Why are the words connected? What's with the single "L" in the middle?
As a separate entity, listening gets its own attention as a technique, a foundation of what we do, a fundamental. So much so that we have entire courses dedicated to it. They are called ear training and aural skills. AURAL SKILLS! That says it all right there. SKILLS....TECHNIQUE... LISTENING - a discipline unto its own, a technical word, synonymous with other technical words.
Just want to drive this home because we can also accept, I hope, that listening is also very emotional. Our feelings, our experiences, our memories, our emotions just in general affect our listening, affect how we listen, affect what we choose to listen to, affect how much we remember of what we listened to, and can even affect what we hear period.
Emotions affect the very nature of the sound, the very fabric making up of the sound as we interpret it.
Yes sound is interpreted, not collected like water in a bucket. Listening then becomes a singular dichotomy. It is one thing, listening, taking in the whole singular sound. Yet, it is also two things at the same time. It is interpreting very fundamental things that have a center like pitch, dynamics, tempo and beat. It is also weighing, comparing and interpreting the artistic and creative aspects of color, tone, phrasing etc. And so if listening is emotional, and listening is a fundamental technique, at the same time, then my question becomes what other fundamental techniques can be emotional? What are the emotions of the other fundamental techniques? What, about other techniques, makes them a singular dichotomy? Shifting, string crossings, double stops, slurs, bowings, detache, martele, etc etc the list goes on and you could make your own list for your instruments specific techniques. Listening is closely linked to music making because it closely links the things that make music. Why not have a spelling that reflects that?
Yes listening is closely linked to music making, understatement of the ages. I listen and I make improvements. I put emotions and music making into my playing. They are two things and yes they are powerful together, I am listening and I hear it. Thus, the outgrowth of this is that I have a musical performance that affects the audience, they are listening and they hear it. No surprises here. But is that linkage a power we can harness for improvement? Can our brains really tie together this kind of complication in a way that we can utilize it as a tool?
Correct, to say Listening and Music making are closely linked is a gross understatement. They are one, they are integrated, but how do we know that they are integrated? Why are they integrated and why should we care in the first place?
You can't create aural art without aural ability, right? Well you can't unless you are Beethoven and spent your entire life before deafness attaining that ability and the supporting skills. Ok there's one exception, and it's a powerfully important one because, HOW?! What Beethoven didn't hear first hand from the sound waves bouncing off the walls or through the floor from his piano, he heard 1st hand in his mind. He learned to do that. He learned to hear internally what it would sound like harmonically and what it would feel like emotionally when heard in the physical world. That is the genius of great composers, that is the ability of our brains to learn, and the power of our brains to smoothly meld seemingly un-meld-able stuff.
Thus.. my weird spelling comes from the need to reflect what is really going on. It reflects the strange meld of the togetherness, the relatedness, the integration of this powerful internalization, this learned skill.
What is musicalistening?
If listening is always two things at once, if it is always a singular dichotomy, then it is not enough to just listen or just be musical. If you want to improve, if you want to get better, if you want to see your technique move forward, you must musically listen.
When you are practicing you must be your own self-analyzer. You are the producer, the artist, the engineer, the analyst, the critic, all of it. Are you producing what you know to be valuable and entertaining? If I decide to just be musical.. well who knows, maybe something good comes, maybe it doesn't.
I don't mean to word-smith and split hairs. I am using these two phrases, musical-listening and just be musical, to juxtapose and present an idea, to make a distinction. The idea is that there is a difference between
- Just being full of musical energy and exploding onto the audience, or exploding into the instrument
- Proactively listening to what you are doing and assessing while you are exploding onto the audience.
Exploding isn't bad, in fact it's important that at the end of all this we do that very thing, release all of our musical energy into the instrument, unleash it on the audience, and just be musical. When we are learning though, when we are trying to teach ourselves in the practice room, that is something different. Learning a musical instrument in the absence of music though is folly. Great artist don't paint a full picture in black and white and then color it in later. Why do we? Well... we love layers, we love process, we love steps. What's not to love? These thing bring order and efficiency to our lives. Step 1, step 2 step 3 etc. Do this, then do that, then go here. Easy.
Who hasn't heard this analogy, "Build the foundation, then put the frame on the foundation, and then put the house around the frame." Love it! Can't get enough right? So easy and clean and neat and because its so easy and clean and neat we use it to teach and learn music. In fact we have used it so much that we can't help but use it. Go ahead and try this week talking about learning music. Try talking about foundation and fundamental without separating music and without separating music from technique. How did you do? It is engrained in us because it was engrained in the people who taught us and the people who taught them. There is one slight problem though.
A foundation, frame and house siding is not a living organism. It does not have to factor in executing precise actions based on muscle tissue moving in time to a beat, which is reacting to and following the orders of a 8 pound hunk of fat full of chemicals and electrical impulses that are reacting to and interpreting little black dots sprayed on the page by a 19th century deaf person who thinks they can hear. No a house does not do this, and thus a human, a learning human, needs something else.
In that learning space, you must musically listen while you are playing. It's not a "later thing" or an "add on". It's a necessary fundamental that should come at the beginning along with all the other fundamentals we know and love. *When I musically listen, something is different. I am focused, I am proactive, I am executing the plan and getting the desired outcomes.
