The Art of Listening VS Hearing

When you are practicing or performing, are you just hearing the notes? Is your mind just taking stock of the events happening: “I hit the snare. I hit the cymbal.” This is all well and good, but it says nothing about the quality of the notes being played. Is your whole performance a veritable shopping list of all the notes you played? If it is, that's what it probably sounds like: a list.

This especially happens if you are playing off of sheet music. You start the piece and your brain mentally catalogs all the notes played. When you finish, you can say, “There, I played all the notes!” But is that enough?

You hear, but are you listening?

It's one thing to make a sound—anyone can do that on percussion! It's a completely different thing to make a quality sound, and even more so to string multiple sounds together in a way that makes music.

The Infinite Monkey Theorem
The infinite monkey theorem states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare. (Courtesy of Wikipedia) 

2B or not 2B? 

Now this is all a fanciful metaphor, but the same could be said about percussion: 

A 5-year old kid hitting a drum set for an infinite amount of time will almost surely play the drum part to (name your favorite song).

But the big question is: will it be music? As I stated earlier, anyone can play percussion and make a sound. It's not that difficult. The 5-year old kid could make quite a racket. But what about the quality of that sound?

When you play, don't just hear your notes, listen to them! 

Hearing is passive

We hear things around us all the time, like traffic, airplanes overhead, the train in the valley, children playing, electronics beeping—but we don't actually listen to them. 

Listening is active. 

When you listen, you hear the note, but you also notice the quality of the sound being made. You notice if it is soft or hard, loud or quiet, ringy or muffled, sharp or dull. And in listening you also notice that you are controlling these sounds you make.

Are you playing a sharp sound when a dull sound is called for? Are you out of time with the other musicians? Does your sound blend with the music? These are the type of things we need to actively listen for in order to play music and not just recite a list of notes.

But this all takes time to develop. Most of us are naturally used to hearing. Listening is a skill that needs to be worked on. The next time you practice or perform, listen to the notes you make. They don't live in a vacuum. They exist in this world and exist with the other notes around them. Notice the sound you are making and the quality of that sound. Notice especially if you are making it on purpose, or just hitting things.

~ MB

Deconstruct Yourself™


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