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Passive vs. Active Listening

Listening should be the cornerstone for any type of musical training.  Music is sound art.  Without knowing what has been accomplished, how can a student know what could be accomplished?

Intonation, rhythm, musicality, phrasing, tone, and artistry are just a few of the things we learn from listening to music.  But not all listening is equal.  It's important to understand the two main types in order to really make the experience effective.

Passive listening is having the piece or pieces you are learning going on in the background.  It could be a single piece or an entire set of repertoire your teacher expects you to become familiar with.  Passive listening should not be intrusive.  The music should be at a moderate to low volume so you can concentrate on other things.

The idea behind passive listening is to start learning the cadences and patterns to your piece.  It's similar to trying to learn a language.  If you have Spanish radio on you start to become comfortable with the ebb and flow of Spanish pronunciation.  Not every word needs to be understood.  Your brain is learning how to predict the patterns.

Active listening is listening with intention.  At this point you are either listening to a single piece or maybe just a single passage in a single piece.  The music should not only have your entire focus but there should also be something you are pointedly focusing on.  For example, trying to hear dynamics or trying to hear a particular pitch.

Active listening is a deeper study.  You know the piece and now it's time to figure out how to play the piece.  This same holds true for every craft.  Authors are not simply born with witty lines and a knack for describing action scenes.  These things must be studied and practiced.

Both types of listening are equally important.  Active listening loses its effectiveness if you're having to waste the type learning how your music goes.  And passive listening will never give you the level of detail you need to know in order to truly master a piece.  Both need to take place and both need to be just as important as time spent playing the instrument.


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