How do you listen to music?

March 4, 2008 at 04:54 PM · I've developed a pet interest in how people listen to music, and have been pestering my friends to spill the beans on what goes through their heads while they're listening to a piece. Do they sing along? Pretend to be playing? Think about grocery shopping? See colours? Imagine stories?

As virtually everyone I know now runs for the hills when they see me coming, I figured I'd put the question to V.commers and see what you all have to say on the matter. My interest is in non-critical listening, so I'd be happier to hear about how you experience a person's playing rather than how you pick it apart, though far be it for me to tell you what to discuss. Besides, precedent has shown that such efforts are pretty well fruitless in this neck of the woods. So without further ado, the floor is yours.

Replies (23)

March 4, 2008 at 07:06 PM · In terms non-critical listening, I let the music speak to me, very much like letting the fragrance of the flowers and grasses embrace me when I walk through a garden.

Certain pieces are so descriptive to me that the images (such as the warmth of sunrise or the cracks of waving large trees in the woods) would just reveal themselves to me as the music unfold. These similar images will recur again and again each time I listen to the same piece, and will then evolve with more clarity and complexity. Positive emotions are almost always associated with this experience.

Aside from images, I also experience something in a realm of morality. For instance, certain music (e.g., Bach, Beethoven and Brahms) make me feel some sort of universal compassion and hope when I listen to them. It intensifies my aversion towards something I consider morally distasteful.

How do you listen to music, Micheal?

March 4, 2008 at 07:08 PM · I can only listen to music while driving. The rest of the time I enjoy silence.

March 4, 2008 at 10:06 PM · What a question. Sometimes I listen critically but usually I don't think about anything musical at all. My mind wanders between the music and whatever else is on my mind.

March 8, 2008 at 10:46 PM · I hear every little sound very acutely, but I think I have a sort of synesthesia (in which one sensation triggers a completely different sensation). I really do respond to the emotionality in music, and have an almost physical, visceral reaction in my stomach. It is immediate and powerful, and (fortunately or unfortunately) dominates my attention, even if I'm doing something else others might consider more important (like, for example, working or talking to someone or reading or eating or... whatever). It's a very powerful and very tangible reaction, and the intellectual or cognitive understanding I have of the music makes it only that much more emotional. But, I have no visual associations whatsoever. It's all auditory and visceral and emotional. To me, instrumental music has a strong vocal quality as well.

Go figure.


March 8, 2008 at 10:53 PM · I agree with that, I'm not one of those people that can listen to music as "background sound." I can't study, read, even be on the computer while it plays. I can only listen to it in the car or when I'm cleaning house. During everything else it makes me just stop and listen.

Also every piece of music I hear takes me back to the first time I ever played it or heard it. Brahms 4 immediately makes me think of Eastern Music Festival, while Tchaikovsky Serenade makes me think of high school orchestra, etc.

March 9, 2008 at 09:53 PM · Definitely sing along, if only in my head. There was past line that asked how many saw colors when they listened to music. I don't see colors, but I do often see musical phrases as shapes. This happens when listening, but is most distinct when playing. Anyone else experience this?

March 10, 2008 at 02:12 AM · How do I listen to music?

With hauntingly contagious exhilaration.

March 10, 2008 at 02:56 AM · Whenever I'm inside one of the musical enclosures of Lincoln Center in NYC,I totally flip out because I know I am a participant in the very best the world of music and opera has to offer.

I am so very thankful to even be present to hear the singers and the orchestra demonstrate what they have been studying for many years and bring same to fruition in front of a audience of numerous admirers.

Tis an area of grandeur which is unsurpassable.

Every moment is golden and I very easily become totally gone in my mind with song,music,chorus and stage setting changes.

Oft,I uncontrollably weep with utter joy just for the very pleasure of having a good seat in the house and to experience music of which is the very best the entire world has to offer.

To be present at any live performance is a thrill beyond measurement of the psyche.

