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  • Dear Musician- Making Music Makes You A Better Listener

    What do you think?

    By Dendy Jarrett | (edited)


    We’re literally bombarded with music stimulus today. It’s everywhere from your phone to the elevator…even restrooms. There are two types of listening: active and passive.


    Active listening takes place when we are making an effort to hear something; in other words, we’re paying attention.


    Passive listening means we hear it, but we’re not really (actively) paying attention. My wife says I’m a master at passive listening. You know when she says, “Are you listening to me?” But then I am able to (actively) repeat back what she said verbatim—but she claims it’s passive listening. Yet I digress!


    What’s true about society is that because, we are indeed so bombarded, we’ve all become masters at passive listening.


    Musicians, however, may possess a unique skill of being able to "actively passively" listen. Sounds convoluted? Musicians develop skills over time while playing music whereby they must listen to other musicians and their instruments, as well as song lyrics. The art of listening is honed over time from this interactive process that requires listening to sounds from multiple sources that all channel together to create music.


    Just like exercise develops muscles and practicing your instrument makes you a better player, we inadvertently, through the activity of making music, are also exercising our aural synapsis. We as musicians are teaching ourselves to become better listeners. We are fine-tuning the ability to hear multiple sources of sound, and our brain processes all of the stimuli into a single train of thought.


    When we listen, our goals are to be able to obtain information, understand, and learn (in addition to listening for enjoyment).


    Playing with other musicians teaches us how to hone listening skills that will serve in all other areas of life:


    • Paying Attention – When playing with a group of musicians, you learn to put away distraction. You learn that listening is a key element of the communication (even unstated) that it takes to be a good musician.
    • Acknowledgement – Part of being a great musician is the ability to convey through eye contact that you are listening to the other musicians. It will be apparent that you are listening because the others see you making eye contact with them.
    • Providing Feedback and Responses – As a musician, you learn not to “step on” other people’s parts. You learn that rests are as important as notes. You also learn how to clarify how songs are structured and work out differences of opinions through listening to one another. You’ll also learn quickly that you catch more flies with honey (as they say), meaning you learn to craft good communication skills, and you also learn to pick your battles. You learn through listening how to defer judgment and how to respond appropriately.


    When I was a young man, my father would often say, “You were born with two ears and one mouth, and it was intended that you use them in that proportion.” While I knew at the time it was his way of telling me to quit talking and listen to him, I still reflect on that statement to this day.


    I think as a musician you have to be a good listener in order to refine your craft. I believe that the more we open our ears, the more elements within the music we hear. Better listeners often become better people in much the same way better listeners become better musicians. Does making music make you a better listener? We say yes! So, listen up—be inspired to go make better music!  -HC-








    Dendy Jarrett is the Publisher and Executive Director of Harmony Central. He has been heavily involved at the executive level in many aspects of the drum and percussion industry for over 25 years and has been a professional player since he was 16. His articles and product reviews have been featured in InTune Monthly, Gig Magazine, DRUM! and Modern Drummer Magazines.




    Edited by Dendy Jarrett

    Sub Title: What do you think?

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    Listening is an art form of little cognitive appreciation. We are all dispassionately reared by it, meaning, "From the moment I could talk I was ordered to listen." (Cat Stevens - Father and Son). Or, commanded another way: "Pay attention!", and even though free, it did have the toll of the unspoken preface: "Shut-up and..." that left all who felt its inference in a lesser spirit.

    In music, though, I become a soldier for the art of listening. The (inner) ear commands the movement of the hands. It's strictly cart(ears)>horse(hands).


    In the forums I read the trend is to (obliviously) defer the ears to the eyes, meaning, listening has become a distant companion to learning, at best, as people buy their guitars, a chord chart and then begin seeking tablature. They want to play music immediately without aural training on the fret board.


    In a recent post on a forum I read about a man in his 60s who'd been playing for 40+ years. He said he had no idea what he was doing and could not create his own melodies. This man never trained his ear to listen. Without that skill the hands are without a director.

    Listening is crucial to creating music. If all a person cares to do is play by eye alone (tab/score) then they will be all the poorer for it.


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