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The Most Underestimated Practice: Part 1 - Listen to Yourself

Updated: Nov 23, 2023

How wonderful it is to play a musical instrument! Any instrument. Practice, study, rehearsal, playing, performing, and so on - all of these are amazing and essential parts of the musical life. What is often overlooked, however, is the act of listening. I'm considering two specific types of listening:

  1. Listening to yourself

  2. Listening to music

It's surprising how many musicians I've encountered who don't listen to music at all. For me, this is quite inexplicable, especially if they are professionals.

Listening to yourself is a practice and a habit that must always be kept in mind. It's something that can easily be forgotten or not given enough attention. Most of the time, this oversight is connected to a lack of a clear goal. Practice can become a mechanical exercise, and without a musical goal, the expressivity of the music dramatically diminishes. It might seem like an easy task, but the truth is that it's one of the most challenging things to do consistently if not paid proper attention.

Guitar Tips

Why is it so difficult?

First of all, it requires your full attention and focus, which can be quite draining. You can't listen with half attention or have other thoughts in your mind, even if they are related to music. You have to be fully concentrated and observe, preferably without judgments at first. Music is like a landscape with many holes and mirages. You must be vigilant to ensure you're not heading into a trap!

This particularly happens when your technical skills have developed significantly. You can play faster, more accurately, and with more volume. All of these aspects impress the listener (and the musician) for obvious reasons and have their own special qualities. However, problems arise when the technical aspects completely overshadow the expressivity of the music, which is much more challenging and profound. This happens to everyone at some point and can occur for various reasons:

  • Too much emphasis on competitions and awards.

  • It's difficult and time-consuming to explain why a performance lacks musicality, while technical skills are immediately visible.

  • The internet and video sharing platforms don't always capture the nuances of expression unless you are a highly skilled player with good recording equipment and editing skills.

Regardless of the reasons, what's important is what we can do now, whether we're amateurs or professionals. I believe the first step is to incorporate into our practice routine some habits that can facilitate this process:

  • Sing

  • Ask yourself constant questions like: How do I want to play this passage? Where is the music going? What is the mood, sense, movement, etc., of it? How can I express its full potential?

  • Have clear and defined goals that you can work towards during your practice sessions.

One aspect that is not always kept in mind but is highly beneficial is the act of listening:

If you experience stage fright, anxiety, inner or external pressures, or difficulties with focus, you can make remarkable improvements by directing your attention to carefully listening to the music you are playing. You'll be surprised at how fully your brain can immerse itself in the music.

Stage fright, anxiety, and focus deserve specific attention, as there is much that every musician can do, and significant research and progress have been made to help performers. These are topics that were not explored enough just a few decades ago, and there is still much more that can be done.

The most important thing is that, once you get used to singing, listening, and deeply understanding a piece, you'll start to live the music you're playing. It completely changes as you begin to find joy in it, become a part of it, and love it. This is the most important aspect, the true gift.

Coming up, we will delve into the topic of listening to music!

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