Take some lessons with any decent, competent music teacher and you’ll very likely get the following advice:
- practice (you know it doesn’t work without it)
- train your ears – if you haven’t already, definitely try
the functional ear training method
- repeatedly listen to great music
- transcribe as much as possible
- imitate and absorb the greats
- increase your musical vocabulary.
And eventually as a result you’ll start to spit out original music.
Excellent advice – I totally support it and urge my students all the time to do the same.
- So you dilligently train yourself for years to listen analytically to every piece of music you hear.
- You check the chord progressions that are used in the current hit songs.
- You listen to and identify all the intervals in popular melodies.
- You study the structure of arrangements, the counterpoint and the orchestration/instrumentation.
- You even go for identifying the individual frequency ranges to increase the quality of your mix-downs and productions.
Kudos for that.
Don’t Starve Your Ability to Simply Enjoy Music!
These are definitely valuable activities to do but they also can suck the life out of music and kill your enjoyment if you aren’t careful and take counter-measures.
Last year, after realizing how little time I actually spent simply listening to music without some sort of agenda going on, I decided to enjoy a complete album/day as a part of my musical challenge for that month.
I know, I know… “challenge” sounds somewhat stupid in this context. Let’s face it, if listening to music was a challenge, it really would be necessary to seriously re-think your relationship with music.
So “challenge” in the sense of not getting distracted (by over-analysis) and not to give in to temptations like mindlessly surfing the web or other time-wasting activities instead of taking the time to enjoy high quality music.
So no putting on an album in the background while surfing the web, no iPod/mp3 player and “listening” while simultaneously doing household chores. Forget productivity or multi-tasking for a moment – this is not about relegating music to the role of muzak, it’s about realizing the value of music, enjoying music as the gift that it is and giving it the credit and respect it deserves.
After the first few days I was hooked. I absolutely had no problems at all to follow through that 1 month. All day long I was already looking forward to my music hour in the evening.
For the exception of just 3 evenings (24th to 26th) due to Christmas celebrations with family and relatives I actually continued last year way past December into late March until evenings got warmer again. So challenge more than completed. 🙂
Tame Your Musical Monkey Mind
Although, I must confess that I needed a few sessions before my musical monkey mind was quiet. Initially, I did catch myself going, “That was a nice chord change. I like that maj7#11 chord. Is that a Rhodes Mark I or II in the background? I wonder what outboard gear the producer used to get that great sound?”
But pretty soon I’ve been able to re-claim the ability to simply sit and listen with a sense of enjoyment and gratitude – without a thought of analysis crossing my mind.
- Create a little ritual around your music hour.
- Maybe get a nice fire started in the fire place.
- Get yourself a big cup of tea or coffee.
- Dim the lights, or even better, turn them off and light some candles instead.
- If you like, burn some incense…
…and then just let the music take over.
Make the Time
Don’t say that you don’t have time for it because that’s simply not true. Make the time for it. Ditch the TV channel surfing or reduce your online activities. This might sound weird, but I’d go as far as saying that this could be more important than a practice session.
Blasphemy? Maybe, but consider this… when you re-discover your passion for music, you’ll actually practice more and with a different (better) energy afterwards.
When you have family, bring them on board for the music hour. There has to be some music in your collection that appeals to the rest as well – might be worth the small compromises in musical taste at first. You can “graduate” them to your favorite atonal album later on. 😉
Something Else I Noticed Last Year…
Towards the end of my challenge when I already had listened to my top albums that I felt were appropriate for my winter evening sessions, it got harder to choose what to listen to. I didn’t want to repeat my selection and started to run out of albums that I really liked in their entirety. I was left with records where there’s a few really great tracks, but there’s also lots of mediocre tracks that you don’t like or where you feel they just got put in to fill up the track count.
When you keep your personal listening challenge to a single month, this shouldn’t become a problem at all. Also, feel free to change the rules from listening to a complete album to a playlist of selected songs in album length.
Another positive side note: this also makes you appreciate the awesome cohesive albums even more.
Your Action Steps
- Decide on your rules (how long to listen, full album or playlist, hybrid, etc…)
- Think about your ritual.
- Collect your menu of top music albums to listen to in advance – use a spreadsheet, or create shortcuts in a separate folder. Or, should you decide to loosen the rules and go for a playlist type of listening experience, actually create the (themed) playlists in advance.
- Listen to and enjoy the music.
Do it in advance, so you don’t have an excuse on Wednesday evening after a tiring work day to skip your listening session for some easy TV channel hopping instead.
Give Yourself the Gift to Enjoy Music Without an Agenda
Slow down and decrease the speed of life with your music hour. It’ll become the highlight of your day.
Please share your favorite albums or any great new music you’ve discovered as a result of your listening sessions in the comment section below.