It’s easy to see music as a one-way road. We may at times see listening to music as a disengaged activity, passive observation. It’s a final product presented to us, the end consumer, as a finished work for us to enjoy; is there any need to mentally invest ourselves?
Here at Anime Instrumentality, though, we take our listening a bit more seriously. We believe listening to music is an active, involved activity. You get more out of music as you put more of yourself into it; using your brain is as important as using your ears. I hope you feel the same way, and I trust this is why you come to a music review sites such as ours, because you believe that music becomes more powerful and profound the more you engage with it.
To that end, I have compiled five ways (that you may currently know and use!) you can get more out of the songs you already know and love.
1) Tap Your Foot
This may seem almost rudimentary, even trivial, but tapping your foot (or keeping time in some other fashion) has more to it than you may have considered. Syncing yourself with the beat of the song is an essential step in listening to all that it has to offer. By physically moving a part of your body to the rhythm of a tune, you intrinsically make yourself a part of the experience. It forces you to think by making you pay attention to the thrust of the song. Although it’s easy to shift into autopilot and let the music fade into the background, if you actively keep time along with the music, it’s almost impossible not to actively engage with whatever you’re listening to.
More importantly, you should emphasize the first beat of each measure in some manner. By doing this, you are performing a simple analysis of the song by mentally breaking down the music into smaller constituent parts. You also begin to appreciate things like unusual time signatures, which songwriters at times utilize on purpose to baffle listeners in the know. You will also see that measures are not always consistent in the number of beats they hold. As a rather famous example of this, the final measure of vocals in “Hare Hare Yukai,” a song entirely in 4/4, has only 3 beats before entering the concluding synthesizer section.
Hare Hare Yukai[audio:http://blog.animeinstrumentality.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/hare-hare-clip.mp3]
Can you hear it? What about if you keep time with it, distinguishing the first, emphasized beats of each measure? You may already be beginning to appreciate the little details like this that songwriters inject into their work. “Short” measures such as these were used by composers (Leonard Bernstein is a good example) to give a sense of energy and sprightliness. This is just one example of the things you may uncover.
2) Listen to a Less Obvious Instrument
The human mind is lazy and is inclined to focus on what is apparent and easy to recognize. You may have seen this manifest when you listen to music; unless you’re purposely trying not to, your attention tends to get drawn to the main melody or the soloist. While the loudest and most apparent voices are certainly important parts of the song, there are always elements that are not as immediately obvious, elements that have likely been included and composed with just as much loving care and detail as the main melodic line. Harmonized vocals and bass lines are a good example of this. Next time you listen to one of your favorite songs, consider focusing your attention on instruments like the bass guitar and backup vocals. You may notice something that you hadn’t before, like a quietly mixed bass lick or subtle counter-melody in the strings. Every little thing you discover will help you to better appreciate a good song.
Example: Can you hear the harmonized vocals from “Irony” by ClariS? Try focusing on the edges of the soundstage on each channel. From what I can tell, each channel actually features a different interval of harmonization. Maybe you can discern more specifcally?
We are not all natural singers (I know I’m not), but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try! Singing along with a song you enjoy may be something you naturally do anyway, but consider what that means. By singing with a track, you inherently make yourself a part of the experience. You stop being an observer and start becoming an active participant. You force yourself to keep time and remain mindful of the progression of the song. As opposed to the following two points, which familiarize rationally, singing intimates the listener viscerally.
4) Identify Form, Function, and Structure
They say the mark of a good composer is proper form. As a listener, keep an ear out for how a song builds itself up and goes through its sections. Try to identify parts of the song like the verse, pre-chorus, chorus, and bridge. If you hear things like key changes and turn-arounds, take note of them too. On a smaller scale, keep track of thematic repetitions and motifs. If you are listening to something like a musical or a soundtrack, take special care to pay attention to the opening overture; it will contain all of the themes that will reappear in some form or other later in the piece. Wary listeners will be keen to identify expansions of older material and its contrasts with newly introduced motifs. You’ll notice that the more sophisticated the music is, the less clearly defined its sections are.
5) Transcribe and Reproduce
Perhaps the most esoteric of the suggestions here, you may find the task of transcribing something daunting. WELL IT IS. I SHOULD KNOW. I’VE BEEN THERE. ;__;
But the next time you find yourself in front of a piano, try taking a minute or two hammering out a melody from a song you remember. It may surprise you how thrilling it is to personally recreate something you’ve only experienced passively.
So there’s my five cents as to how listeners can get more from their music. Know a better way? Let me know below!