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The Art of Listening

We all know the importance of training a strong musical ear. More importantly and before even commencing musical aural training; we must learn how to listen.

It is my belief that very few musicians, even very experienced ones, truly listen when they are playing music. Many of us think we are listening, when in fact we are barely even hearing.

Listening with intent and focus, is beyond merely hearing.

At a recent aural skills workshop I conducted at Caroline Springs School of Music; we tested 121 students with some very simple aural exercises that were well within their capacity, given their levels of experience.

Students from the age of 5 to 80 years old on a variety of instruments were tested.

The tests were pitch and rhythm based.

Each student was given one test and we had 83 out of 121 correct answers.

Then we practiced one minute of silent and intent listening.

I asked the students to tell me what they had noticed. Most referred to the low level noise of the air conditioner, others noticed distant passing traffic and outside noise.

We then gave each student another simple test, similar, but slightly different to the first tests and they now scored 112 out of 121. Why do you think that might be?

One of the main reasons all our students at Caroline Springs School of Music excel, is due to our aural program, good music all starts with listening. Quieting the inner chatter of our minds and opening our ears to what is around us, can lead to silence, music likes to enter silence. Many much greater and wiser musicians than myself have espoused the value of silence.

Listen to Arvo Part's 'Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten" once through. Now, listen again, this time - focus your listening on the bell from start to end. How does changing the focus of your listening, alter how you perceive the music of the orchestra?

Whenever I speak to students about readying themselves for a performance, exam, or concert, I always speak about a brief listening exercise that is very helpful. Feel free to come in and speak to me before or after your next lesson at Caroline Springs School of Music.

What experiences can you share on this subject from your musical journey? Please leave your comments below, we will respond to everyone. Remember: "Big ears equals loud cheers!"

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