Active Listening

Ever since I started learning how to play the flute a couple of months ago, I’ve been slowly returning to the musical world which I’ve been missing for quite a while. The last time my mind was so completely immersed in music was back when I was in the Twelfth standard. The flute is indeed a wonderful instrument. You can carry it anywhere you want, and playing even a single note on it is so gratifying. Needless to state, I’m still a novice at playing it, but to be honest, I’m amazed by my own progress. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I could get a consistent tone so quickly, let alone play melodies on it.

Well, this post is not about my flute playing. My thoughts have been wandering about in the realms of listening and music appreciation. How do we perceive and interpret music? Why is classical music so sparsely appreciated? And why is popular music (some of it very poor in terms of musical content) so popular? Is knowledge of music really required to appreciate and savour good music?

I don’t mean to say that each and every person in the world should listen to classical music, but at least those who learn music should be able to appreciate it. Jimmy master, my music teacher, always says that you don’t have to learn music to be able to enjoy its blessings. For that you just have to be an active listener and learn to love music. It is a challenging task, which demands our total attention and devotion, but its rewards are just as rich. Perhaps its the effort involved in the beginning, that makes many people shy away from music with some content. They just want something nice playing in the background, which gives them a “kick”.

While I was browsing, I found a very good online course on music appreciation on the Rice University’s open course material website. It is aimed especially at people with little or no musical knowledge, who would like to be more active listeners. It adopts a top down approach, and illustrates the basic aspects of listening through listening exercises, without going into theoretical details. In fact, it’s just what one needs to learn to appreciate music without learning music. It’s not based on any single style of music, and is universally applicable to all genres. Even if you are not interested in classical music, it could help you to listen to popular music more intelligently.

4 thoughts on “Active Listening

  1. My tabla guru mentioned about a CD called “Raga Unveiled” which it seems is an introduction to various classical music forms in India – intended to give a music intro to the beginner. I am yet to buy it, will get one soon .. See if you can get one there, my friends who listened to it said its really good !


  2. >> They just want something nice playing in the background, which gives them a “kick”.

    And even more of a tragedy is the advent of these “music shows” and “cinematic dance” on TV and how parents are trying to teach their kids something or the other that will get the kids into those TV shows. I literally feel contempt for those parents who have such a narrow minded thought process.

    You should have attended the “new year celebration” party in our Trichur apartment. It seems that the main organisers of that event are parents in the apartment who are extremely eager to give a forum to promote the “artistic interests” of their kids. MY GOD !! I have not seen a crowd with any less “artistic interests” than that – the only art for display was cinematic dance ! And one elderly man was playing the malayalam song “alliyambal kadavil annu ..” pretty well on flute and he had to stop in between and hurtfully request people to be silent and respectful of his performance. The crowd had their eyes and ears tuned to nothing but cinematic dance !

    Now that you talked about music and music appreciation, I thought of expressing my frustration on the depreciation of the “music appreciation” skills of our generation 🙂


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