How can you become a better musician besides spending hours and hours practicing? Practicing is definitely the most important part of improving your skills as a musician, but there are other ways to grow and progress besides playing your scales and working on songs. Listening to music, and a wide variety of it, is incredibly important in becoming a more well-rounded and knowledgeable musician. I try to listen to an album every day. Sometimes it’s on in the background while I cook dinner, or go for a walk, but whenever I have the time I prefer active listening. To listen actively is to focus completely on the music with the purpose of further understanding it. There are different levels of listening and, like playing your instrument, it requires practice. So how do you actively listen? What are you listening for?
If this is new to you, listen for different instruments. Is there guitar in the song? What about drums? Do you hear harmony in the vocals? As you get more advanced, listen for the basic structure. What is the meter? Is there a chorus that repeats multiple throughout the song? Most pop songs have a bridge, a one-time section that provides contrast to the verses and choruses. Eventually, you can start listening for chord progressions and compositional techniques. In what mode is the melody? Does the song use tall chords(commonly referred to as “jazz chords”) or regular triads? Are there any key changes?
As you begin to listen actively, you notice similarities and differences between different songs and genres. This simple practice can change the way you listen to music and allow you to appreciate your favorite artists on a different level.