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Critical Listening Skills- How do you listen to your music?

Discussion in 'Sound Science' started by scottsmrnyc, Feb 9, 2009.
  1. Scottsmrnyc Contributor
    I am starting this thread so that we can share and find out more information about how our members listen to music.

    Please feel free to included any relevant topic.
    Such topics might be Listening Research, Mental Preparation, Sound Room Environment, Equipment levels, Mental Focusing Exercises. ETc

    I thought this would be a good idea for a new thread. Scottsmrnyc
  2. panda
    listening critically is not listening to music, it's analyzing sound and that is a waste of time in my book. if methods of doing that is what you're looking for, i can't help you. but if you want to know the best way to enjoy music, what i find works best for me is that i get myself into the mood for a great album and listen to it all the way through. have no distractions and play it loud!
  3. indydieselnut
    I'll respectfully disagree with panda and say that listening critically can be part of listening to music. I'm a classically trained cellist and part of my enjoyment in listening can be recognizing the difficulty of producing a certain tonal color or the way a performer executes a particularly difficult passage.

    This kind of listening carries over into the playback chain. Even when I'm immersed in the music I can revel in the way the system is resolving the sound of the friction between the rosined bow and the string. That's not "extra-musical" sound...it's part of the recording and the act of making the music.

    To answer the original question, here are a few things that are important to me:

    1. Lighting. It might seem trivial, but the light in the room is important to me and can even dictate what I'd like to listen to. If sunlight is streaming in the room I might want a Haydn cello concerto or the band Cake[​IMG] If I'm going to listen to Gorecki at night I might turn off all the lights and light a candle. This probably falls under "mental preparation".

    2. Seating comfort. I've done plenty of listening sitting on a hard piano bench when I'm recording a recital, but I'd certainly prefer a comfortable chair.

    3. Clean ears. Now this sounds funny, but I like to make sure I'm "properly groomed" before some serious listening. Something about feeling like a finely tuned machine helps[​IMG]

    4. Equipment. I need to MENTALLY feel like my equipment is operating at its peak. This comes back to the finely tuned machine part...

    When doing the actual listening, I envision the sound pouring like water into my ears (water that doesn't cause any problems with my hearing!). I attempt to relax into the music and I pay a lot of attention to my breathing. As I let myself sink into the recording these initial efforts fade into the background and become automatic. That's when really wonderful things start to happen! The emotional impact of the music carries its full power and I begin noticing new things - about the recording, about the performance, about the harmonic structure, chord progression, melodic line, counterpoint, etc. It can be revelatory to hear a piece you've heard (and played) a thousand times in a new light.

    So, there's my short answer[​IMG]

  4. Redcarmoose
    As with most grand human taskes, there has to be a major goal in mind. Some may say, just to enjoy the music and to have a break from everyday life is their goal. Some may have a goal to find out if the new remaster they have is an improvement or not. Maybe someone has the goal of understanding a piece that he or she has never before grasped.

    I would think the same room conditions are important. The time of day effects someones mood. The room light, the couch or chair. What I would say is the most important factor is the mood a person going into the experience. If the music is correct for the wanted effect the mood would be changed. If the person was only trying to figure somthing out there would be less emotion and hence critical thoughts only. A less critical way of hearing music could lend somone to have a deeper conection almost on a life-changing level. People on these forums are critical about the SQ but I would guess they are hearing the music with an emotional part of their mind for best results.

    There are groups of people now who are removing all other distractions from the person hearing the music. Much like the movie Altered States these people are finding a non-drug visual brain response. The effect is getting closer and closer to a lifechanging perception as to what is reality vs what could be the mental static.
    What could be headphones and music will be vastly different 100 years from now that's for sure.

    What most people forget is music is enjoyed in many different ways around the world. Each way is in relation to the culture as to what is correct. The use of mind expanding enhancements such as trance, high brain wave funtion due to music, magic and or drugs is the going method in many tribal music uses. This is their way of critical hearing.
    We at Head-Fi must seem very somber in relation to this tribal culture were the music, the history, and the ways are one.

    In alot of terms that is the same experience we are reaching for with these silly pads over our ears, to be alive, to be greater than just alive, to feel and see into the infinite. and to be changed forever by the musical experience.
  5. b0dhi
    I think some feedback mechanism is required to learn to improve one's aural acuity. I ABX once every few weeks to try and improve the bitrate at which I can tell differences in sounds. I find this to be excellent in improving focus and, once you get to the high bitrates, it can be a pretty reliable way of judging different equipment.

