Be an Active Listener
Coda Connections Feature - Winter 2013

‚Äč(Editor's Note: Although the following article targets jazz teachers and listeners, the basic concepts apply to all styles of music.)


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Listening is fundamental! We believe it is the most basic fundamental in music and ultimately essential to success. To participate, we like to think of the listening process as "the act of listening" or, better yet, "active listening." To get the most from a practice activity, you need to be focused and involved. We would like to share some of our ideas on becoming better listeners, as well as some important recordings to listen to and share.

1. Listen with the Whole Body
Have you ever had goose bumps while listening to music? Where do they come from and why do they happen? Goose bumps come from a WHOLE BODY listening experience. Hearing and feeling music through your body can be a profound experience. Learn to appreciate the sensations of music on your arms, legs, feet, chest, hands, and face - it's all vibration and we can "hear" those vibrations with our bodies.

2. Listen to Your Surroundings
Learn to listen around you. Close your eyes, be silent and pay attention to what you hear. It may take a few moments to perceive your surroundings but there is a lot there! The better your perception is, the better your listening skills will become. There is a big hint in the fact that the words listen and silent contain exactly the same letters.

3. Listen to an Expanded Range of Styles
It's important to listen to and enjoy different styles and types of music. A wise person once said: "All listeners are equal in their opinions." Just because you like something doesn't mean someone else will feel the same way. The opposite holds true, as well, just because you don't like something doesn't mean it's not valid. And similarly, just because something is new or is in a style that is unfamiliar, don't dismiss it! Give it a listen - not just once but a few times. You might be surprised at how your appreciation for the music changes as you spend more time with it.

4. Listen More than You Practice
A good rule is to listen twice as much as you practice. Music is a language and we need to hear it in order to assimilate its sounds, articulations, rhythms and emotions. It's not realistic to expect children (or anyone) to learn a language without first hearing it and imitating it. Music is no exception. It takes time, effort, imitation and listening.

5. Listen with Others
What is some of the most unusual music you have heard? Have you shared it with your students? Have you asked them to share theirs with you? Listening with others will give you a fresh perspective on what you are hearing. People enjoy talking about what they have heard. It's important to ask the question: "What did you hear?"

Start a dialogue about music and about listening. Be sure to listen to your student's comments. This is important even if you don't agree with them or if their assessment seems a little strange to you. Experience is a beautiful teacher and we can all learn something from communicating and listening to one another.

Chances are that you, your friends and your student musicians have some favorite current jazz artists that you are listening to. However, sometimes the vast catalogs of earlier recordings can be intimidating - often students will inquire about what to listen to. Below are a few recommendations from us of some great music to hone those listening skills on!

Small Group Recommendations from Jeff

Louis Armstrong & the Hot Five - anything!
Miles Davis - Kind of Blue
John Coltrane - Ballads
Sonny Rollins - Live at the Village Vanguard
Keith Jarrett - Standards Vol. 1
Cannonball Adderley - Something Else
Alan Lomax's field recordings (online for FREE)
Ali Fakar Toure - anything (guitarist from Mali, Africa)
Aretha Franklin - Aretha Sings the Blues

Large Ensemble Recommendations from Caleb

Toshiko Akiyoshi - Long Yellow Road
Count Basie - April In Paris
Duke Ellington - Jazz Party
Gil Evans and Miles Davis - Miles Ahead
Maynard Ferguson - Birdland Dreamband
Dizzy Gillespie - Birk's Works: Verve Big Band Sessions
Benny Goodman - Live at Carnegie Hall 1938
Fletcher Henderson - 1924-1925
Joe Henderson - Big Band
Woody Herman - Keeper of the Flame: Complete Capitol Recordings
Thad Jones/Mel Lewis - Live at the Village Vanguard
Stan Kenton - Cuban Fire
Charles Mingus - Let My Children Hear Music
Buddy Rich - Roar of '74

Jeff Coffin and Caleb Chapman
Adapted by Pete BarenBregge (Jazz Band Director)