photo of young woman listening to music via ear buds while playing guitar“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
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.

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.
The Musician's Way book cover
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.

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.

Perceptive Self-Listening
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 sound with greater objectivity. Here are some portable recorders that are ideal for self-recording:

  • Zoom H4N PRO. Outstanding sound quality & features. A musician favorite.
  • Zoom Q4n. Excellent video and audio quality.
  • Zoom H2n. A top but less advanced choice for self-study recording.
  • Tascam DR-22WL. A less-expensive but good-quality choice.

Related posts
5 Benefits of Self-Recording
7 Essentials of Artistic Interpretation
Deep Listening
Honest Practice
When Every Note Vibrates with Life

© 2017 Gerald Klickstein
Adapted from p. 98-99 of The Musician’s Way
Photo © Butsaya, licensed from

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