Musicians are having an understandably difficult time in the age of COVID-19. Whether it’s a canceled tour or the inability to rehearse with bandmates in person, the pandemic is keeping us inside our homes and away from our musical routines. In strange and difficult times, embracing resourcefulness is essential when it comes to finding ways to stay inspired.
You might not be able to travel or leave your house right now. However, you can take a music-listening trip to inspire your process and transport your mind. An upside to our vastly increased time at home is that we can spend more time listening to music. And by listening, I mean sitting down and doing nothing other than listening to a piece of music. The following four listening trip ideas are designed to focus your mind on specific characteristics that shape music.
From late-romantic symphonic orchestral music to disco to the grunge-laden ’90s, timely musical trends have the potential to build on one another and change music forever. Listening to music from a single musical era is interesting. It gets more fascinating when you begin to notice how certain musical trends morphed into one another over the years. For example, we can listen back to the late romantic era as a precursor to honky-tonk which was a precursor to blues, and then jazz, rock, and so on. Ever wonder how and why music sounds the way it does today? Try listening back to distinct musical eras to answer your questions. If you’re really ambitious, take a whole week and listen to a specific era of music each day in order.
Setting informs music in a huge way, whether it’s a sound-shaping music scene or an influential songwriter’s boring hometown. We might not be able to travel for fun or tour for a while. Yet, we can enjoy faraway places by listening to music that was made there or is about them. This listening trip can be as broad or specific as you like it to be, but make sure to leave room for both places you’ve been musically influenced by and ones you’re unfamiliar with to keep things interesting. Like with musical eras, it’s fascinating to nail down why music sounds the way it does by tracing it back to its root and learning about how specific places inform musical trends is a great way to do it.
You’d be forgiven if you spent your music trip listening to genres you already like and know. But if you want to challenge yourself, try diving into genres you’ve never explored before. Remember, critical listening isn’t just about hearing the stuff you like, but exposing yourself to new ideas as well. By nailing down what you like and what you’d like to hear less of in an unfamiliar genre, you’re refining your taste and laying the groundwork for your own style and creative path as a musician.
Event-themed music can be anything from songs about war to orchestral works about things happening in nature. An endlessly entertaining exercise is to group different pieces of music together about specific events. Then, try to note their similarities and differences. Another is to try divorcing a piece of music’s association with a specific event or purpose. Think about how it sounds without it––holiday music, movie soundtracks, etc. Listening to music differently can lead to inspiration and new ways of seeing ourselves as music-makers.
In 2020, playlists make it easy to create music-listening trips. However, you’ll need to put in a little work to make them happen. Rather than choosing what you know, researching unfamiliar music based on events, places, genres, and eras will take some craftiness on your part. But making the effort to explore new music will almost certainly make you a better and more well-rounded music-maker and appreciator. Musicians often complain of feeling stuck in cycles where they can’t come up with new ideas or do anything new. By embracing the unfamiliar with your listening trips, you’ll expose yourself to a world of new ideas you can use in your own music.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.