Let’s suppose you are practicing regularly and effectively, and your technique is feeling great. At your next gig, however, you have difficulty coming up with ideas, and the ones you do have sound stale. You feel disconnected to the music and your instrument. Why? Finding myself in this situation recently, I spoke with a fellow musician about it. He asked me, “Are you listening?” What an impactful question!
If you are not listening to recordings as part of your regular routine, you are missing an important link in the musical process.
And it is not just for the obvious (and significant) benefit of learning the sounds and vocabulary of the masters:
• When practicing, we are listening carefully to what we are playing, but it is such a narrow, and necessarily narcissistic, type of listening.
• Getting on the bandstand with our ears calibrated in this fashion can result in a non-cohesive performance.
• Making music with others involves a much broader listening focus, and recorded music prepares us for this.
How you listen is important, though. With digital media, it’s too easy to become distracted by the open laptop. Don’t start browsing and checking email!
• Create dedicated time, free from distractions, in which you can listen intently.
• Listening with other people is quite effective as you can highlight what moves you and discuss it.
Music is a collaborative effort that requires inspiration. Listening to recordings regularly (or live music of course!) will keep your ideas fresh and your ears in the right place for making the best music you can.