Here we are at week #34’s tip where we’re going to talk about a topic that every musician and non-musician can benefit from. This week’s tip is on the different levels of listening and why each one is important for improvisers. This is also the first weekly improv tip post I’ve made since we’ve updated this site. So, I’d like to encourage you to check it out and look around. Also, if this is your first time visiting…welcome! Take a look at the past 33 weeks of posts as well as the other tabs above. Finally, if you haven’t yet, check out my book Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose on the left hand side of the page or by going to the “Books” tab above.
I’m sure there may be specific definitions to the different levels of listening posted in a doctoral thesis or medical journal, but these are the labels I’ve been using and think that you’ll get the idea. Most importantly, I hope you can take away something from each level of listening that you can apply to watch your improvisation skills grow.
Passive listening is what we do when we have music on in the background at work, home, driving, etc. Unfortunately, the majority of the world spends most of their time in passive listening. The key definition to passive listening is the word background. The listener may spend a brief moment or two where they focus on what’s happening musically, but eventually it moves to the background. “Great Jason, how does this help me?” Well, if we listen to something long enough (over and over) it tends to sink into our sub-concious. Before you know it, you might find yourself singing or humming a melodic line that you can’t remember where it came from. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, our ears will keep what it likes and discard what it doesn’t. If it made it to your sub-concious to the point you remember it later…then your ear has grabbed it. That melodic line (or counterpart, rhythm, etc) has potential to be a part of your vocabulary for you to personalize later. While I don’t endorse only passive listening, I do encourage that musicians and non-musicians alike spend some time with passive listening.
Active listening is fairly self-explanatory. This is the listening we do when we sit down with a recording and listen for specific elements. Musicians in the transcribing process will be participating in active listening. They will transcribe a soloist, a chord progression, a rhythm pattern or other pertinent elements that cause them to grow as a musician. Active listening is very deliberate and there is a focus with a goal in mind. This is great for improvisers because they’re finding the elements that speak to them the most and assimilate it and personalize it into their playing.
Deep listening takes active listening to another level. Many (not all) who engage in active listening will do so in an environment where there may be an occasional distraction. For example, a college student transcribing a solo. In the process of active listening they’ll get a text/phone call, a knock on their door or a roommate that temporarily distracts them. There are also potentially other sensory distractions (lighting, etc). Deep listening is best done when you can shut off all distractions, non-audio sensory distractions and put yourself into the recording. Deep listening can have a focus like active listening (transcribing, etc), but you will find when you completely shut off outer distractions that you will hear beyond the recording. You will find you can hear hammer actions on pianos, variances in articulations on wind instruments, visualize the interplay between the musicians and other finer nuances that might be missed by just transcribing. Again, your ear will take what it likes and discard what it doesn’t. I’ve personally made some great discoveries when I shut myself in a dark room, close my eyes and put on some quality headphones and try to put myself into the recording.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip and find some time to do a little of each level listening. Please feel free to share this site and tip with your friends/colleagues on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ or any other site you’re a contributor. There are even links below this tip that allow you to share it quickly through various social media outlets. Thanks again!
Jason Klobnak is a versatile trumpet player that has been performing as an active musician, author, clinician, composer and educator. His band, J's Ruckus, is Denver's blend of Post-Bop, Soul, Gospel, and Hip-Hop. They perform infectious and up-lifting originals for audiences hungry for a memorable live experience. J's Ruckus released their latest album, Suck Less, in March of 2020 and their first EP, Sermons, in July of 2019. Both were recorded live in front of an audience. Suck Less was recorded to a packed auditorium at Arapahoe Community College's Waring Theater in Littleton, CO. Sermons was recorded in front of a sold out crowd at the Soiled Dove Underground. The JKQ (the Jason Klobnak Quintet/Quartet) is Mr. Klobnak's Hammond B-3 centered groups. The JKQ released their third full-length album in March of 2018 called Friends & Family. It has been very well reviewed, on numerous Top 10 lists for Jazz radio stations across the country (including Denver's KUVO 89.3FM which named it May 2018's CD of the month), and in Jazzweek's Top 100. Each composition was written for specific family and close friends (that might as well be family). Their second album, New Chapter, was recorded in part thanks to the Pathways to Jazz Grant from the Boulder County Arts Alliance. In 2015 and 2016, New Chapter was in the Top 75 on the Jazzweek charts and on the Top 10 playlists for over a dozen radio stations worldwide. Their first album, Mountain, Move made the Best Recordings of 2013 list from AllAboutJazz.com by C. Michael Bailey. His very well reviewed Christmas single, Hark the Herald, in 2016 as part of a creative project with musicians James Roberson and Nathaniel Kearney Jr. Besides the JKQ, Mr. Klobnak is a B.A.C. (Best American Craftsman-custom trumpet), Denis Wick (mouthpiece and mutes) and Westone Audio endorsed artist (ES20 and Tru Customs). Mr. Klobnak has played and recorded for numerous groups ranging from jazz, soul/R&B, indie-rock/pop and gospel. In addition to performing, he has also written two improvisation-based books called Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose and Breaking the Monotony and is currently an adjunct professor and brass instructor at Arapahoe Community College. Mr. Klobnak holds a bachelor degree from Drake University (Des Moines, IA) and a Master’s degree from the University of Denver, Lamont School of Music (Denver, CO).
Please log in again. The login page will open in a new tab. After logging in you can close it and return to this page.