How to improve your listening ability to music. Page 4

10. Final remarks on listening. Music Science

This book is a history of music science which also presents the results of recent research collected from all over the world. (Bo Ejeby förlag [in Swedish]). I actually planned to give a longer presentation of the book, but it is covered in less than five pages. Since the Internet is a picture-based rather than text-based media, I instead decided to give you short glimpses of what you will find in this very interesting volume.  

Let me begin by saying that all musicians, if they’re truly interested in studying music (instead of just wanting to express opinions without a grounding in true knowledge) should read this book.

In the beginning of the history of music science there was a lot of confusion. Studies were primarily about people with brain disorders or a damaged brain, the result of accidents. In 1962 this trend died away. In recent times, much investigation has been focussed on trying to distinguish a "musician's" brain from a "naive" brain – one with no musical training at all. Even children as young as three months of age have been the subject of studies like these.


The results of these studies have confirmed definite facts: First of all, musical understanding is a right-side brain activity. The right brain is better at recognizing melody and primordial sounds like crying and laughter. It's easy to understand why a child – before it has a language to express itself with – will understand the world through non-verbal sounds; does mummy sound angry, happy, calm, upset? ... and so on. Basic music understanding, consequently, is based on basic feelings and on melody.

With increased training any person will listen more to details – as suggested in these pages – and will increase the use of the left side brain. It’s essential to understand that a trained person uses both sides of the brain, while an untrained person – or a casual listener – only uses the right side of the brain. If a musician also plays his or her instrument, an even larger part of both brain halves are engaged. Research has identified a special part of the brain that deals with the reading of music, and a part that manages what is known as "absolute pitch". Musically trained persons do not exhibit any difference in the perception of music if subjected to music in either the left or the right ears. Those less musically trained have a strong tendency to use only the left ear (which is connected to the right side brain).

The left brain side deals with music analysis, compositional structures, associations with music already heard, and with rhythm and intervals.

Research measuring electrical activity, or more often, the blood flow in the brain, gives the same results. Non-musicians who label themselves as "critical listeners" will use more of the whole brain, as opposed to listeners who view themselves as casual listeners. The latter group will use mainly the right brain.

The results of these experiments are irrefutable. Since both a long teaching tradition and recent results in music research confirm the ideas presented on these pages, I put before you these suggestions with confidence and a firm belief that these methods work

In short: listen to details, give yourself attention-awakening questions to heighten your awareness and – not to forget! – become a much more observant listener. You will experience a dramatic change in your listening capabilities, an increased ability that will continue to develop and deepen your understanding of music.



Music listening. Conclusion

Music and music articulation should be treated as any language. All languages have a character which is dependent on the speaker’s temperament, the contents, and the feeling the speaker wishes to communicate. The possibilities inherent in a language – adopting a dramatically different expression, creating tension between what is said and what the expression of the utterance communicates – is also present in music. A good musician is able to do the same thing: to make the ordinary sound interesting and unexpected. To be able to do this, you need to sharpen your language technique – in reality an expression technique – that you control completely with your will. This means that in order to communicate the intended expression, you need intelligence, feeling and a technique, not just "more feeling". A heightened sensibility that can only be achieved by instilling a sense of direction or will of expression in the performance. Sensibility is feeling combined with intelligence!

Therefore, the common misconception that music is pure feeling or based only on feeling is not only an absurd simplification but also a falsification.


(Personal remarks and further suggested readings)    Page 5