    It's unfortunate but once you begin to analyse music it can become a habit, and you find yourself listening to it less and analysing it more - whether you want to or not.
  6. krmathis Contributor
    Something like this:
    * Damped lighting.
    * Warm room.
    * Comfortable chair.
    * Footrest.
    * Whisky or red wine.

    Then put out some great music, lean back and relax/enjoy! [​IMG]
  7. Scottsmrnyc Contributor
    Wow we are certainly off to a great start. I particularly liked what Indydieselnut and Redcarmoose had to say; not taking away from the other contributors as well. Can anyone tell me if this area of discussion about Critical Listening Skills has ever been discussed before on Headfi?

    I love all forms of music but recently I have been listening heavily to classical music. In particular chamber music, string quartets, and solo piano and organ works. Basically Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Hayden. I particularly like how with the chamber music and string quartets the harmonies just fall logically into place. I think it is important to appreciate the technical mastery level of the artist(s) performing the pieces you are listening to.
    You should also have a working knowledge of what the composers intent was.
    A good reading of the liner notes within the CD, Vinyl etc is aways a good idea.
    Perhaps a quick google to get any extra information on the artists, composer and time period.
    You should also find the optimum levels for play back and adjust your audio equipment to those points.
    When listening to headphones, you should decide whether to use open ended or closed headphones.
    Find a time of the day in which you are free from mental issues; usually a good time to listen is in the Morning or late evening.
    Since people listen to there favorite cd's, vinyl etc on a regular basis; a listener can predetermine what he or she might want listening skill or nuance he or she wants to focus on in advance of the listening session.

    Looking forward to your ideas. Scottsmrnyc
  8. Scottsmrnyc Contributor
    I think this thread could be an excellent starting point for a great book. Scottsmrnyc
  9. indydieselnut
    It's interesting you mention this being the beginning of a good book...this thread reminds me a bit of the book "Casals and the Art of Interpretation". There's a lot of good stuff in there about critical thought and critical listening serving the final musical goal.

    Hey, don't wait for someone else to write it...go ahead and get the ball rolling! [​IMG]
  10. Maxvla Contributor
    I agree with much of what indy posted. I am a classically trained violist and also a luthier of classical orchestral instruments. Tone and balance is my job.

    Musicians hear and experience music on a completely different, but not necessarily better, level than non musicians. The first thing that comes with being a musician is being able to isolate and follow multiple musical lines at the same time. When I started learning the viola I had to develop my ability to hear every instrument section in the orchestra including winds/brass, etc, analyze what they were playing, and adjust my own playing to fit within the grand scheme.

    My mother is the polar opposite to me since she isn't a musician, she says she just takes the song at face value and enjoys the melody. She knows there is harmony and rhythm in the music, but she simply can't follow it. The ironic thing for me is that I often almost ignore the melody in favor of the harmony and rhythm as I find it much more fascinating than a relatively simple melody.
  11. synaesthetic
    1) put headphones on
    2) select artist and album
    3) push "play"
  12. mark_h Contributor
    I always find I enjoy (hear more of the) music at night?!?
  13. Fitz Contributor

    Originally Posted by krmathis /img/forum/go_quote.gif
    Something like this:
    * Damped lighting.
    * Warm room.
    * Comfortable chair.
    * Footrest.
    * Whisky or red wine.

    Then put out some great music, lean back and relax/enjoy! [​IMG]

    My process is fairly similar...

    * Equipment warmed up ahead of time
    * Relaxed mood
    * Late afternoon or early evening
    * Lights dimmed to near minimum
    * Speakers turned up to "real" levels
    * NO DISTRACTIONS (hell hath no fury like an audiophile interrupted)
  14. moogoob
    My process:
    -turn on Micro Stack
    -sit on bed
    -queue up iTunes playlist/album on turntable/CD in transport
    -put on 325is
    -hit play/place needle on record
    -turn out lights (switch is behind me)
    -turn volume up until I'm feeling the music rather than straining to listen to it, adjust as needed for song/album
    -enjoy! [​IMG]

    I'm more intuitive than analytical, so "critical" listening for me is getting the maximum emotional response from music. [​IMG]
  15. indie_obsessed
    Just before i sleep, i'll yank out my headphones, and play some music according to what i feel like listening to at the moment. When i'm sad, i'll listen to mellow ones etc. I'll immerse myself in them, sometimes thinking i'm in a music video. Everything in tandem with the beat, with the lyrics and the mood of the song. I listen to the different instruments, the interlaying vocals and just the harmony that transcends through and around me. I feel completely alone, physically, but transported to another world where i'm with the music artist. This is all done in the dark, on my bed, in my room.

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