Active Listening

Updated: Apr 3


What do we mean by Active Listening?


Becoming completely involved with the music that is playing and asking questions as you listen… Major or Minor? 4 beats or 3 per bar? What instruments? Are they in tune? Are they balanced nicely… i.e. do you hear the melody clearly and the accompanying instruments in the background? What is the style of music? (Latin, Classical, Blues, Stride, etc.)

Why should we actively listen? To fully experience the emotions the music is expressing! Hear Haydn’s jokes 250 years after he wrote them ... they’re still funny. Experience the profound sadness Brahms felt when his mother died in his famous Horn Trio. Groove along with Elvis or Nat King Cole on the piano while they sing and play the blues. Actually hear the chord changes. Active listening let's us experience music on a deep, satisfying level.

Active listening tips…

- While listening, ask, “are there 4 or 3 beats in a bar?” (these are good basics beats to start with) and then count along. - Clap on beat 1 (or stomp your foot or nod your head… but feel that beat). - Clap on beat 1 & 3 or clap on beats 2 & 4. They are both important to be able to feel. - Try some clapping grooves while you listen.

o If there are 4 beats per bar … Clap


o If there are 3 beats per bar… Clap


What is the opposite of active listening? Passive listening. A few examples of everyday activities you probably engage in while passively listening to music include:

Eating Exercising Socializing Cleaning your home Commuting Riding an elevator

Passive listening is how many people listen to music most of the time and, while it can be nice, it doesn’t have the same effect on us that active listening does. Active listening not only makes you a better musician and it soothes the soul.

Listening Examples

YouTube is a fabulous listening resource. Pour a glass of your favourite beverage, sit in your favourite chair and actively listen to some of the music below (click on the title to go to YouTube). Clap or play along for more involvement!

The list is short (only 5 pieces) and it’s eclectic! It will give you a taste of active listening and may change how you approach the next live concert you attend.

1. Nat King Cole – Easy Listening Blues – This piano blues is in B flat – What are the I IV V chords in the B flat scale? If you can find them play them along with Nat. 2. Elvis Presley – You Ain’t Nothing But a Hound Dog - Blues in C. Find the I IV and V chords in the key of C and play along. Play them as sevenths for an even better sound. (C7, F7 and G7) 3. Haydn – String Quartet No 2 Op. 33 – nicknamed The Joke. Get caught up in the melody and see if you can hear the surprising twists, disconcerting silences and a concluding “false start”. You may be confused as to where to applause! 4. Brahms – Horn Trio Op 40 - an amazing piece but the third movement is impassioned and heartfelt. The trio was a tribute to his mother and in the third movement you can hear his devastation upon her death and if you listen closely… sobbing. Listen to the fourth movement to lift your spirits. 5. Simon and Garfunkel – Scarborough Fair – cool guitar riffs and harpsichord “counterpoint” (a new word for some… google it). Are the beats in groups of 3 or 4?

I hope you enjoy your active listening experience. What is your favourite music to actively listen too?


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