Listening: The Most Important Thing
What's the last song you listened to?
Listening to music is the most important part of being a musician. Not practice. Not theory. Not even performance. As a teacher, I frequently ask my students what they've listened to in the past week. Many times they tell me they don't know, or that they didn't listen to anything. I always encourage them to change that.
Listening to music keeps us musicians motivated day to day, between classes, rehearsals or performances. It excites and inspires us. Without that excitement, learning is hard and practice is a chore. When you're motivated and inspired, though, learning and playing your instrument is a joy.
Listening to music is the most important part of being a musician. Not practice. Not theory. Not even performance.
Develop a Habit
The best thing a musician can do for their craft is develop the habit of listening to music. The key here is to set aside specific times to listen to music every week. You don't even need any extra time to make this happen, since listening to music pairs well with a lot of day-to-day activities like driving, studying, working out, or doing chores. Make it a point to turn on music whenever doing these things, since you probably schedule time for them already.
The key here is to choose music intentionally. Pick out something you like, or something that was recommended to you, or something that you've been meaning to check out. If you're in the mood to discover something new, there are lots of ways to do that, too:
- Youtube (pull up a favorite song, then look in the sidebar for a related song that you haven't heard yet)
- Podcasts (try Song Exploder, Radiooooo, or All Songs Considered)
- Music apps like Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, Pandora, and many others.
Music services deserve special mention here because they have so many ways to discover new music. First, there are tons of pre-made playlists to choose from that will play a variety of artists, many of whom you might never hear on ordinary radio. Some services like Spotify will analyze your listening habits and create personalized playlists of other artists and songs you might enjoy. You can also use the service to create a radio station based on an artist or song that you already like.
My favorite feature of music apps is the ability to save music. When someone recommends an album to me, I open up Spotify or Apple Music and save it for later. It's as fast as writing it down, and more convenient. The next time I'm looking for something new to listen to, I have a library of saved music that's been recommended to me by friends, students and coworkers. If you don't know what to listen to next, ask a friend.
Tips for Parents
Developing a listening habit is especially important for younger students (those who are not yet teenagers). Children are still developing their motor skills, so they have more difficulty learning an instrument and are more likely to become frustrated. Most of all, though, they haven't developed their own music listening habits yet. They tend to listen to the music their parents listen to, or whatever's on the radio when they're in the car, and nothing else. They won't see their best success until they become passionate music listeners.
The most important thing you can do for your children that study music is to empower them to listen to music. Help them create a ritual.
- Set aside a time every week to listen to music.
- Make sure your child has the equipment to listen to music (home stereo, iPod, phone, tablet, computer, etc). If the equipment is shared with other family members, give your child a time to have it all to themselves for listening to music.
- Suggest music for them if necessary, but realize this will be most effective when they are choosing and discovering music for themselves.
- Ask them what they listened to and what they liked about it.
There is no more inspiring way to listen to music than to see it live. Make it a point to look for concerts to attend. Here are some tips from our staff on how to find upcoming performances:
- Use an app like Bandsintown to follow your favorite artists. This app can look through your music library and let you know when artists that you listen to announce a concert in your area.
- Follow your favorite artists on social media.
- Follow concert venues. Staff suggestions include Starlight Theatre, Green Lady Lounge, The Midland, Kauffman Center, and the UMKC Conservatory.
- Check out annual events like Middle of the Map Fest, Boulevardia, Rockfest, or Jazz in the Woods.
- Event sites like jambase.com.
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