Listening & Awareness for Musicians

Written by: Lauren Vukicevich

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How often do we listen to a friend’s story, and realize halfway through that we weren’t really listening at all? How many times have we practiced playing a song, only to realize we’ve been mindlessly going through the motions?  Listening and awareness go hand in hand, and are both vital to our musical lives.

A large part of a musician’s work is to listen selectively and holistically. To be a selective listener means focusing awareness on a specific element of sound. Whether that’s the steady rhythm, an evolving harmony, or a quick change in dynamics, a musician has to pay close attention in order to keep track of it. To listen holistically means hearing the “big picture” of a song – how all the elements interweave and create the totality.

66713_522071644514456_1555723029_nAs teachers, we’re required to be intuitive listeners. We need to observe all the little details of a student’s performance – the subtle movements and positions, where the eyes are moving, or any moments of hesitation. We have to listen for changes in tone, and especially any emotions that come through the music. For a teacher to know which areas of the student’s musicianship need attention, listening must come first.

Musicians are always students – always learning and improving. Being aware of the self requires listening and staying completely in the present moment. There are never-ending opportunities for growth in our musical understanding and our performances. Ear training is a huge part of musicianship development, especially in collegiate music programs. But there is more to this kind of listening than recognizing the interval between two notes.

static1.squarespaceSelf-awareness asks that we look openly at each aspect of how we sing or play an instrument. It requires that we’re prepared to notice inconsistencies in technique, and accepting the idea that we can be wrong. Remaining open to criticism and change can be really difficult, and it’s often a hindrance to improvement. The other side of this is being skilled enough to notice when our technique is correct, which shouldn’t be underestimated!

Playing music is a doorway to learning about the self and building essential listening skills. These are especially important lessons for musicians, but can also be utilized in other areas of life. Being a good listener takes practice and consistent mindfulness, but the benefits definitely make it worthwhile!

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