This author has been an educator, conductor, and trombonist for the past 40 years. His experience qualifies him as an expert in this field.
If you are reading this article, I will assume that you are interested in the subject of How to Listen to Music as a Hobby - and that is great!
Music is all around us day in and day out. The problem is, do we know what we are listening to? Not just the name of the group or the title of the piece. Or, in many cases with the more “popular” streams - the lyrics.
Depending on how old we are will determine the depth of our musical tastes as well as how serious of a listener we are. To be more of a “serious” listener, we need to develop a few music listening skills.
This article will introduce you to some of the basic concepts necessary to become a good observant listener. In a short period of time, you will be amazed at how well you listen to music by using these fundamental skills.
Hearing vs Listening
Hearing is a perception of sound through your ears. Listening takes what you hear and organizes it through the brain for you to make sense of it. In other words, hearing is through the ears, but listening is through the mind. Hearing does not need focus. It just happens. Listening needs focus and attention.
Hearing, it seems, was slow to evolve in man. It was a “late bloomer“ and preceded by the well-developed senses of vision, touch, taste, and smell. Yet we take for granted the function our ears provide. For us, the sound is natural, automatic, inevitable. So, what is the difference between hearing and listening?
The two types of listening in humans are called:
Passive Listening - is when someone is not fully engaged in the listening process. This is involuntary, effortless, a physical ability.
Active Listening - occurs when a person is fully engaged in the listening process. Focused activity, voluntary, intentional, mental understanding.
A great example of "passive listening" is when you are in a supermarket. Music is in the background and we hear it, but we are not listening to it. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a person in a supermarket stop, look up at the speakers and say “that’s a nice tune“. It just doesn’t happen!
The best way to remember this concept is: We Hear With Our Ears. We Listen With Our Brain"!
Music Room / Office
Create an Atmosphere!
Understanding that becoming an "active listener" with your new hobby means finding a special place in your home.
Depending on how serious you want to get about your music listening hobby will determine the atmosphere you create for yourself.
Your space could be as simple as a desk and a laptop in your bedroom. Or a separate room in your home designed and designated as the music room.
- Privacy - If you live alone, maybe your living room will be the best place for your music listening. If you have other people in the house you may want to designate another room. Maybe a den, basement or a spare bedroom where you can set up your sound equipment. This is all for the purpose of privacy where you can be by yourself with no interruptions or distractions. I know from personal experience that the simplest of interruptions are very annoying and I had to make sure that everybody knew that my activity time was not to be disturbed. It's just like practicing the trumpet or the piano. This is your alone time! I’m giving you an extreme method by which you can really enjoy your hobby. But, you can certainly arrange this any way that works for you.
- Comfort - You don't have to be a professional musician or musicologist to have a nice area dedicated to your music listening. Be comfortable when you are listening. Setting up this area should be fun. To get the best possible benefits of your music listening activity, arrange your room with the following:
- Large desk or table for your computer.
- Comfortable desk chair.
- Proper lighting helps set the atmosphere. (Table and floor lamps)
- Stereo system with good acoustic speakers
- A good pair of stereo headphones.
- Two comfortable chairs for lengthy listening sessions.
- Music wall art to help complete the ambiance.
- Ongoing music library.
Listen to Music on Good Equipment!
The Singers Unlimited - Vocal Quartet - Very Cool Sounds!
Reserve Your Music Listening Time
Dedicating a certain amount of time for your music listening is important. You have a passion for listening to music. Treat it that way. Simply set aside one hour every day to listen to your music. Many of us watch television quite the same way.
My wife and I like to watch certain shows on TV. We know when they are on, so we set aside that time each week. You can do the same with your music.
Medium for Performance
Now that we have a location to listen to our music, a time set up and good equipment, we can move on to the next area. We will begin by talking about the term “Medium for Performance”. Throughout these articles I will be using this term so, let me explain what I mean by the term if you are not familiar with it.
If we are listening to any piece of music, something or someone is playing the sounds we hear. We could be listening to “Saturday In The Park” by Chicago. The medium for performance is a Rock Band (Chicago). We could be listening to the 4th movement to Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The “medium for performance” is a Symphony Orchestra. One more! If we are listening to a child playing “Chopsticks” on the piano then, the medium for performance is the Piano. Simple! Right?
The Five Basic Elements of Music
Music has for centuries now been evolving into what currently is known as our Modern Period of Music. Because of this, we have many, many different genres of music at our fingertips for our listening pleasure. For the purpose of this article, I would like to clarify what is a common mistake by many as to how we should approach the subject of “How to Listen to Music”. It basically comes down to “listening” - yes?
So, let’s substitute the word “to” with the word “for” and we have “What to Listen For in Music”. The whole concept here to remember is that without a basic understanding of these five elements, one can listen to a piece of music and even enjoy it, but knowing each of these will allow you to appreciate what you are listening to because you have the ability to know what to listen for.
Below is a list of the five basic elements of music.
Melody - the soul and emotional part of the music.
Rhythm - the heartbeat of music
Harmony - two or more pitches played at the same time.
Form - how a piece of music is constructed. The blueprint of the composer
Timbre - the tone quality of the instruments or voice
These five elements are the cornerstones of music and as we explore each one, they will give you a better understanding of how to listen to music.
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2017 Reginald Thomas