There are many components to learning a musical instrument such as learning about rhythm, learning to read music, interpreting musical terms which are usually in foreign languages, understanding different styles from different periods of music, learning about composers and how a composition comes into existence, learning about how to play one’s instrument of choice, that is to say, what one has to do physically to create sounds.  All of these parts are important in order to understand and appreciate music and be able to play an instrument such as the piano.

But encompassing all of these parts is the phenomenon of sound.  Music is something we hear and its power to move us and impact us comes to us through listening.  But too often the actual listening to music is forgotten in the discipline of trying to master an instrument.  We have music all around us in shopping areas, amusement parks and even at gas stations!  We can hardly escape hearing music but that fact of our modern lives only makes real listening even more challenging.

So how can parents help their children who are studying an instrument to actually  listen to music?  Here are some suggestions:

1.) Only play music when you can really pay attention to it- avoid having it as simply background noise.  2.) When you are choosing to listen to music ask yourself or dialogue with your child about how the music makes you feel- Energetic? Introspective? Dancelike? Smooth and Gliding or Jagged and Aggressive? Peaceful? Turbulent? Majestic?  This is also a good opportunity to  expand your child’s emotional language and enlarge the types of emotional labels they use.  Music gives us the vehicle to move beyond just happy or sad. 3.) Listen to the types of instruments being used to create the music.  What do they sound like?  Brassy? Mellow? Rich and Full? Sharp and Piercing? 4.) Does the music tell a story?  If there are words do the words and music match? 5.) What is the form of the music?  Does it have a chorus that repeats? Does it have an opening idea followed by a second idea and then a return to the first idea?

The more we can actually listen and take in the complex sounds of music the more it will feed us and enrich our lives.  Music is powerful but only if we let it in and truly hear it.  In this new year begin an exploration into the world of sound with a new way of listening!