Listening is the most important activity that we engage in as musicians. Our motivation to play music is fueled by listening. When we play an instrument, we must carefully and constantly listen to the sounds we are creating in order to choose fingerings, dynamics, tempo and more. If we are playing in a group, the success of the collaboration is dependent upon each musician listening deeply to every aspect of the musical whole. When we compose or improvise, we must first listen to the notes and rhythms in our heads before we bring them to our instruments.
In studying music we must listen carefully to all instruction, whether that instruction is formal, as in a lesson or a class, or is one of many subtle hints that we encounter in our daily lives. As we practice tuning into those enlightening hints, we also practice listening to our own intuition, thereby reinforcing the very foundation of creativity.
One of the most exciting things that I do as a teacher is to help my students expand their listening skills. Through study, anyone can hone their ability to discern pitches and sort out rhythms. In order to achieve true artistry, however, it is necessary to go beyond the classroom and to reach deeply into personal experience. Consciously engaging in certain practices will facilitate the process of listening as a means to enhance personal expression and creativity.
Turn off the Noise
Today’s world is filled with both incessant noise and large amounts of information that is transmitted at a rapid rate. As an adaptive species, we tend to unconsciously protect our nervous systems from this barrage by tuning out the noise and by receiving only the information that comes
through quickly. In receiving only the sounds that are most demanding, we lose much of the beauty, wisdom and knowledge that reside in a subtle realm beneath the noise. The solution is to scale back the noise and consciously invite our senses to wake up! Simply choosing to stay home for a quiet dinner instead of going out or to turn off the television in favor of spending an evening on the back porch can open new mental and emotional pathways.
Spend Time in Nature
Although nature is far from silent, her sounds are more conducive to clarity and creativity than those of the mechanical world. Make time during the work week for lunch in a park or a walk after work and carve out periods during the weekends to visit the ocean, a river, stream or lake. (Leave your ear buds and cell phone at home!)
Go into the silence at least once a day. Just try it. You’ll be amazed at what spontaneously emerges.
Listen With Full Attention
Give your attention to the sounds in your everyday environment. By consciously tuning in, you will begin to notice sounds that spark your imagination and to have new thoughts, ideas or encounters that specifically relate to your goals. You will also hone your ability to choose a supportive environment and to create a space in which you thrive.
Listening, like all other skills, begins with intention. Merely by intending to increase your listening skills you will find yourself increasingly drawn to opportunities to do so.
If you are interested in expanding your music listening skills, you can find help in the following publications: Learning to Play Lead Guitar, Chapter
3 (Aural Comprehension); Comprehensive Guitar Instruction (DVD), Chapter 4 ; A Guitar Player’s Guide to Ear Training (Book and 2-disc set)