If you want to be a great songwriter or performer, you’ll need to be a great music listener first. What we hear and how we listen makes a huge impact on the way we write music, collaborate with other musicians, and perform on stage. So thoughtful music listening ends up being a massive deal if you’re a serious musician. If you’re looking for ways to improve your music listening skills, these tips will help:
Set aside time for undistracted music listening
If you typically only listen to music while driving, walking, or doing chores around the house, create some time during your week for undistracted music listening. Sit down with some new music or your favorite album, do nothing but listen to the songs, and you’ll be treated to a completely different and superior listening experience. When you write music or rehearse with bandmates, music is (or should be, anyway) your only focus. Taking this approach with your listening experiences will improve your skills as a listener.
Make an effort to discover new and interesting music to explore
This is an obvious tip, but it shouldn’t be ignored. It’s a lot easier to explore new music when we’re young and inexperienced as musicians, but your need to expand your creative, emotional, and intellectual horizons doesn’t go away as you gain experience or even success as a musician. There’s something thrilling and irreplaceable about stumbling upon your new favorite song, album, or artist, and it’s an experience that has the power to renew your love for music over and over again. So keep listening, keep exploring, and keep searching for great new music.
Catalog likes and dislikes as you listen
If you’re a serious songwriter or producer, this might be the most important tip on this list. Making a mental catalog of the features you love or loathe in the music you hear is the difference between active and passive music listening. You’ll get the most benefit out of listening to music when you take an active approach. Listen for features that could inspire your own music, whether they’re music production techniques, insightful lyrics, or thoughtful chord progressions. Or, if you don’t like the music you hear, delve deep and find out why. Doing this not only improves your listening skills, but helps to develop your taste as a music-maker. And if you want to make great music, you’re going to need to have great taste in music.
Practice distinguishing parts as you listen
This is mainly geared towards inexperienced songwriters and performers. When you hear a song, work towards being able to distinguish and categorize the various parts you hear in the music. You should be able to mentally isolate different sections, like the bass, vocal, drums, etc. Doing this gives you a better understanding of how music works, and is endlessly helpful for covering music and learning to write your own.
Try covering your favorite songs
One of the best ways to develop your music listening skills is to cover your favorite songs. You can easily look up free chord charts online to guide you through the process, or you can go it alone and learn the music by ear if you’re really ambitious. Any approach will be great practice for building up your listening skills because you’ll need to replicate the specific phrasing, pitches, and rhythms in the music you hear even if you’ve got a chord chart to work with. If you’re new to writing music or performing and are looking for experience, starting your new musical life by mastering a couple of covers is a great way to get started.
Replicate melodies, chord progressions, intervals, and beats in the music you hear
Using your preferred instrument, playing back specific parts of the songs you listen to will make you a better music listener and performer. Doing this takes practice, but it pays off in big ways that will make your life as a songwriter and performer easier. Try to resist using chord charts and replicate the music you hear by ear.
Music listening is a skill you’ll lean on for as long as you want to create or perform music. Plus, it’s something that improves your life as a listener in big ways.
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.