Listening Criteria

I have the pleasure of teaching the weekly Woodwind Repertoire Performance Class at Dalhousie University's Fountain School of Performance this term, and there are 9 students in the class. One clarinetist, two oboists and seven flautists.

We meet once a week and are exploring various exercises and skills, technical competitions, quick studies, sight-reading, tone development studies, etc. as well as rotating through student performances of their repertoire that they are preparing for recitals and juries.

My goal is to help these young artists improve their ability to emotionally connect with those who hear them play by improving their instrumental and interpretive skills.

It's an interesting class for me, working with such a diverse group of young artists. I love creating a dialogue between the young performers and their listening colleagues by way of having everyone share feedback in the class. I also share the written comments anonymously via email to the performers from their colleagues. This gives the performers invaluable both verbal and written information on what they can do to fine-tune their performances in preparation for either recitals or juries.

Part of why I like approaching this class this way is to encourage all students to listen more critically for what makes a successful performance and what doesn't. With the increased listening skills, they ultimately can improve their own playing. Engaged listening can produce really fantastic benefits in the practice room as well.

Tonight I decided to write this blog and actually articulate some of the criteria I listen for in order to bring a piece to performance level.


Is the score rendered accurately according to the composer’s markings?

Knowing what every 'word' in the score means, no matter what language it is written in

Notational accuracy throughout the score

Articulation, and accuracy of articulation

Rendering of dynamics; all practice should be at the dynamic indicated, whether slow or fast, etc.

Tempo and tempi changes



Turnings of the phrases and their subtle tensions and releases that aren’t actually indicated


How does a performer handle the bridges between sections in terms of fluidity and conviction?

Ritardandos and accelerandos; are they convincing rhythmically, musically and emotionally? Do they breathe?

Rubato; when used, does it make sense?

Demonstration of a clear understanding of phrase lengths and their place in the overall delivery of the work and it’s emotional content; breathing is essential in rendering this, along with the sing-song quality of phrasing

Delivery of climactic moments in the work; are they strong enough? Do they captivate? Do they stand out?

Did the musical emotional message come across? Is this performer emotionally involved in what they are playing?




Sound quality in all dynamics and all registers

Tone colours

Breath control

Choice of breaths according to phrasing

Legato and sostenuto skills (support, blowing through phrases, etc)

Stability of tempo; does it rush or slow?

Finger technique

Technical accuracy of fast passages

Technical fluidity (a whole other component beyond accuracy)

Control over the rhythm; is it stable? Rushing? Slowing?

Phrasing according to the slurs

Use of vibrato

Treatment of accents; emotional content of different accents

Treatment of articulation to further a musical idea

Tonguing skills in all articulations, including double tonguing