Thursday, April 30, 2015

Intentional Listening

Happy #ThrowbackThursday, comrades!

  Just went up the street to drop some stuff off at the thrift store....annnd wound up getting some cool jazz records.

  As is human nature, I've been justifying my obsession with collecting music, and I've stumbled onto a cool idea that I'd like to share with you.  I think it can improve both your musicianship and your life (and at the very least, make me feel OK about all the crazy records.)

  What if you looked at music the way nutritionists look at food?  You know the food pyramid, with the recommended daily servings of the different food groups?  What if you did that with music?

  I've been telling this idea to a few comrades this week, and wanted to share it with you.  What if you tried to listen to at least five styles of music each day?  (So far, I'm on track.  I woke up to the classical radio station, blasted some Franz Ferdinand, was studying and building a Run DMC beat in my studio, put on a Motown record, listened to Poets of the Fall - pop rock from Finland - and now have Billy Taylor spinning on the classroom turntable.  He's jazz, and I've never heard him before.  Wow, what an album!)

  I'm intrigued with this idea of intentional, or active listening. One of the first questions I ask my guitar students is "what have you been listening to?"  Most people, myself included, listen to what's there, be it on the radio, the iPhone, or whatever we put on our playlist a few months ago.

  I'd encourage you to go beyond, and watch your musical diet.  Listen to what you like, and keep adding stuff.  I hope that I'm right when I say "you are what you hear."  Of course, this wouldn't explain why I can't play Mozart, but I like to think that, deep in my musical mind, there's a bit of everything that I listen to.

  Our intention can be to hit a balance, like the five styles a day, it can be a research, as in "I'm going to add some gypsy jazz elements to my playing, so first I'll add it to my listening", or it can be an all-consuming study, as it was with most of my family when we discovered Stevie Ray Vaughan...and got a ton of his bootleg recordings.

  The point is - try paying attention to how you listen to music, and see what happens.

  As I was visiting with my father, and we discussed 1960's tunes as a Beatles record played, he made the point of how lucky we are to have access to recordings.  Imagine being a composer before you could listen to music on the radio or any sort of recording.  Here we have a shelf of priceless knowledge that we can access any time we like.  Want to know how Beethoven would put some chords together?  Go ask him!  (listen.)  Wondering about cool snare drum sounds and how they evolved over the years?  Listen to Elvis, The Temptations, Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, and Pharrell Williams.  They're all there, and we can learn from them anytime we like.

So...have fun listening!  I always learn a lot when I do.  And try that 5-style a day experiment and see how it works.  If you haven't already, download a free Spotify account to access pretty much any song ever.

- Josh

         (My living room, being taken over by my record collection!)

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