You know when you’re studying or working with music going on in the background and then comes that song you love and your attention turns on in a second? You start moving to the music and humming and you get distracted from what you were doing before. 

That’s the moment your listening stops being passive and became active listening. That’s the moment you notice you’re effectively listening to music. 

What’s the difference?

Passive listening is a non-action we do every day. Think about how many situations in your day have music in the background: supermarkets, stores, elevators, any kind of tv content even if it’s not a music program. This kind of music is called “muzak” and has effects on our life even when we don’t notice it. It has the power to make us feel happy, melancholic, relaxed…

There are studies that prove how muzak impacts on our shopping choices and our daily actions.

Another case of passive listening is referred to noise pollution, especially if you live in a big city. Traffic, voices, neighbours, construction sites, they are all present in your everyday life, you can actually hear them, but your ears are used to ignore them. 

This process made our ears lazier through years, we are used to constantly have sounds around us we don’t care at all, and our brain created a barrier to keep them out. 

Active listening is the opposite of passive listening. It is an action we do only if we want to and it requires concentration. Listening to something in an active way means to pay attention to what your ears are actually hearing. That signals travel to your brain and it produces reactions in a logic way, depending on inputs it receives. It is an activity that tires you the same as reading something.

Active listening is a technique studied in relation to counseling, training and any kind of public relations because it’s based on the complete understanding of the other person. 

In the same way active listening can help you solving conflicts with people, it can be extremely useful in music comprehension, approaching to it as a speech the musician is directly addressing to you (like it actually is).

We spoke about how difficult can be to pay attention to particulars in a world where you receive multiple stimulations every second.

Therefore sometimes we have to go the extra mile to listen to what we’re interested in and to pick up every detail we need to play an instrument or just to enjoy music the right way.

To try your listening in a musical way you can start asking yourself about every sound you hear in your day, not only music. 

When people speak to you, try to notice if their voice is high or low in pitch, how they use the inflection on their voice, the accent, words they choose to use. 

Personally, an exercise I love when I walk down the street is to count how many sounds I can hear at the same time. The sound of my steps, the car driving next to me, people speaking (how many?), the dog barking, the ambulance, my own breath. This exercise has the power to connect you with the environment in an incredible way. 

You can apply the same principle with music. When you listen to a song, try to ask yourself some simple questions: how many instruments can you hear? How many vocals? Are there background vocals? 

You’ll see how your perspective is gonna change even on your favorite songs. If you’ve never tried to listen music this way you’ll probably discover unknown sounds and passages even in those songs you know by heart. 

Once you found how many instruments are playing together you can try to find in which register they’re located. Are they low or high in pitch? How many low and how many high? Is there any sound that stops or something new joining? 

You can also distinguish the structure, which part is verse and which one is chorus. The first verse is the same as the second or has something changed?

Active listening gives you a lot of informations and it’s particularly useful in the learning songs process.

In fact once you answer to these questions you already did half of the job without even starting to play!

This is why I decided to prepare for you this week an exercise that I hope to be useful for you to start with the right foot. You can find it in the download zone and I’m sure it’s gonna give you a lot of satisfaction! 

See you next week,