This summer, I’ve been growing a vegetable garden. My students already know this – I can never resist sharing what kind of tomatoes or peppers have been getting ripe, or what kind of critters have been taking bites out of my lettuce plants. Like any proud plant parent, I wonder every day if I’ve given them enough water. And it got me thinking that, for those of us learning to make music, listening to music is a way we can “water” our growing musical skills.
One of the things I enjoy most about teaching virtually is how easily my students and I can swap favorite songs. I have learned so much about the music my students enjoy. First of all, it’s just fun to get out of my usual listening routines and try something new. Secondly, I love helping people learn to play their favorite music on the violin or viola.
It is easy to listen to music without knowing exactly what one is listening to.
There are hours-long playlists and radio stations that select music for you based on formulas. I grew up listening to CDs, and one of my firsts was a three-disc collection called “Essential Classics.” I don’t even remember all of the pieces that were on it, and by the way, who decided what was “essential”?
I challenge myself and my students to listen mindfully. To know what we’re listening to, on a daily basis, and to have some way of keeping track of those songs and pieces that have made an impression. My music teachers are the ones who encouraged me to do this growing up, and I hope I can pass on that awareness.
Because what we listen to, even in the background, is what we draw on to form our own musicality.
Here are a few ideas that have helped me listen mindfully: Have a “listening journal.” It could be a playlist, a folder, an electronic document, a notebook, a note, or a piece of paper. Send music you’re enjoying to friends. Explore new artists and genres outside of your usual listening habits. Read a little bit about the artist’s background. Go to live or livestreamed concerts. Follow favorite artists and venues on social media. Jot down the first few notes to your favorite song on manuscript paper or in composition software.
What are you listening to and how are you listening these days? If you’d like to, please share in the comments below!