There are many layers to listening in my line of work:
a) Understanding the structure of material.
b) Writing the material down on paper.
c) Learning the material for performance.
In between all that, you need to listen to what the brief is. Take direction and make sure you interpret what you ‘think’ you’ve heard correctly.
Some musical structures can be dense and loaded with complexity, often with good purpose. So training your ear to discern nuance is crucial. It takes time to develop this and listening to any music or even conversations can help. I overcome those obstacles through practice, and by listening more than I talk.
To teach somebody else to become a better listener, I would first sit them in a room full of people and tell them to listen to the conversations and work out the type of relationships between the people talking. Then I’d give them a piece of music and ask them to transcribe in full the part being played by one of the instruments. I would then ask them what relationship the instrument had to the other instruments and its role in the arrangement.
Here’s a listening anecdote to help illustrate the point:
While still at school, a now-famous Jazz guitarist, who will remain anonymous, was a cause for concern to his parents when his grades started to slip. In response, they told him that he was not allowed to play guitar until he got back on track. For almost a year he didn’t pick up an instrument, but instead during bus trips to and from school, or during down time, he would spell chords in his head. He imagined all the notes on the instrument and their relationship to each other. At the end of the year, his school marks had improved but even more so had his guitar playing!
You can’t hear accurately until you understand relationships. You can’t listen until you know what you are ‘looking’ for.
Guitarist Steve Morse on Listening – IC Interview
Kasim Sultan: One Word — Focus – IC Interview
Arnold McCuller — Listening for the Spirit – IC Interview
Jordan Rudess — Listening with Focus – IC Interview
Rod Morgenstein — Listening: One Cohesive Unit – IC Interview
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