How to Sharpen Your Music Listening Skills

What's the difference between hearing and listening? Hearing is passive, while listening is active. Listening is also a very rewarding experience. Listening to music enables you to learn the fundamental elements of music, such as form, melody and rhythm, through which you can come to understand and appreciate many types of music [source: Yale].

Here are some exercises that will help you sharpen your music listening skills:


  1. Find a reasonably short musical song that you're familiar with, but not too crazy about (so you won't get distracted).
  2. Play the song through while listening exclusively to one specific musical instrument. It's best to start with an instrument that you can hear clearly, such as a drum or guitar. Focus on that instrument while trying to hear what it's playing (the melody or rhythm) and how it fits in or supports the piece. Try to discern how the instrument blends with the other instruments. Play the song over until you understand the instrument's role in the song.
  3. Try to locate the instrument's stereophonic position; for example, full right, center or left-center. Use headphones for the best results.
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 for each instrument in the piece.
  5. Play the song again, and this time get a feel for how each instrument works together with another one to build a musical foundation or mutual support. Note where they complement each other and where they don't.
  6. Listen to the entire song while making a diagram of its separate sections (introduction, bridge, chorus, solo, verse, etc.).
  7. Listen to the piece again while using the diagram you just drew to determine the instruments that are introduced in each section, and in which sections they play.
  8. Play the song, but this time focus on the backup vocals, taking note of where they occur and where they don't.
  9. Listen once again while trying to hear each harmony, and determine if the harmonies change during song and in what way (for example, different voices moving in opposite directions or one voice holding a single note while the others harmonize).
  10. Write down all of the lyrics as best you can while playing the song [source: Gwynne]. //]]]]> ]]>