Concentrated listening. How to improve your listening ability to music. Page 2 

2. Music listening. The listening position and the room.

First of all, you need a calm and quiet listening room. Concentrated listening involves a clear focus and if you cannot achieve silence in your favourite listening position, I would suggest that you use headphones. For optimal quality use, for example the new Sennheiser HD 800. (They are a clear improvement over the older HD 650 model, especially with some extra felt damping around in the very big ear cup). These headphones are a so-called open type headphone and have the "disadvantage" of a less-than-perfect sound isolation. If this is an important factor in your listening environment you could, instead choose a closed type of headphone. To achieve an even better headphone listening experience, I would suggest investing in a headphone amplifier that is constructed in such a way as to blend the right and left channels in a complex way. For more information on this amplifier look up With this unique filter the otherwise unnatural headphone soundstage will become more like the normal "over the loudspeakers" listening experience. (Let me add that I am in no way affiliated with either Sennheiser or Holographic Audio. They have just impressed me with their products over many years of listening).



If you use loudspeakers, you should take great care in their proper placement and also in the way you are seated in front of them. If you wish to further improve your listening environment you should place the loudspeakers rather more close together, instead of as commonly described as sitting in equilateral triangle. There is too little space to explain in detail the physics behind this advice, but it has to do with the fact that the stereo system is really a decoder of the music and of the recorded room. To be able to hear the recorded room and not only the music, you must position yourself in between the speakers at 1,18 times longer from the speakers than a centre line, measured in between the axis's of the treble speakers. In this position the form of your head will give the best shadow of the right hand speaker to the left ear (and analogous the opposite), than in any other possible listening positions. (As the sound from the speakers is mixed in the room, one of the speakers will give a clear sound to the ear at the open side of your head, and at the same time a sound directed at the opposite ear will have a different frequency response since the head blocks parts of the sound waves). Try this new position and you will, no doubt, experience the recorded room much more clearly.

Picture from LTS homepage


You should turn the speakers towards the listening position. For most setups you should have the extended axis of the tweeters cross-pointing just in front of your head. With some setups I actually prefer a wider position, which means that the tweeter line is pointing outside of my head. In the first position the sound image or a soloist tends to be projected too far back for my taste. The speakers should also be carefully positioned from the back wall. If you are careful, a small change of only 1 cm can make a big impact on the frequency curve, more than any expensive cable would make on the frequency curve.

Behind the speakers I recommend reducing the too early reflexes with damping material – more about this on the pages about acoustics and recording. On the other hand, the wall between the speakers should, in fact, be of harder material. Do not dampen the wall between the speakers, since the sound should blend to give a proper stereo effect. This is a subtle reminder that you need a wall in close proximity behind the speakers! The wall behind the speakers is actually a most important factor in creating a good sound, as they support the bass response of the speakers. This is also true for the wall behind anyone playing in a concert hall or a church. If you have problems being heard in a hall, place yourself so that you have a wall close behind you. It will make a big difference.

Another way to improve the sound quality is to cover the whole floor with a thick as possible carpet, or even better, two on top of each other! This will reduce the undesired floor reflex. An additional table in front of you is another way to reduce this reflex. The right and left side of your room should, if possible, have curtains or bookshelves to dampen and diffuse reflexes. This is to avoid as many as possible of the disturbingly strong reflexes from the sidewalls. Surprisingly enough, I've seen far too many studios with undampened floors ...

To find the best listening position is to locate the so-called actual pressure point or more exactly "the room ellipse". This is the point in the room which has the same sound pressure in both the treble and bass registers. If you sit too close to the back wall, the bass response will be dominant, and if you sit in the middle of the room the bass response will decrease in equal measure. Adjustments of these parameters will greatly affect the quality of your listening. In order to keep the listening ellipse within the room, the room should also – if possible – be closed.



3. Music listening. How to achieve true concentration or attention

To be able to listen – as opposed to only hearing the music – you need to concentrate. This is actually a much more complicated problem to solve than one might think at first glance. But there are a number of tricks to fool the brain and achieve a true and total concentration. Let’s begin by differentiating between concentration and attention.

You can achieve a greater degree of concentration with your will alone, but that demands a great deal of will power that in turn might take away the joy of listening. On the other hand, it's impossible for the mind to be only a "little attentive". If you are a "little attentive", it means that you are not attentive; in other words, that you are plainly inattentive! On a purely linguistic level, the division of the human mind is very clear indeed: the division between perception and thought or in other words, attention and concentration. If you, with your will, try to concentrate more and more intensely, you will actually create a time lag between your attempts of deeper concentration and the actual process of listening to the music. This time lag will be impossible to overcome, as there will always be a short period of time between the will – actually your thoughts – to concentrate and the actual hearing. This is, of course, an unsolvable situation and will certainly create many problems if pursued for a longer period of time. Most important, though, is the fact that your enjoyment of the music will be greatly diminished.

I do think that this division of the mind during "normal" studies is actually one of the reasons why there is so little interest in the actual study of music. Why study, if the joy to play or listen to music diminishes? For further reading about the division of the mind and the time versus attention problem, I would suggest some books by the philosopher J. Krishnamurti. "The Awakening of Intelligence" or, in Swedish, the shorter book "Att vara fri" might be a good start to gain a better understanding of this complex issue. But, this is truly a question we all have to face, whether we’re actually aware of it or not.



This is Brockwood Park outside London, one of J. Krishnamurti's schools. Two more are situated in USA and in India. I went to England in 1982 to give lectures in music, repair some pianos and of course, see and hear Krishnamurti give a few of his inspiring talks.

The question that arises is then: can one achieve "attention" without awakening the thought process? Yes, but one has to be very careful, as there are a lot of traps to fall into.



4. Music listening. "Attention-awakening questions"

To make a long story short, the best way is to pose yourself "attention-awakening questions". Now, what on earth are those? Well, the simplest way to explain this concept is to present a practical example. Focus on any sound around you. Then ask yourself a question about some detail of the sound. For some seconds you will achieve total focus on that particular detail, and your perception during that moment will be total. Your perception will actually be at the absolute maximum of your own ability at that particular moment, given your background, talent, training and physical/mental fitness. It’s important to point out that the effectiveness of this exercise is due to the absence of pressure, tension or any kind of problem built into this kind of attention. Since you direct your attention towards listening and nothing else, there is nothing which might create a disturbance in your mind at this particular moment. This is your Adriane floss for starting your education in music listening.

Try it out now! Listen to any noise around you, a fan or some traffic noise. Then try to perceive sounds within this sound. You will actually find many more details than you could imagine before this test. A surprising wealth of sounds within the first sound! This is a way to give yourself mind-enhancing questions on any detail in music – or for that matter – in any game or sport that you practise.

Do remember that the indirect way is the only way to achieve heightened attention ability. There is no way to influence your talent directly, to enhance your listening ability or to expand your understanding. The methods at hand are only indirect ways of achieving these goals, but from that point onward is it possible to achieve attention and start educating yourself. So, given that there is no system available for creating attention – as a logical system will work stepwise and in this way always introduce the time lag mentioned above – anyone claiming such methods exist, is, in fact, just telling you a big lie.

To start you off in with your new listening experiences I will now suggest some ways of using the "attention-awakening questions".


(Character and rhythm)    Page 3