Why Muiscal-"Listening"? Why not MusicalHeart? Or MusicaLemotions or MuiscalCello? If its all about emotions and learning why not these or some other something that cuts straight to the heart of emotions and pedagogy?
Ours is an aural discipline. Its not visual, its not physical (although there are important physical aspects to playing an instrument and singing). We deal in sounds, we paint in sounds, we interpret through the aural landscape of this world. Therefore Listening is universal to all music, everywhere, and so I believe there is something universal to musicalistening. It is something that we all, no mater our specific musical discipline, must do to improve.
Understatement of the millennium right....?
Well, the paradox of this whole thing though is that I can without meaning to, turn it into a visual thing, a physical thing. Meaning, I focus on the parts I can see, being overly visual, and focus on the parts I can feel, overly physical. There are actually so many things besides the aural to focus on that it is a real danger in learning a musical instrument. Even now I am focusing on the learning/practicing part. This is a discipline all unto itself and because of that we can spend an exorbitant amount of time on it. There is always the danger of completely ignoring the actual sound. In fact I think I have spent most of my musician life just being musical, overly visual, overly physical, and not focusing on the aural, not really listening. By accident or shear talent It has served me well I have to admit. I have made it into the profession as a teacher and so there must be something to it however stumbled upon it is. But I also think about all the progress I wish I had made on my instrument, I think about how it confuses people when they realize how bad my intonation is and how lacking my sense of pitch is, how long it takes me to learn things.
MusicaL-Listening acts as a permanent reminder of where my focus should be, what this art form, my chosen discipline, is all about. I come to this idea anew all the time. I think I am listening, I think I have finally gotten to where I need to be, and then all of a sudden I realize I have never really listened. I come to some new level of listening, some deeper level of listening and everything is new and unknown.
How do I know if I am really Listening? or I am Listening, I know I am, this is not new information, I need to get back to practicing my technique or Umm... you just overstated the obvious, why should I bother to keep reading?
You, I, we, are in this discipline of music, playing the same pieces over and over again, playing and listening to the same songs over and over again because each time we come to them we get something new out of it. That is the power, wonder and joy of great music. A great piece of music isn't on the spectrum of music it is not one cog in the great machine of classical music. A great piece of music is singularly and solely unto itself a spectrum waiting to be experienced. Listening is a spectrum in that way, we are all on it in different places and I don't think there is a limit to the depth you can go in one lifetime.
I made a statement at the end of the previous section that I would like to update
*When I musically listen though, something is different. I am focused, I am proactive, I am executing the plan and getting the desired outcomes, I am making decisions.
The cycle of decision making and subsequent outcome is the vehicle that takes us to new depths of listening. I have written about this topic in two blog post you can read here if you like.
Decisions, Decisions, Decisions and in the post on Shifting there is a section devoted to Decisiveness. To see the YouTube Video where I talk about decisiveness click here Decisiveness in Cello Shifting.
Ok, Listening is special, really special. So why not just call it "Listening"?
We are specifically talking about the discipline of music, music is the fuel that powers the listening. We are musicians, we are musicologist, audiophiles, aficionados of music. The music is the whole point of doing it and so music is the rocket fuel that ignites the listening. It is the emotional thing that fuels the emotional part of listening when it comes to listening to music in an emotional way.
The other reason to connect them and spell the funny word is to point to something really important. There is something in our music world that doesn't get pedagogy, or even a nod or a mention nearly often enough. That is, the discipline of learning itself. So more specifically, we are talking about the discipline of how to learn music and even more specifically specifically (is that even a thing - yes that can be a thing, its the internet😉) specifically specifically how to learn the discipline of learning a musical instrument. Yes the learning part, the practicing part, is a discipline all its own besides the actual performing part, and it is a discipline you must learn to master. I think thats why playing an instrument is so hard sometimes. What other discipline in the world makes you learn how to learn it?
I get it, MusicaL-Listening or MusicaListening. So where do I, where do we go from here?
If you are still reading at this point then you know there is something in you that you could be using more to help improve your playing. Or maybe you know there has been something all along in you, in all of us that has not been tapped yet in this way, that hasn't been utilized to its full potential and that's why you are still here. Thank you for being here. I am here for the same reason, I am on this journey of discovery with you to figure out what I have been missing out on, to see if I can tap into what is there. You know as well as I do though, it's not a magic pill. You still have to do all those things that we must do, you must stop and analyze and make decisions in a slow intentional way, you must get out the metronome and/or drone pitch, you must listen to recordings play along to recordings, do score study, all that stuff. And.... and ... you must do musicalistening. You must musically listen to yourself as you practice. It's the only way and maybe it's the missing ingredient for you. The mistake we make as musicians, and we as teachers make the mistake far too often, is to think of music as something layered on top at the end. I don't think it should be that way. Again, it's not a magic potion or an excuse to shirk off the nitty gritty details, but instead one in the list of fundamental techniques. Music is a fundamental, not an extra, its not the coloring at the end of practicing the black and white outline. Music is a part of the black and white outline from the outset, from the beginning, and it is part of the color at the end. I think you already know that, I think that is why you are still here with me at this point. I want to say to you that you are right, and you are not alone. I feel the same way, and I am with you. I am thinking about you, and I hope this helps you.