The sound of listening - Pink Faun

posted april 29 2022 by Jord

The sound of listening

Music is all around us. At the hairdresser, on television commercials, in the office. Most of the times, you simply hear the music while you do other things. It isn't until you eliminate those distractions and give music your full attention that you're engaged in active listening.


The terms 'hearing' and 'listening' are often used interchangeably, but there are structural differences to the concepts they denote. The definition of hearing revolves around the physiological act of hearing sounds. It is a passive, physical act that does not rely on concentration. Compare it to the collection of data: all day long we hear sounds, but we don't pay attention to them. That would be impossible: you'd be exhausted before you know it.

The science of hearing

Hearing is a matter of auditory processing. A sound reaches your outer ear and travels along the pathway of your ear canal. It reaches your eardrum, causing it to vibrate. The sound is sent to your inner ear and are converted into electrical signals, which are carried to your brain. That is where they're turned into a sound that you understand. For example, you can distinguish and recognize sounds, notice differences in tone, speed and pitch, and process information.


The definition of listening, however, revolves around actively paying attention to the words and sounds that you hear, in order to absorb their meaning. Additionally, you develop an emotional response. It is an active, voluntary process: you choose whether or not to hear. In other words: you can hear without listening, but you cannot listen without hearing.

The science of listening

Whereas hearing is a physical process, listening is a psychological process. It depends on your environment and what you listen to. Listening goes beyond hearing, and is linked to your working memory, your long-term memory, executive function, attention, and your lexicon. Additionally, listening goes beyond words. It's all about interpretation. Think of tone, volume, and speed, for example.

Active listening

Have you ever heard of the term 'active listening'? This entails that you're actively focusing on the sound. Whether this is a conversation partner, the sound of birds singing, or a piece of music. Let's dive into the latter. Active listening allows you to fully appreciate the music. Its compositional structure and nuances, the different instruments and their role, the complexity of the piece as a whole. Listen to instrumentation, for example. Can you identify every musical instrument? What is the structure of the piece like? Or, with regard to style, can you identify the genre? You can also listen actively to the technique of the instrumentalists and vocalists, or focus on the lyrics.

Spark your emotions!

Music and emotion are inevitably intertwined. Music makes you feel. A good book or a movie can carry you away, too. But there is something deeper to music, because of its physical impact on our brain. Neuroscientific research has shown that music imprints and locks itself deep into your emotional memory. Everyone has a number of songs that spark their emotions on a deeper level. Vocal songs that alter your mood, such as an uplifting song, a song that makes you want to dance, or cry. But also instrumental music. The long, high-pitched quivering sounds of the violin, or the light and happy notes of the piano. Sweet, sad music that allows you to feel sorry for yourself, or thunderous drums and cymbals for your angry mood.

Tips for active listening

In order to consciously connect music and emotion, to listen as attentively as possible, there are certain things you should keep in mind. When you're in a live setting, for example, try to position yourself near the center of the room and a little back from the stage. If you don't find yourself in a live setting, use headphones. Sing along, practice ear training, and select hi-fidelity audio Most streaming music services leave out key parts of the sonic texture. High-fidelity formats do not. Stop hearing and start actively listening to music!

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