The power of negative example

21st June 2010 | Daily Life, Musings | 0 comments

I finally managed to sign up for the digital music service Spotify. The first thing I did was to listen to some recordings of pieces I’m currently learning, to see what other artists had made of them. I regarded my mind as being still open on the subject, was genuinely curious, and I didn’t feel prescriptive about what I was about to hear.

However, as soon as I heard the recordings I immediately thought, ‘No’. I was struck by the ‘wrongness’ of the tempo, or the mood, or the instrumental tone, the loudness and softness, or the interaction between the players. I hadn’t previously thought of myself as having fixed ideas about the right way to play the pieces, but it turned out that I was ruthlessly quick to spot the wrong way.

In a curious way this kind of ‘negative example’ is just as helpful as hearing a model performance which inspires you with good ideas. I’m not suggesting that the performances I listened to were unsatisfactory in any objective way (indeed, some of them were ‘classic recordings’), just that they helped to clarify my own thinking. Suddenly knowing that a certain way is not your way is quite a powerful energiser.

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