Long before I called myself a “writer,” I wrote an article for an aikido newsletter. I asked another aikidoka who worked in publishing to check it over. She told me I needed to consider my audience. “Ask yourself with every sentence: Is this necessary? Is it written just for me, or would someone else be interested?” This feedback changed my writing profoundly.
I often think about how my music falls on a listener’s ears. Music is ephemeral. As sound, it only exists in time, and in the relationship between the musician and the listener. The playing of music assumes that there’s a listener to hear it. How can we make our music more listenable?
It’s easy to become self-absorbed while playing, focusing on technical details, speed, or playing the “right” notes. When, on the other hand, I can imagine myself as a listener to my own music, my priorities subtly shift. Speed, correct notes and technique, while important, aren’t helpful if they don’t serve the goal of making the music worth listening to.
It’s hard to define why the playing of some musicians is so engaging. Some highly-respected players don’t hold my attention, musically. Yet I find myself constantly returning to the music of others, listening even to their solo CDs over and over. Why?
It’s difficult to explain the quality that draws us in to some music. Great musicians will speak about music as communication that needs to touch the listener. As to how they do it, the most useful response I’ve heard was from fiddler Martin Hayes: “I try to stay completely present.”
The way to make our music more listenable is by changing our approach and mindset while we play.
Put It into Practice
- Listen deeply to your favorite players. Are there any passages that really captivate you? Try to let go of any focus on note choices. Listen to dynamics, attack and release sounds, how they express rhythm and “groove.” Then just listen. Try not to explain what you hear with words.
- How would you read a children’s story out loud? You wouldn’t read the words straight off the page. Play your music that way. Make yourself the greatest storyteller of all time.
- Think about great speakers, actors, singers, poets. Compare the written version to the performed version. Every time you play, imagine you’re persuading an audience of thousands, that this is the best music in the world.
- Some people who learn foreign languages continue to use their native accent, while others throw themselves completely into the strange sounds, shapes, and even ideas of a new tongue. Play your music like a French person speaks French. As if it is yours.
Does it seem over the top to play music this way? It is! That’s exactly what’s needed. Eventually it will feel less strange and feel absolutely necessary to play in a way that reaches out to capture the listener.
Here are a few chapters in Best Practice where you’ll find ideas to help you draw in the listener:
107–A Direct Connection
192–Making a Recording
191–It’s All Your Voice
148–Playing with the Masters
20–Play Better with Phrasing
142–Phrasing and Expression
Judy Minot is a musician and the author of the book Best Practice: Inspiration and Ideas for Traditional Musicians.
Judy has played and practiced piano since she could reach the keys, training in classical playing until age 16. She now plays traditional music in various settings on a number of instruments, and gives workshops and classes on Best Practice ideas all over the U.S. and virtually.
Judy spent her working life in broadcast television and digital marketing. She holds a 4th degree black belt in the martial art of Kokikai Aikido and is a certified yoga teacher.
For more information visit: www.judyminot.com/bestpractice