Modern Music Studio | Colorado | Active Listening
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25 Oct Active Listening

Every now and then I would put on a song that I knew from beginning to end, but while listening I would hear a drum fill, guitar lick, or some other detail that I had previously not heard before. Why was that? I knew the music so well, and yet even after multiple listens I would still find some hidden audio gem I hadn’t heard.

The reason I didn’t hear some of the subtle nuances was because even though I listened to the song plenty of times, I wasn’t engaged in active listening. I would just listen and let my ear wander, which is fine, but if you are learning a song, or trying to figure out what a musician is doing during the 38th measure, then you’ll need to better focus your listening skills. Extremely talented musicians just seem to know how to communicate with each other without saying a word. The reason more often than not is that they are talented listeners as well.

Play any three minute song, familiar or unfamiliar. You’ll notice that it’s very easy for your mind to drift off and think about your day, your problems, or whatever. Focus for at least one minute. Try to really remember the things that you enjoy, whether it be the rhythms, melody, harmony, or just all of it. Then listen again, and really focus on one thing. Maybe this time you’re really listening to the drums. Listen to all of the different cymbals, how they’re hit, and all the different sounds that they create. Think about everything you can about the rhythms of the drums, how they interact with the rest of the instruments. You could do the same for each instrument, and pretty soon your understanding for this particular song has grown much deeper.

After listening to the familiar parts, the ones that drew you into the song in the first place, listen to all of the sounds that you’re not accustomed to hearing. Most music has some form of accompanying instrument that goes along with the main melody or riff. Maybe it’s a piano or guitar, try listening to the rhythms of these instruments underneath. Are there other vocalists in the background? Maybe try humming their part instead of the main vocal line. You might find their part is just as interesting if not more so than the main line.

Whether your goal is to perfect a certain song, or getting better at a phrase out of your skill set, listening actively will help tremendously as you grow as a musician. Does this mean you should always listen actively? Not really, nothing is stopping anyone from enjoying any type of song. But if your goal is to retain and understand as much as you can about a song, the best way to achieve this is with a bit of patience and effort into your listening skills.


–Vince Meyer

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