Tony Levin is an American musician, specializing in bass guitar, Chapman Stick and upright bass. He is best known for his work with King Crimson and Peter Gabriel, and currently leads his own band, Stick Men. Levin has recorded or toured with hundreds of artists including: Paul Simon (with whom Tony appeared in the 1980 film “One Trick Pony”), John Lennon, James Taylor, Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper, Lou Reed, Liquid Tension Experiment, Judy Collins, Carly Simon, Buddy Rich, Ringo Starr, Chuck Mangione, Peter Frampton, Paula Cole, Sarah McLachlan, Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe, and Steven Wilson.
Levin is an expert in his field because he truly makes his living on his ability to listen and respond appropriately. We asked him to help us learn more about listening, so that we can learn from it and apply it in our own work-lives. Here is what Tony said:
Unless you’re playing solo, what you are doing when you play your instrument is getting the right notes and sound out of it, AND inter-reacting with other musicians. If you concentrate only on your own part (which is normal for beginners) you won’t be as good at making the overall musical product as good as it could be if you stretch your brain and strive to be aware of what everyone is playing and how it’s blending together, and adjust your playing to best suit that.
In live performances there are lots of hurdles, always. But before that comes the bigger ones, the internal ones — no matter how much you have practiced your instrument, it takes a different kind of concentration to listen to other things while you’re playing. The way to master it is to have it be automatic (non conscious) so you can devote your attention to a number of things. The only way to become well-skilled at that is to do it–practice–a lot.
Have a mental ‘post it’ note in front of you (well, virtually in front of you) while you play with others – simply saying ‘Listen.’
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