How to Be an Active Music Listener

Have you ever noticed the way that a pop song may initially be annoying, but with time it becomes tolerable, sometimes even enjoyable? Have you ever had the opposite experience? This phenomenon is very common amongst most people due to the astronomical number of times the song is played on the radio, in stores, and on TV. Have you ever felt as though you liked a song when you were in the presence of one person who made the song feel fun, and then hated the song when in the company of someone who didn’t like it. This is also a very common experience because most people are very passive music listeners. They listen to whatever music makes it to the Top 40 and find it difficult to even find the bands that they see on all of the hip music festival posters and billboards. If you would like to be a more active music listener, here are a few pointers.

  1. Try to identify the instruments. If you are listening to purely digital music then this may not be helpful, but if you are listening to music made by musicians who play instruments, try to identify the instruments being played. How many can you identify? Which instruments tend to dominate the song? Are those instruments significant because their progressions are complex, or because they’re brilliant in their simplicity? Do the instruments support or detract from the lyrics? If you buy a pair of headphones from DownBeats you will be shocked by how much richer the music sounds as compared to the speakers on your computer. When you actively listen to music you have to put everything else on pause and focus intently on what you’re hearing.
  2. Listen to all kinds of music. How could you judge the quality of a microwave meal if you had never tried an oven-baked meal, a meal prepared from scratch, and or a meal cooked on a grill? Likewise, you can’t really speak to the quality of a song, band or genre of music if you haven’t listened to a wide variety of music. You need to listen to a vast variety of music from around the globe and throughout history. Without the blues, there’s no context to rock and roll, and without classical music there’s no context to jazz music, plain and simple. So start with the major genres and research the major groups or artists that defined it. From there find the major songs that defined those artists. When you discover artists that strike your fancy, you can explore them further to find the more obscure stuff and really get to the good stuff.
  3. Find people with great musical taste. You most likely have a friend or relative who always plays good music. If there is someone in your life who is always introducing you to cool music, then don’t take it for granted. Ask that person for a list of artists to listen to. Look those artists up and see if you can find any similar artists that you might like. Tune into music magazines either online or in print. Read interviews with different artists and find out who the artists you love are listening to. There’s a million ways to become an active music listener, you just have to have a love for the exploration.

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