World Music Literature

Improving Listening Skills

Peter Kun Frary


Avoid Distraction

While listening to music may seem like an easy task, many of us are conditioned to treat music as audio wallpaper. We turn off our ears and busy ourselves with social media, texting and thoughts of lost love and the impending weekend. Thus, the biggest pitfall for listening is distraction.

Blue Zen | Empty your mind of distractions and focus on listening to the music.

You need to extend effort to avoid distractions during listening sessions. First, set aside enough time to listen to the entire piece without interruption. Second, don't do other things like homework or mindlessly scrolling through FaceBook. Listening with distractions will result in little or no retention. Devote your full attention to listening.

Keep an Open Mind

Give yourself time to adjust to the music: anything unknown is apt to be somewhat uncomfortable. While listening, apply your new knowledge: concentrate on picking out the themes, forms, instruments, etc., used in the work. Thus, the stylistic aspects of the work will become apparent and you’ll come to understand and appreciate the work sooner. Most of all, be open minded and positive towards new or unknown music.

Sharpen Your Memory

Most of us don't have a photographic memory and have to work at remembering what we listened to.

Longer musical works are like movies: they don’t make sense unless you start at the beginning and recall how earlier events and characters relate. In the case of music, you’ll be dealing with repeating themes, rhythms, harmonies, textures, etc. within a structural form. It normally takes repeated listening before a larger form makes sense. This textbook provides listening tips, themes, etc., for many of the works. Sing along with themes and they'll imprint in your memory better.

Listen for Detail

Once you’ve listened to a piece a few times and know the main themes and sections, listen for details like use of dynamics, texture, tempo changes, etc.

Small details are often the best part of a piece and set it apart from other works in a similar style. Take notes on your reactions and insights. Listening with a classmate and discussing what you heard can be helpful as well.

Finally, don't forget to note the stylistic period, composer and title of the piece when listening. Too often students recognize a listening example on a test but didn't link it to a composer or stylistic period during their listening sessions.

Practice High Fidelity

Listen with headphones or full range speakers for best results. Music in this course has a full range of tones from deep bass to high treble. Tiny iPad or computer speakers are unable to reproduce the bass range and you'll miss out on half the sound. Also, headphones or good stereo monitors allow you to hear the placement of musicians in the sound field, e.g., violin left, flute right, bass center, etc., making it easier to hear important details.

If you'd like to read about the author of this textbook, click on the link to the next page. Otherwise, click on the Elements link at the bottom of this page to start learning the secrets of music.

Enjoy your musical journey through one thousand years!

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©Copyright 2018 by Peter Kun Frary | All Rights Reserved