To enjoy same is a gift of appreciation for the finest of the arts.

Music is life and to attend,conduct,play or sing music is a priceless activity which evokes the very deepest of human passion and desire--perhaps one of the greatest ways of expression !

March 10, 2008 at 11:15 AM · These days I listen to music mostly while riding to and from work on the T (the Boston bus/subway system). I find it easier to listen to my iPod than read in this situation. And, lately my listening consists of music I'm learning for orchestra. Sometimes I just sing along (not out loud) and sometimes I practice the piece in my head with fingerings and bowings.

When I get to work I try to climb the stairs to the 6th floor every day instead of using the elevator, and usually when I see my building approaching I put on something more rousing, like fiddle tunes, to get me up the stairs.

I also listen to music while driving, but I don't drive much, except on long trips.

Then, because of when I listen, I tend to associate music with journeys and movement, or think of particular phrases when I see specific scenes: like one of the posters in the 4th floor of the stairwell reminds me of "Gusty's Frolics" or the bus/subway pulling away makes me think of the William Tell Overture. Sometimes the music I listen to becomes a soundtrack to my life in ways that amuse only me--but at least they do amuse me!

March 13, 2008 at 10:21 PM · I heard part of a radio program that described my experience really, but in other terms. It said that when someone is observing a creative process, the observer syncs up and his brain goes into creative mode too which is an enjoyable experience. I'd guess the mechanics of it are primal, causing us to be drawn to participate in some communal creative process directed toward something adversarial.

March 14, 2008 at 05:04 AM · Oh Jim,please try to give yourself a much needed

rest--the God's of utter gloom seem to haunt ye.

March 14, 2008 at 06:09 AM · They do haunt me. I worry I might go insane and become like the above :)

March 14, 2008 at 05:51 AM · Greetings,

`The statistics on sanity are that one out of every 4 Americans are suffering from some form of mental illness. Think of your three best friends. If they're okay, then it's you...`



March 14, 2008 at 06:11 AM · I count a few right here, so I'm fine personally ;) What are the statistics where you're holed up?

March 14, 2008 at 06:53 AM · Greetings,

horrendous. Aside from the highest suicide rate of any so called developed country just one sector, the teachign profession: last year 61 percent of teachers took time off with mental illness. Similar figures are extant for serious anxiety disorders in industry.

My cat is pretty loopy too.



March 14, 2008 at 07:21 AM · A couple of boatloads of our stupefying pharmaceuticals will take care of all that. Then let them chase a laser pointer.

March 14, 2008 at 08:25 AM · Ha, that's what my dog does!

As far as the radio program, that would explain why Evan Hatfield used to just sit there on the fence post watching us muck out the horse pens. I think he was mesmerized by watching other people work. He never did any himself, though.

March 14, 2008 at 09:22 AM · Grandpa McCoy would say that's a Hatfield for you.

March 15, 2008 at 08:32 PM · This is an interesting topic; I believe there is a book called Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks which describes many stories that relate to this-it's worth a read :)

March 15, 2008 at 10:07 PM · Sounds illegal:)

March 15, 2008 at 10:17 PM · Analyze music bases on Sound, Harmony, Melody, Rhythm, and Form.

First thing I look for is the Period. After that I try find out the region where it was composed (Germany, Russia, France, Italy, etc.). Then I go into the details of sound, harmony, etc. and I try to figure out who the composer is based on that. I'm usually pretty close (I get the correct composer about 75% of the time; the other 25% I'm usually pretty close to region and time period).

By breaking down music this way I get a much better understanding on what the composer had done with the music and I develop a deeper appreciation of music.

March 21, 2008 at 10:21 PM · I either start "conducting" or "playing" it. In either case, I have synaethesia, where I see shapes and colors, namely in the form of architecture.

March 21, 2008 at 11:57 PM · Yes, the Oliver Sacks book "Musicophilia" is a perfect read for everyone on this thread! Erica

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