Through this blog, I hope to remind every musician and teacher of the one of the biggest reasons we all love and enjoy music…the sound. I believe every sound, note and voice has its own tone and texture which can invoke a rich feeling in us because of our previous experiences and interpretations of this mechanical energy that travels through the air. We magically and miraculously capture it with our most precious sense: hearing. And this capturing organ (the ear) and our brain interpret this energy into a thought, joy and or a desire in us to understand and control the sounds. This is music.
Listening to music is why we music teachers love music and love teaching that joy to the next generation. It is an important human characteristic to be able to focus and truly listen to and interpret, catalogue and describe musical sounds. We grew this from the moment we were first born using our mom’s cooing and lovingsoft words along with her melodies and her voice’s cadences to train our hearing. Amazingly, we could distinguish her voice from our dad’s deeper voice, or from a crying or angry sibling or friend. The tone, pitch and recognition software we come loaded with when we are born is truly amazing.
When I first started playing a piano and trumpet their sounds fascinated me: the color, the magic. What was this, I thought? How do you sing or play or make that sound? And the music on the radio along with tapes, records, CD’s and TV’s really made the connection for me. I would pretend to play like Johnny Cash, or find the melody of a lullaby or Twinkle on any instrument that I picked up. I also wanted to be like that performer, actor or singer on TV. Early on I had role models and musicians I’d emulate. I thank my parents and grandparents for exposing me to all types of music and performances. Whether they knew it or not, I was listening. I am so grateful now that they presented the materials to me early. Later in my studies, these early experiences definitely helped me begin connecting the dots and creating music of my own.
I encourage my teaching colleagues in our music school to add listening into their lessons, and make that a lesson for their students and the parents of those students. Just as you can’t know if you like brussel sprouts without trying them, you can not know if you like jazz or classical or country or hip hop without listening to it. I truly dislike brussel sprouts, but 40 years into my life someone served me Brussels sprouts cold in a salad and they had been prepared in some interesting way and I tried them again, and it was pretty good. Relating this to music, sometimes the presentation is not at the right time or the music student is not really prepared to listen because of some barrier. Sometimes they are truly not trying to listen or they do not know what to begin to listen to, and it’s our job as music teachers to figure out what their obstacle is, and show them and encourage them to climb over and around that difficulty to get to the joy of music that awaits them on the other side.
Ideas to encourage listening in your studio: play for your students on a piece or song that you enjoy and show your joy, let them see why you love music. Play a tune on YouTube or Spotify or Itunes or from a CD that will inspire them. If you don’t encourage them to listen and if the parent does not perform or play music for them at home, you might as well stop teaching that student. Try teaching “listening skills” to your parents and involve them right along with the student. I’d suggest sending out a bi-weekly listening list that you can circulate via email, and encourage your families to have a “listening session” at home. Include a YouTube link of your favorite artist or some dynamic performer. And follow up in the next lesson and ask questions about those listening assignments, like what emotions did you feel when listening, did the performer seem to enjoy performing, did you enjoy the song and why? I encourage you to watch a Lang Lang video to see his joy with coaxing sound out of his piano, or enjoy a Yo-Yo Ma performance on his cello. These two are truly inspiring performers. Find an awesome young performer on YouTube to use as an example (do a quick search on YouTube for any classical easier piece) and show your young families and young musicians just how well a 6 year old can perform a Bach Minuet. This will hopefully inspire the families to form questions with you and for you to explore with them what they can do as a family to begin to better practice and appreciate music in their family.
Listening is an art and the ultimate connection to both music and humanity. Remember to use its power to create finer music and musicianship within the students in your studio.