How much have you listened to the music you are currently learning?
The answer to this can vary quite a bit. Maybe it’s your favorite song and you listen to it every day. Maybe it’s music you’ve heard throughout your whole life. Or, maybe you’ve never heard it before and you’re learning it from scratch for a performance or gig. Maybe a teacher just introduced you to this music.
Listening to music is a key part of the learning process.
The more you listen to music, the more it becomes a part of you. Once music is within you, it is much easier to play or perform that music.
As you are learning new music, be deliberate about listening to the music you are trying to learn. You’ll want to listen both casually and actively.
- Casual listening might include listening to it on your commute, while you do chores around the house or while you workout.
- Active listening, on the other hand, is its own activity that requires your full attention. It’s not something you can do while multitasking. It is something you’ll want to carve out time to do. Actively listening is an important part of your practice routine and something that will take your abilities to the next level. It will help you tune into all of the details of your music.
If you’re not sure what to do when you’re actively listening to music, try any or all of these 4 steps.
Note: When you are actively listening to music, you’ll want to make sure you are listening to very high-quality recordings.
Don’t settle for the first thing the pops up on YouTube. Rather, make sure that you’re listening to a professional performance. Listening to unpolished performances is unproductive. Also, make sure the sound quality is excellent. To much background noise or a hard-to-listen-to performance will be too distracting.
1. Once you have found a great recording of your piece, relax and allow yourself to fully pay attention to the music.
Stop what you’re doing, close your eyes and really focus on listening to the music. Don’t let yourself get distracted and start browsing the internet or completing other tasks as the music plays. Really stop what you’re doing and listen to the music.
Initially, as you listen, don’t force yourself to think about anything in particular. Just listen. If the music invokes any type of imagery, just enjoy the sounds and scenes that are portrayed in your mind.
2. This time, close your eyes and tune into more of the logistical aspects of music.
Can you tell what the meter is? Tap your foot or hand to the beat of the music. Is there a clear melody? What is the texture like; is it chordal, counterpoint, arpeggiated? What technical skills seem to be necessary to perform this piece?
Don’t get too caught up in answering the questions, just be an observer. Allow yourself to absorb what is happening in the music and begin to mentally prepare yourself for how you will approach it at your instrument.
3. Next, open the score and follow along as you listen.
Just like your first time listening, don’t force any types of thoughts. Instead, just follow along and observe what is happening. Take note of parts of the music that you enjoyed or like better than others. If there’s a part you don’t like very well, make a point to listen to it again and try to figure out what you don’t care for about it.
Similar to the first step, in this step of the listening process, you don’t have to worry about accomplishing anything. Simply listen and follow the sheet music as much as possible. If you lose your place in the score, don’t stress out about finding it. Just keep listening.
4. Finally, listen once more while watching the score.
Try to take in all of the details and start making a concrete plan for how you will practice. As you listen, imagine what your body will be doing as you perform. If your an instrumentalist, there might be times that you “air play” on a tabletop or in the air as you watch the music. If you’re a vocalist, you may throw out a gesture or two.
This would be a good time to plan through the roadmap of the piece. Are there any repeated sections you’ll have to go back to? Make sure to find all of the repeat signs, D.C. and D.S. al coda or al fine signs. In this step, if you do get lost while you are listening, listen again and see if you can keep up.
- Are there any preliminary technical exercises that would help you prepare for this piece?
- Instrumentalists, will you approach all or parts of this piece by practicing hands together or would it be better to practice each hand separately?
- Vocalists, are there any sections that may create issues for you that you’ll need to work through first?
- Are there any unfamiliar terms or symbols that you’ll need to look up?
This last stage of listening should prepare you for a smart and productive practice session.
Keep In Mind:
You don’t have to follow these four steps in order. You can repeat any of the steps as you wish. You might want to do the first step several times back-to-back. Or, you might start each practice session by following at least one of the steps. Maybe part of your evening routine includes listening to the music you are learning without any other distractions. Just make a point to include regular listening as a part of your practice.
These steps are especially important for music that seems difficult or unfamiliar to you. However, you probably won’t need to or want to spend a lot of time listening to music that you have heard your entire life or music that is not difficult to perform.
Remember how easily our brains absorb music, so be deliberate about frequent listening. And, just because you’re making a point to be an active listener, don’t stop listening casually as well. Keep listening to your music in your car, while you work or around your house.