“When musicians with scant listening experience try to play or sing repertoire from unfamiliar genres, they produce the musical equivalent of a clumsy accent.”
–The Musician’s Way, p. 98
Most of us can recall hearing music that left us cold initially but that we warmed to later on.
That is, something within us changed, and we were able to appreciate musical content that we had previously overlooked.
What was at the crux of that transformation?
Typically, our listening skills evolved, and we became more perceptive.
Perceptive listening entails facility with the aural grammar of music. And distinct musical styles communicate in their own languages.
Once we internalize the syntax of a style as a listener, we possess the background to perform that style convincingly.
In the reverse situation, when musicians with scant listening experience try to play or sing repertoire from unfamiliar genres, they produce the musical equivalent of a clumsy accent.
Performing with Native Inflection
If we’re to perform with native inflection, we have to listen and listen until we break through to the soul of a style.
“Perceptive listening entails facility with the aural grammar of music.”
It’s wise to explore an array of compositions in a given genre and also listen to different performers interpreting the same titles, both recorded and live.
Then, as our listening abilities mature, we’re able to discern the gestures that composers write and the spin that performers add.
But we shouldn’t just take in the repertoire composed for our particular instruments. Rather, we should get to know the wider scope of any composer’s musical language.
For instance, instrumentalists drawn to compositions by Bach do well to delve into his vocal music.
Becoming a Musical Polyglot
We also benefit when we branch out beyond our main genres and become musical polyglots who are receptive to disparate styles.
“As our listening abilities mature, we’re able to discern the gestures that composers write and the spin that performers add.”
Boundaries between genres continue to blur, so musicians today can probably use more stylistic versatility than those of past eras.
Nevertheless, whether we focus on one tradition or opt to diversify, keen listening skills leave us with fertile soil in which to grow our artistry as performers.
Lastly, for musicians, the most crucial listening skill is self-listening.
And self-recording coupled with perceptive listening is the surest way to verify that we hear ourselves accurately,
Whether we’re interpreting fresh styles or titles we’ve performed for years, self-recording enables us to weigh our execution objectively, helping us achieve unity between the music we imagine and the music we perform.
“Self-recording enables us to weigh our execution objectively, helping us achieve unity between the music we imagine and the music we perform.”
Recommended Portable Recorders:
- Zoom H6. Extraordinary six-track recorder with 24 bit, 96K capability.
- Zoom H4n. Outstanding sound quality & features. A musician favorite!
- Zoom Q4n. Handy for video and audio.
- Zoom H2n. A top choice for self-study recording.
- Tascam DR-22WL. A less-expensive but good-quality option.
© 2017 Gerald Klickstein
Adapted from p. 98-99 of The Musician’s Way
Photo © Butsaya, licensed from Shutterstock.com