Active Listening 

What you have listened to today.  Have you listened to music that you are currently studying?  What did you listen to?  Where did you listen to this music?  Did you listen while you followed along in your score and/or solo part?  Did you listen while you were in the practice room with your instrument close by?

Why do musicians listen to music?  Beyond the basic enjoyment of listening to music, I think it is first and foremost to gain a better sense of the various musical styles that we encounter in performance and study.  Secondly, if we listen to masters that have come before us, as well as our contemporaries, then we gain a better sense of the progression of tone, technique, and standard performance practices in our repertoires.  Finally, it is a great way to learn new techniques or to improve new techniques and ideas that you are incorporating in playing.     

I encourage all of my students to actively listen to music every day.  If you consider the previous questions and following tips, incorporate them in your daily “practice” time, then you will see immediate benefits in your playing and your ears will be “opened up” in a more comprehensive way, which will lead to you presenting more informed performances. 

When preparing to listen to music, first make sure you find a quiet place where there are no distractions.  If you have music on and you are trying to update your status on Facebook, then you are not really listening to music.  Find a quite place, away from distractions, to listen actively.   Always have your scores (not only your solo parts) with you while you so that you can study and make notes.  Use the following points to help you, and write out descriptions of what you hear pertaining to each point. 

Listening Points

1) Can you describe the style?  Who is the composer of this work?  When was the piece composed?  Can you provide any historical context regarding this composition?  

2) Describe the tone, or changes in tone throughout the performance.

3) Listen for vibrato.  How is it used?  Do you like the performer's use of it?  Why or why not?

4) Describe the timbre and how tone color changed throughout the performance.

5) Describe the articulation style that you hear.  Does it change?   

6) Listen for texture and changes of texture.  Describe these events.

7) Listen for tempo.  Does it change?  

8) Listen for rhythm and identify meter as well as changes of meter.

9) Listen for rubato.  Do the performers take liberty with musical time?  If so, where, and why do you think they did this?

10) Listen for how your line “functions” musically throughout the piece.  Depending on your level, you should be able to use your music theory skills to determine melodic and harmonic function of your part throughout the composition.

11) Can you describe form of this piece?  Is it an example of binary form?  Sonata Form?  Rondo?  Use your theory knowledge to analyze all of the pieces you are studying.  It will help you present a more informed performance.