Listening between the lines

Tips on how to appreciate music

By Steven McKeown
On October 30, 2015

When it comes to listening to music, everyone’s taste is different. Some wait all week so they can go to Hastings and buy the album they have been waiting for. Others dig into their grandparents’ old stuff for vinyl records that are not on the radio anymore. And then, there are those who scroll along on their smartphones through online music stores, downloading the most popular songs. Likely everyone enjoys music, but have they learned to appreciate it? People can always “brush up” on music history and dive deep into the soil of what music is all about. Here is how to do so.

Listen to Music on Different Formats
So, music is music, right? It all just sounds the same. Before thinking all is fine with having one favorite song, try to think of how the artist meant for it to sound. Try listening to music on different formats such as CD, vinyl or even cassette. There is a different experience with each format. CDs are going to sound crisp most of the time, while vinyl records and cassette tapes are going to have more of a rough feel. Whichever format is chosen, listen as much as possible. One may find themselves hearing the song a little bit differently.

See Albums as Whole Compositions
Think of musical albums as whole compositions. Music is, after all, a work of art. And a work of art, no matter how large or small it is, is a complete piece. Listening to albums can be like reading books, or watching movies. Each song on an album can be seen as a chapter from a book, a scene from a movie, or even a brush stroke on a painting. Whichever way, each song on an album plays a part and together all of the tracks blend in to a big picture. Consider album art as well. An album cover contributes to the theme of the album it represents. According to Michael Williams, a student and small- time musician, albums “compile songs in a book of sorts.”

Study the Context of the Music
Sometimes it is not just the music that has meaning. Sometimes it is the inspiration behind the music, or what helped that music come to life. Do some research that will lead to discovering why and how those musicians make music the way they do. That little bit of information enhances the power of a particular song or album. Sometimes, it’s that little bit of context that allows better appreciation.

Read Liner Notes and Lyrics
The music is great. It’s catchy and it’s got a good beat, but what is it about? After getting an album, find out what each track is about. Read lyrics or liner notes about the artist. These are usually included in CD booklets; if not, just go online. One may learn much more about the song. The artists have something to say and they want people to know what it is.

Listen for Specific Elements of Music
When one listens to their favorite songs, do they listen to the voices of the singers? Do they listen for the guitar or drum solos? It’s fun to listen to the favorites and pick out one great part, but it’s even more fun to try to hear every little sound that is going on. Pick one of songs. Find out which instruments are played and then try to hear them all. There might be a violin one has never heard before, or some brass hidden behind a solo. Listen for the specific elements in music, including the harmonies and the melodies. Listen to chord progressions. Another tip that might help, as suggested by Dr. Timothy Bonenfant, is to “listen to music while you’re doing nothing else.”

Apply it
Whether one is listening to The Beatles or Katy Perry, there is always something extra to appreciate in music. It may be the context, instruments or lyrics. The key is to take the time to listen, and perhaps one may approach all kinds of music with a more open mind.

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