Student Corner: Why You Should Be Listening, Not Just Playing!

Welcome to the second ever installment of our Student Corner feature. Articles with this label are written for your student! Print it out or read it together and you’ll both learn something new. This week’s edition of Student Corner comes from J.T. Lee!

music student with headphones

Have you ever heard of a baseball player who didn’t watch baseball? How about a director that doesn’t watch movies? Why then do we so often as musicians think it’s okay to not listen to music? We have to remember that music is an auditory art, not a visual one. Yet often we find ourselves reading music and never taking the time to find out what it’s supposed to sound like. It’s interesting to think that many of our method books come with C.D.s and promo codes for digital downloads so we can play along and still, many times students never even bother to open them. Perhaps it’s that as teachers we have failed to communicate that if you want to be a great musician, you have to first listen to great music.

If someone wants to be good at something, they study someone who is better at it than they are. LeBron James watched Michael Jordan play while he was growing up and every hockey player in the last 20 years has watched highlights of Wayne Gretzky. I would wager that any musician with an active career can always name a few artists that impacted their lives and the art they create. For me personally, Miles Davis and Marcus Miller have both been huge in shaping my musical style.

Listening to music does more than show us the correct rhythm of a song, it shapes our understanding of the art itself and inspires us to grow. So both as a teacher and a professional player, I would encourage you to take some time and listen, really listen, to a song or two every day!

Where do I start? Well, there is always the car radio. Next time you’re in the car instead of flipping through Instagram or watching Netflix on the iPad, turn it on and scroll through. When you hear something that catches your ear, stop and listen to it. Try to find out who it’s by and where you can listen to it again. If you’re not sure, you can always ask Siri or use an app like Shazam to identify it. After that, download a streaming app like Spotify or Pandora that allows you to choose the artist you listen to.

Speaking of Spotify they have an awesome feature called “related artist” where you can explore artists with similar sounds or influences to those that you like. This allows you to search through hours of music, finding thousands of unique yet similar songs and singers. Many artists also include a bio page, where they list the artists that they enjoyed listening to. Any of these allow you to find new music, or spend hours listening to music that you already know and love.

One more thought. Try not to just passively listen; instead try to pick out something that sticks out to you. It can be something as simple as the way the lyrics rhyme, or as advanced as the choice of chords to harmonize the melody. Listen for beats the drums play, or the way the band accents the singer. When you hear something cool, try to figure out how to recreate it on your instrument. See if you can adapt what you learn into your own playing vocabulary. All of the greatest musicians borrowed lines from those they respected most.

Music is an auditory art, created by artists influenced by centuries of music. In order to be a great artist, you have to study those that were great at doing what you want to do. Thanks to the internet, there are hundreds of tools out there for studying music. So what are you waiting for? G

et out there and start looking for new music. This week try to find a new song or artist to introduce your teacher to. I’m sure they would love it!

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