What is Active Listening?
Most of us listen to music every day. Or do we? Having music on in the background (passive listening) is very different to really focusing on the music and doing nothing else (active listening). It’s like the difference between having a picture on the wall behind us in a room that we use, and sitting in front of the picture and taking time to look at it carefully. It is very rare that we sit and really listen to music, but it is a wonderful thing to do. There are several different ways we can try this. Here are some tips.
- Find the best speakers in the house, or the best headphones. You cannot use laptop, pad or phone speakers, or other small speakers with no bass, there is no point.
- Sit exactly in between the speakers and ask that no-one disturbs you while you are listening.
- Try to forget about everything else that is going on, close your eyes if that helps and focus all of your attention on what you hear.
- You might feel the urge to get up and do something else, you might feel boredom or restlessness; that’s ok -it’s normal. But there is no hurry, you can spend a few minutes doing this. Practice feeling content to do nothing else. It’s a kind of Mindfulness.
Try these 4 examples, then feel free to try any music, although some will work better than others (it’s hard to listen to songs without focusing on the words). I will put more up each week.
Different way to listen and analyse:
- Draw sounds, shapes and patterns to represent the sounds that you hear (try to avoid drawing objects). Have a look at what the artist Kandinsky did (search online).
- Think about -who, what, when, where, how? why does this music exist, where in the workd did it come from and what was it made for?
- Clear your mind and think nothing at all, just listen.
- Narrative: if this was the music to a film, what would be happening?
- Technical: is it major or minor (or neither)? What is the time signature? Which instruments are used? What is the structure?
Exercise: spend 5 minutes each day listening to the sounds around you. Maybe from your garden or somewhere that you can hear more distant sounds. How many can you hear? How many different species of birds can you hear? Can you listen really hard and notice sounds that you have never been aware of before?
A Graphic Score uses symbols to represent sounds as they occur in time. This is different from a Kandinsky-type picture because we are trying to put sounds on a time-line. Many Graphic Scores mark off time (every 10 seconds for example). Have a look at this example of a score of ‘Dawn Interlude’ from an opera called ‘Peter Grimes’ by British Composer Benjamin Britten. Listen to the music at the same time (it’s only 3 and a half minutes long) can you follow the score and work out which sounds go with which shape or symbol?
Dawn Interlude (youtube link)
Why not create your own Graphoc Score for one of the listening examples above, or try another piece of music? You will find it much easier to use quite simple music without too much going on. You can choose which symbols, shapes and colours to use.