Most people today listen to music alone. Regardless of whether you are in a crowd using ear buds, in your car or at home, your listening experience is likely to be a solitary one.
Much has been written about the many changes that have come about from this style of listening, including the effect that ear buds have on our hearing, the changes in the way that music is marketed and the quality of sound that is produced as a result of that marketing. As a musician and a music teacher, I have an additional concern: as social listening declines, is a natural path to music appreciation being sacrificed?
Music appreciation is usually taught in the classroom the same way that other topics or concepts are: bring attention to it, describe it and, if possible, make it experiential. The teaching becomes even more effective when the transfer of information is accompanied by a positive emotional experience.
Listening with others in a social situation can offer the same advantages that a classroom approach to music appreciation offers, but for most people, it’s a lot more personal and relevant – and therefore a lot more fun! When several people listen to the same band, one is likely to comment on the sax solo while another will focus on a bass riff and a third might respond to the lyrics. As each person receives the opinions and reactions from another, attention is brought to an area of the music that might otherwise have remained unnoticed.
Listening is not the only aspect of music appreciation that is addressed in the classroom, nor is it the only one that is learned in social listening experience. A formal curriculum for music appreciation will usually include a historical view of the music and a biographical look at the artist. Who doesn’t share these types of details with friends when they are listening to music together? Fan clubs are built on less!
If you find that listening is largely a solo experience for you, try setting aside some time with one or two friends to listen to a wide variety of music. Background music during a party or a meal doesn’t count. I’m talking about real listening. Take turns playing DJ or work a “youtube party” into your casual hang-out time with friends, family members or roommates. It’s a cheap, easy and satisfying way to connect with people – and you might just find that you are also connecting more deeply to the music you love!