How to listen during music practice

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Good listening is the cornerstone of effective music practice.

If you can’t hear what is wrong you can’t correct it. It is therefore vital that you are aware of how you listen and learn to do it as well as you can.

There are four types of listening that musicians generally do. These are inactive, neutral, active and focused.


Think muzak. Think lift music. Think about what you hear when you are walking around the supermarket. If you stop and think about it we do a vast amount of inactive listening everyday. As more and more background music has appeared so our brains have got better at filtering it out.

This type of listening is of little use to the practising musician. It won’t help you improve as a player.


Have you ever thought “What’s that piece of music? I like that.” Chances are that you were engaged in some neutral listening. It may have been the background to something on TV, something you heard in a nightclub or something you heard another musician play. The point here is you listened without any real purpose but you were listening.

You can use this type of listening to find new music, expand your listening horizons or just for fun. It might have a positive impact on you overall as a musician but it doesn’t directly make you a better player on your instrument.


You meant to listen. You also meant to be more attentive and to try and get into the detail of the music. You hear different lines, a bass part, harmony and melody.

This is the type of listening that most musicians do. It is useful and you will improve. However it is not as useful as the last kind of listening you can do . . . . .


The thing that is missing from active listening and what many musicians miss is a PURPOSE. Players try to listen to details within the music. That’s useful, but why? Having a reason or purpose for listening is what sets focused listening apart from active listening. It is also what puts you on the road to rapid improvement.

This type of listening is what you should be aiming for each and every time you practice. Listen carefully and have that reason why: “I want to listen to those quaver to see if they are even” is far more effective than “I want to listen to those quavers”.

Listening in this focused way is perhaps the single biggest thing you can do to improve your playing quickly.

How do you listen? What ways to do you have of achieving more focused listening? Please respond in comments below  :D

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