Search, Listen, Analyze, and Apply. These four steps can help take your creativity to the next level. “What is interpretation?” Well, interpretation is the how in music. How a rhythm is swung, a note is short, and a timbre is bright. The more creative and interpretive tools we have in our toolbox, the more ways we can make our music come to life. Let’s find out how.
First, we need to know where to search. Libraries where we can find a vast amount of music include: Spotify, YouTube, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Google Play, and Naxos Music Library. Each of these have their pros and cons. Naxos Music Library is purely for the “classical” genre and requires a subscription – but often this can be acquired through an accredited college, if the school has the service available to students and faculty. Apple Music, Amazon Music, and Google Play all have large libraries including all styles but require paid subscriptions. Spotify is similar, however, it can be used without a subscription but will have advertisements between every couple plays. What I prefer about Spotify is that the subscription (without ads) is inexpensive and it allows me to save any tracks to playlists to be easily reaccessed again. YouTube may have a large library of user submitted media, which you may find rare and popular items, but this comes with a risk. For the purpose of strengthening our listening skills, it is important that we listen to music and not watch it. Live performances or particular music videos can deter from the interpretative goal.
Secondly, we must know what to search for in order to explore the different ways of listening. And for this, creative searching ought to come into play. If I was working on the Prelude to the 4th Lute Suite by JS Bach, I could listen to the infamous versions by John Williams and Manual Barrueco but would be selling myself short. Since the 4th Lute Suite is really just a recycled version of the 3rd Violin Partita, it may be wise to find recordings by professional violinists or lutenists. In my own research on this piece, I even found a Rachmaninov arrangement for piano to be quite exciting and inspiring. Second to listening to the exact piece that’s relevant to our repertoire, exploring the style itself comes with many advantages. If I was working on the solo to “Crossroads” by the classic rock band, Cream, I would venture out and hear the blues styles of BB King, Jimmy Page, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Playing the blues isn’t just about playing the right notes, but its how you play with the right feel. These artists are considered great blues guitarists because the way they feel the blues comes out in the playing itself.
The word “analyze” can feel like a daunting word but it honestly should be a fun part of the whole process. This is where, by listening, we find clues or ideas that describe all or part of the listening example. One way to do this is to compare a section of the same piece amongst three recordings. Imagine the first part to Etude 12 by Villa-Lobos, for example, by Zigante, Hoppstock, and Pierri. First, look at the score and possibly playing through some of it to gain a sense for the composition. Secondly, listen to all three recordings. Lastly, listen once again with specific listening criteria that may include: tempo, timbre, dynamics, articulation, emotion, and attitude. With this information we can accurately define and compare what we’re listening to.
Lastly, we can take what we hear and put it through the mill. In other words, give these characteristics a try! Did you hear a section of the Mertz piece you’re working on that was played very tasto and you realized that you loved it but you weren’t doing it? Well, now I give you the authority to make that colorful change. Not because someone else did it, but because you are permitted to make artistic decisions if you so desire, especially if inspired by another interpretation.
Hopefully this will give you some ideas on how to shape your repertoire and give your music more interpretative depth. Keep in mind though, it’s not a goal to sound exactly like someone else but rather a culmination of artistic decisions that makes you personal and unique. Happy listening and please submit comments below!