The first skill that needs attention is listening. Many of us hear, but most of us do not retain what we hear and fewer of us can take what we hear and “playback” the sounds either on our instrument or on paper. In this chapter, you will find exercises to develop your musical memory and your skills to playback either on your instrument or on paper.
Listening Is an important part of how we communicate, hearing is vital to understanding our surroundings. Careless listening can result in misunderstandings and misconceptions. It can also result in bad musical performances, frustration and career damaging situations.
What is your current listening skill? You are probably like everyone else and your skill set is currently uneven. Some things are easy for you and other things are not. Take some time right now and list the areas that you know need improvement
So, first things first: How to listen to music. Most of us listen in one of the following ways:
Passive listening – this is how most people listen- to each other, to lectures and to music. partial Awareness is the norm. When,we listen passively, we miss a large amount of the content and may misunderstand completely.
Active listening – Is what we do when we tell ourselves or are told by others to pay attention. We capture more of the content, when listening actively than when listening passively. But, we still miss some things because, we don’t always know what is important and what is not important.
Active Listening with understanding – understanding means preparation. Preparation means learning what are the important things to listen for. Such as: listening to an improvised solo requires some knowledge of style – Dixieland has different requirements than free jazz. Listening to either without adjusting the benchmarks will result in wrong assessments of the solos.
We, of course, want the skills needed for Active Listening with understanding. Here are the questions that need to answered for our success:
1. What are needed skills?
a. Ability to identify :
i. Style – is it Rock, Country, Jazz, Baroque? If you have difficulty
deciding spend some time listening to (and reading about) examples.
Develop a sense of musical style.
ii. Instruments and individual parts
iii. Form – learn to identify the shape of the music by focusing on
1) The melody- identify how many different melodic segments there
are and when they occur
2) the harmony – learn to identify whether the progression repeats
or is through composed
3) The rhythm- learn to identify whether there is a recurring
iv. Ability to remember
1) Melody – the ability to sing or play back melodic fragments or
2) Rhythmic patterns- the ability to sing or play back rhythmic
fragments or complete patterns
2. What is your current skill level?
Self assessment requires complete honesty. Carefully consider each part of the above skills list and make a decision whether you can perform the skill with mastery. Note: most people do not have complete mastery of this skill list. For each skill, on the list, give yourself a grade between one and five with one being the highest and five, the lowest level.
The following list of exercises will help you improve your mastery of the skill list
Exercises/Activities: Listening parties – good game for bands or sections in a band – do the Exercises/activities below – play for pizza or ???
1. Sing along with recordings – a quick way to internalize content.
a. Listen to the recording at least once before you start singing. You will have to
decide if you need to listen more than once
i. First time, that you sing, focus on the melody. Record yourself and
playback the recording to check for accuracy.
ii. Second time, focus on the harmony lines. Record yourself and check for
iii. Third time, focus on the bass line. Record yourself and checked for
2. Exercise: for two people or one person with two recorders (or a multi-track recorder or
app) . First person (or make recording and playback) sings melody; second person sings
either harmony or bass line – switch parts – always record your performance. Start with
simple songs and work your way to more difficult melodies and chord progressions. After
you are comfortable (and successful singing) do the exercise with your instruments.
Remember: Always record your work
3. Listening games – can be played by one person – much more fun and productive played by
two to four people (more people – need to write down and compare results)
a. With recordings or at Live performances – local clubs; concerts; rehearsals; jam
i. Identify style
ii. Identify instruments
iii. Identify form
iv. Identify purpose
4. Other Activities:
a. Read/Study – go to your local library, bookstore etc., Borrow books from friends.
b. Discuss/Argue – group of 2 to 4 people: select a recording, schedule a time and
listen and discuss. Use the same guidelines suggested for brainstorming.
Respect each other’s opinions and make sure everyone has a chance to express
their opinion. This activity can be very good, because each person will express
a different perspective. Each perspective will offer insights into the music.
NOTE: this activity can also turn out to be very bad. It is important that
everyone is sensitive to each other and does not try to dominate the discussion.
i. Possible topics to discuss
1) If the music you’re listening to has been recorded several times,
you might want to compare the recordings and note differences
ad/or ask the following questions.
a) Are differences effective?
b) What is the purpose of the differences?
c) What would each of you do if you were the recording
c. Go to performances, lectures and conferences to hear artists, composers and
performers discuss the music that they perform and/or create
d. Take a course, either at a college or online. There are very many options
available to you.
In conclusion, listen carefully, discuss often and seek out as many opinions that you can.
Active listening with understanding will be the result of an active and thoughtful process.
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