How Do You Listen To Music?


How do you listen to music? Do you listen analytically, trying to dissect it into its component parts? Do you listen impressionistically, letting it roll over you like waves? Do you lock into the beat or sing along to the melody? What in the sounds draws you in and keeps you there? Is this where you want to be? If not, where do you want to be?

I approach a music by feel, at least at first. After just a few moments I have a sense of whether the sounds are moving me or not. I should but don’t give the music the benefit of the doubt—it needs to prove itself and make its case to me, swiftly and with conviction. The music must take a stance and weave its magic sooner rather than later or else there won’t be a later. When I listen I’m hoping to experience a sense of enchantment, wonder, magic, surprise, epiphany, connection, and insight. I’m an impatient listener, but if the music is interesting I’ll bring to it everything I’ve ever heard, marshaling my past listening to bear on the now. We’re in this shared present together and I want the music to work.

Once a music has proved its interestingness, it can get comfortable, make itself at home (free to open my fridge and have a snack, but don’t touch the Icelandic yogurt) and hang out with me. I’ll be re-listening to it from time to time, sitting down with its sounds and asking questions through my noticing. As I get to know the organization and contours of the music I’ll ask it to reflect on why it went here and not over there—how it came to be. Sometimes the music will be mum on the matter, and other times it will open up. “This seemed like the most sensible course” it might say. “I mean, one can only repeat something for so long. I had to change and evolve because I want to keep your attention.” I keep prodding: But did you know in advance you’d turn out like this? The music pauses, pondering the implications of my question and sensing that I want to know more than it’s designed to reveal. “Well no. A music never knows beforehand how it’ll go.”

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