"How to Really Listen to Music
By Rachel Ament
August 22, 2019
An untrained listener’s guide.
During my hour-long commute home from work, when I’m too tired to even listen to podcasts, I listen to music. More often than might be healthy, I listen to Lana Del Rey, as she cycles through her doomy refrains about how her life is over, she’s filled with poison, she’s running like mad to heaven’s door. With their frothy melodrama, Lana’s songs tend to match my postwork mood so precisely that it doesn’t feel like listening at all. I don’t have to concentrate or pull myself in. I am already there. Listening, for most of us, doesn’t feel like doing anything. It’s more of a sensation than activity, a dreamy, ill-defined feeling stretching through us. We’re often not aware we are doing it, or even fully conscious. We literally—when we forget to shut off the television or our Spotify playlists—do it in our sleep.
But sometimes I wonder what would happen if we listened harder, or better, or more rigorously. This might seem exhausting. Am I incapable of relaxing? Probably. But music scholars insist that if we listened to music the way a musician would, understanding how notes trigger feelings, how tones take on their own textures and meanings, then we might experience something more visceral and expansive. We could push deeper into every song.
I reached out to various musicians and music scholars to gather some insights about how nonmusicians like myself could select and listen to music more intentionally. Below is a quick, beginner’s guide to what I learned...."
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