one should always strive to develop a finer ear, which will inevitably benefit your playing. Afteral, if you can't hear the difference in nuances, you will not be able to play the difference! So listen to the same piece performed by different pianists. And here is where active listening comes in.
For this explorative excercise, I've chosen the Beethoven Opus 13 in C Minor Pathetique Sonata - adagio cantabile performed by 3 different master pianists (Glenn Gould, Wilhelm Kempff, and Vladimir Horowitz).
You can either listen to a segment if you really want to focus on a piece (say 30 seconds) or the entire piece.
Stage 1 Listening
1) Listen generally without any preconceptions. Make notes of what you think about the music.
2) Listen to the melody line, usually in the soprano line
3) Listen to the bass
4) Compare the dynamics - loudness and softness of the piece. Also listen to crescendos and decrescendos. Does the performer build up to a climax effectively?
5) Character of the piece? What is the essential character of the piece. Is it one of playfulness or humour, or sadness and longing?
Stage II Listening
5) listen to the sensitivity or emotional content of the piece - is there a central theme to the feeling evoked in the piece?
6) What's the tempo like or pacing. Does the pianist employ rubato (ebb and flow) effectively?
7) Phrasing - listen to the musical phrases, just like musical sentences. How do they differ? Are they very legato or very short. Do the phrases connect to each other and transition to other phrases to evoke a cohesive
story? How are they different, what is the difference?
Stage III Listening
8) Colour/Color - using harmony - or different chords create color, how the pianist brings out these textures creates mood or sound colour.
9) Context, now compare this piece to other similar pieces by the same composer or another composer. For example for Nocturnes, you could not only listen to other Chopin nocturnes, but also listen to John Field and Poulenc's nocturnes
10) Artistic license: What is the pianist doing to bring out his own unique style or playing into the music. Does it sound Glenn Gould, for instance, sound like he's playing Beethoven in the style of Bach?