Culture & Society

Art Of Listening And Not Just Hearing Music

Scientifically, it is proven that “listening” to music increases blood flow to brain regions that generate and control emotions

Photo via Getty
Photo via Getty
“Listening is the key to everything good in music” --Pet Metheny

Everything in life has got a deep sense of reasoning. Whatever we are, however, the universe is made, there is a strong reason for every element for the way it is built. It is up to individual belief whether we call it chemical reaction, god’s will or anything else. Establishing a connection between the human mind and music, many experiments are undertaken. While music gives us a deeper sense of calmness, researchers are trying hard to establish the tangible connect for the whole world to give the art of listening to music a scientific reasoning.

As a general human nature, we tend to confuse between hearing and listening. When parents keep hammering values through words in children, most of the time, it is laughed off, because the children are just hearing repeated words instead of hidden gyaan in them. The same goes for parents also, when a child tries to communicate through his crying or nagging, even parents shrug it off. Most often our teachers are misunderstood or rather not understood at all, because their constant pointers of studying is often heard with no intention of imbibing the knowledge in our lives. Bosses are another species whose words are never taken seriously but only heard with an intention of the gab to get over sooner than possible. So, when does one genuinely pay attention and “listens” to what is preached?

Interestingly, listening to music is one act which does not need preaching and yet is understood by most, if not all, in the easiest manner. But here again, do we listen to music or just hear it as a filler while we do the remaining hundred tasks?

Scientifically, it is proven that listening to (or making) music increases blood flow to brain regions that generate and control emotions. The limbic system, which is involved in processing emotions and controlling memory, “lights” up when our ears perceive music. As Indian, we are exposed to many traditional, classical and popular forms of music from across states and regions from the length and breadth of our country. Hence “I love music” is one of the most loosely used terms. An average human being does appreciate melody but appreciating music for its entirety is nothing less than appreciating an art piece.

Do we need to attend any class or course to appreciate nuances of music?

The instant response would be a smile, isn’t it? But think aloud and we realise that appreciating the art of listening to music is indeed an acquired taste and is not served on a platter but comes only with constant practice. So, in that sense of the word, yes one needs to attend a few sessions of guided listening. But do we need to visit any expert or course? Not really.

Not everyone who appreciates the art of listening is musically learned. Books and methods of learning music help in appreciating nuances of different genres and styles, but an innate appreciation of music requires a deeper sense of love for music and that can be developed with conscious efforts.

Five simple ways to appreciate listening to good music

Start Simple

In one quote, Duke Ellington says: “Stop listening to music in categories. The music is either good or it’s bad,”

Like any other art, one cannot become an expert in a day or cannot attain PhD in the first shot. It’s a slow and simmering process which one must love and cannot be forced upon. If you enjoy listening to music, start with any genre or format which you love the most, without getting judgmental. For us Indians, Indian film music has solved this problem by great deal. Indian films have always been smiled at for being only “Song and Dance” and we should be proud of it. Films and film music is one thread that binds us all. Film music blends multiple styles, melody, rhythm, poetry and technology well and probably most easily understood by all. So, while you might use that as a starter pack, you might become a pro in appreciating film music which itself is a vast subject.

For Once, Do Not Multi-task

The fast-paced twenty-first century has conditioned us to be in multiple places, mentally, at one time. It is good to receive accolades at work or attain more grades on competitive exams. But even to achieve the art of multi-tasking, we start from one single point.

For the art of listening to good music, doing a single task at a time is appreciated. Spend time with your music, tend to it, pay attention to every second of the track you are listening to. Create a discipline for yourself and fix a dedicated time just to enjoy your favourite music with mindful listening. You can start with 15 mins to begin with and slowly let the process time increase naturally. As the common saying goes, when one likes doing what they are doing, one doesn’t have to work at all. Do not force yourself but love the process and slowly let the time of listening increase naturally. The effects will be immense.

Be Your Own Teacher First

Rome was not built in a day, so give yourself time. Start with your favourite tracks and decode it musically as much as you can. Every composition, whether film music or otherwise are always layered with multiple instruments orchestration, Try and identify the instruments used, singers style of singing and understand the rhythm. Co-relate the track you are listening to, with something similar you have heard before.

Today we are in a good place where multiple resource platforms are available. Try listening to one track on different platforms, this will help you appreciate recording styles and quality as well. Get beyond the regular listening and try getting into the nuances of melody, rhythm, production quality and audio experience which will expand your horizon of appreciation on its own.


Listen, Listen and Listen

The only solution to appreciate the art of listening is, listening itself. In the world of instant gratification, appreciating art will consume time. Yes, it cannot be acquired in a day, but once you acquire the taste of deep appreciation, there is no looking back.

Find Your Tribe

Once you start enjoying the process of appreciating nuances in compositions, spread the joy! Appreciating good music is a niche art and will be reciprocated by niche groups. It’sa limited edition but not rare. There are several Guided Listening groups which appreciate nuances of every composition in various genres. Pick your genre, meet like-minded friends and exchange notes. Knowledge is gained only when the knowledge is shared. And once you find your tribe, stick to it and enjoy the unexplainable experience of listening.


In the end, all I can say is music is much more than just 12 notes. It has the capacity to heal, relax and awaken spiritually. Each music lover might not be a singer, but every music lover is and can become a great listener, so what are you waiting for?

Start enjoying your music, musically.

(Kalpana Swamy is with MUZICALLI-A Film Music Appreciation Club)

(Views expressed are personal)