen gladly to your proof.

Resources abound for finding pieces to listen to. Many are free, or at your disposal anyway because you’re already paying for access. One readily accessible place is the internet. There are many sites that have free access to music videos. YouTube is probably the most commonly used, but you have to be discerning about whose videos you choose to watch, since Anyone who thinks they know Something about Anything can post a video, and very few are of the quality you’d expect from professionals. Other sites include GoogleVideo, MSN, and Vimeo. An excellent violin-specific site is; the performers are actual students and they study with the teacher who runs the site.

Another excellent free resource is your local public library, or a local university library if you have access to one. If your library doesn’t have CDs or DVDs, it probably has an interlibrary loan agreement with larger libraries in your state’s system. You’ll have to ask the librarian to be sure, though. Your teacher may have student borrowing privileges, as well.

Regular television and radio stations are also good places to browse. Your local PBS station has regular classical music programming (i.e., Live From Lincoln Center, among others). Ovation is a premium cable channel that broadcasts concerts, recitals and documentaries on classical and jazz musicians. Your local NPR affiliate probably also broadcasts a full or partial classical programming schedule. Look for listings for Performance Today and other programs by American Public Media. Many radio stations do web simulcasting as well, so be sure to check out the radio station guide in your web browser. Go to and for programming schedules, as well as your local cable system’s channel guide.

Personally, I choose materials for listening by browsing to see what looks or sounds good at the moment. Sometimes I have a specific composer or piece in mind. There are several kinds of pieces to choose from. A concerto is a large-scale piece for a soloist and orchestra. Here are some violin concertos I like. I am especially partial to finale movements (also called 3rd movements) because they are usually rhythmically complex, driving, fast and lots of fun.

●    J. S. Bach: Concerto for Two Violins and Orchestra in D Minor, Violin Concerto in A Minor
●    Felix Mendelssohn: Concerto in E Minor
●    Max Bruch: Concerto in G Minor; Scottish Fantasy
●    Antonio Vivaldi: Concerto for Four Violins in B Minor (and there are many others!)
●    Eduard Lalo: Sinfonie (or Symphonie) Español
●    Sergei Prokofiev: Concerto in G Minor
●    These composers only wrote one violin concerto: Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Brahms, Sibelius, Khatchaturian, Berg

Sonatas and short pieces also are good choices also because they have fewer instruments to follow. Some standard sonatas for violin are those by J.S. Bach (solo violin, and violin with keyboard), Mozart, Beethoven, Jean-Marie LeClair, Brahms, Cesar Franck, Gabriel Faure, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Prokofiev, Dmitri Shostakovich, and there are hundreds of others.

Short pieces are usually compiled as collections. Sometimes they are original compositions; others are arrangements or transcriptions. They might be organized by composer, or type of piece. Sometimes the only cohesive element is the performer. There are thousands of these little gems, “itsy bitsies” as Jascha Heifetz called them. Again, standard fare includes pieces or transcriptions by Heifetz, Fritz Kreisler, Pablo Sarasate, Debussy, and many others.

This should give you a starting point. Soooo…What are you still sitting here reading this for? Go! Watch! Listen! Now!

[Note: If you would like specific suggestions tailored to your personal level, leave a comment or shoot me an email and I’ll see what I can do.]

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