How to Listen to Classical Music



  • Choose the right music, for the right "place, time & mood": pastoral/nocturnal/experimental, exciting/relaxing/contemplative/nostalgic ...
  • Relax and focus. Classical music requires extra attention, having more notes and sounds each having a different effect. Thus sounds & sound quality matter:
    • Ignore irrelevant sounds unrelated to the musical work: outside noise, audience coughing/sneezing, your own body moving/breathing, etc.
    • Ignore irrelevant sounds in the music itself: bad recording, bad connection, or even bad performance, imagining how it would sound without all the above.
    • Expect sudden "volume changes" some recordings and music genres have, which can be irritating, esp. when not paying attention to the music.

Follow Melody's Development

  Recognize the melody and memorize it.
  Notice the changes to its parts: replacement/removal of notes, and the scale and octave used.
  Notice the changes in the volume and duration of notes, that are controlled by the time taken, force applied to instruments, and number of same notes simultaneously played.
  If possible, recognize and memorize every note played, however difficult/impossible, as if you are a recorder (or a music prodigy).

Follow Harmony's Development

In polyphonic music, different lines are played simultaneously, that you have to notice how it serves the melody:

  If possible, recognize and memorize every monophonic line.
  Focus more on changes in the primary line than those in the secondary lines.
  Treat all primary and secondary lines as ONE LINE that you focus on rather than on each line separately.

You can freely explore a secondary line, as long as you don't miss the primary one, if the former is more interesting to you, that the composer muffled, intentionally or not.

Distinguish the Different Instruments

  • Recognizing the sources of sounds helps one understand music better.
  • Different instruments are assigned different dramatic/structural roles: leading, supporting, organizing, cheering, etc.
  • There are internationally/locally known, modern/old/obsolete instruments. They are classified by
    • the sound-box where sound produced and how (orally/manually/electrically): strings (bowed/keyboard/chordophone), wind instruments (wood/brass), percussion, and natural/recorded/electronic sounds;
    • sound range (bass/baritone/tenor/alto/soprano/etc.) and division (double/triple, full/half/quarter notes);
    • sound continuity (short/long/fading/continuous).

Think of Music

Evoke fantasies, memories and emotions analogous to what you hear, simultaneously while you are listening. This is best done after recognizing the melody and harmony, or if you have already heard the work before.

  • Familiar music is easier to evoke memories and mix thoughts and movements with, than unfamiliar one. When turned down to a non-distracting level, it can create an ambiance accompanying any work you do, subconsciously taking you to the setting where you had heard it before.
  • Unfamiliar music is good for stimulating logical thinking and creating new fantasies. When turned down, unfamiliar music can even be less distracting than familiar one, just enjoyed for its nice sounds without understanding any.
  • Dancing music, focusing on rhythm rather than melody, is usually simple to understand, less distracting, more sensually pleasing, and good for faster mood changing. When turned down, it can also create an ambiance. When turned up, it becomes challenging to resist moving to, in which case our mind slows down as the body speeds up.
  • If music is too low, it becomes vague and useless. If it's too loud, it gets chaotic and harmful. Both low and loud music degenerate into noise, that cannot be followed however simple or familiar.

It depends on both composer and listeners how many times a sequence should be repeated before we can recognize it. We know we do, when we can hum it mentally in advance, before its "arrival." Anticipating a sequence we know and love before we hear it is the most exciting part in musical pleasure, triggering a rush of endorphins in our brains, shown in brain-scans of individuals while listening to music. The longer the anticipation, the greater the brain reward we are offered.


Advantages and Disadvantages of Music

Good Voice Techniques

Understanding Deafness

Living with Noise