How to actively listen to more violin music?

Edited: November 11, 2019, 8:15 AM · I listen to a lot of violin music but I can never seem to be able to listen until the end of a concerto or piece( I always skip to my favorite parts:)) Does anybody have any tips for focusing and concentrating on the music?

Also, how can I learn from violin music recordings and apply things to my own playing?

Replies (25)

November 11, 2019, 8:20 AM · Interesting question.
Do you ever watch YouTube videos of various recordings, such as Hilary Hahn performing the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto? I like to watch the way someone might play something, identify something I like, and then try and apply it to my own playing.
Do you ever listen to violin music while doing something else, such as studying, eating, doing the washing up etc?
One way of learning from different recordings, is to listen to the same piece but by different soloists. Listen out for their nuances, interpretation, the differences between those recordings. I am currently doing this while studying some of the Rebecca Clarke viola pieces. There certainly are not dozens of recordings out there of them, but there are a fair few on YouTube of students’ solo recitals, etc. It’s interesting to see how each person has taken a piece and made it their own.

November 11, 2019, 8:28 AM · Thanks so much! Yes, I mostly watch the YouTube videos but am a bit confused as to what I should what out for: (phrasing, bowing etc) and how watch out for them..!
November 11, 2019, 10:21 AM · I find YouTube videos are a great resource, but I wonder how much the sound quality there affects what I hear; what is the difference in bit rates and sound range between listening to a CD and to YouTube (given that speakers are a factor)?
November 11, 2019, 10:38 AM · Build a library of your own. Select pieces you like you already now, and new ones you have not. Collect recordings. Learn from the old masters and the "best" players of today (sometimes these are not very well known vs the bigger names.)

CD buying/collecting is still a thing. Transfer them to digital format and wnjoy music on your digital player throughout the day. You could even transfer LPs, but CDs are an easier way to deal with the digital format.

If buying digital, buy while albums and enjoy.

Youtube is great for semi-good audio and to see what is happening live, for better or worse. Most great sound will come from well mastered tracks playing from great players to great speakers/headphones/earphones. There are good "budget" options.

And finally, nothing beats attending live performances, even if with "less good" sound than studio recordings. That is the real musical experience-everything else is an approximation, even when it sounds really good.

November 11, 2019, 11:21 AM · I sometimes find that listening with a score (or even just the solo part) is a good aid to concentration.
Also, if this is your thing, try following the musical structure - you have to listen to all of it to the end in case you miss any landmarks, signposts etc.
Listening to unfamiliar music can be helpful, as you don't know how the story ends.
It is easy to tune out when listening to a familiar work in a familiar performance. The suggestions above re listening to different interpretations should help.
Treat it as a 'meditation' - if your mind wanders, or you are tempted to skip a bit, just bring your attention back to wherever the music is at that moment.
Not sure about listening while doing something else. We all do it, but it does encourage one to 'tune out' when the something else required serious attention (like chopping vegetables with a sharp knife......)
November 11, 2019, 11:40 AM · My favorite way to listen is on long walks where I can allow the music to carry me to different worlds. Sometimes I'll listen and read the score along with, and make notations for myself (if it is a piece that I am learning, for example), but mostly I like to listen and pay attention to what comes up for me so that I can maybe, possibly, try to translate that into my own playing. Still working on that last bit, seems it will always be a challenge for me.

I think if you keep skipping to your favorite parts, you are not allowing yourself to enjoy the moments leading up to and after those parts (which are very important to the overall story). Perhaps find violin music that you are not familiar with so you are forced to listen to the whole thing, or even violin music that you would typically avoid.

You could even go to the ballet to listen to the music, which is my current favorite way of enjoying live classical music.

November 11, 2019, 12:54 PM · The real problem is that if you are not interested in hearing, there is little point in finding a way to listen. All that will happen is that even if the music is on and you are 'listening' your mind will be somewhere else (I'm just the same!).

The way I get to listen is to work on some specific project. Right now I am reading a book on the history/evolution of orchestral music. Each time a piece is mentioned I listen to it - that gives it some context and gets me to explore other aspects like the composer at that time of her/his life; contemporary music; etc.

November 11, 2019, 9:00 PM · I struggle with this as well. I piece jump. There are few times where I will listen from beginning to end of a piece or movement
November 11, 2019, 9:07 PM · Remember when your teacher said, "play it again, this time for bowing" or "play it again, this time for intonation" when you were a child? It's like that with listening. Listen for one or two things at a time.

It's like everything else ... you build up your stamina for active listening over time. Also, having the score in front of you helps considerably. Start with shorter pieces, get the music from IMSLP, and work your way up to longer works and multi-part works such as string quartets.

November 11, 2019, 9:08 PM ·

Do you walk out of a concert before it's finished...?

November 11, 2019, 10:23 PM · No, Henry. But that doesn't mean one is "actively listening" the whole time either. Take a little break while some less interesting music is blowing by, read the program, daydream, people-watch, etc. I'm sure you've never done any of those things though.
November 11, 2019, 11:47 PM ·

No, Paul... I can honestly say that I have never done 'those things', not while the music is playing anyway. So, yes, 'actively listening' ALL the time the music is playing.

I think Peter nailed it. learn to meditate then you'll never listen to music in the same way again. And, if you are following a score you're not really listening, you are analyzing...

November 12, 2019, 1:25 AM · @Anusha

What you say is totaly fine. Do not feel obligated to like and appreciate the entirety of a piece or a concerto from the get go.

Eventually; once you absorb and satisfy your initial excitement you'll be curious enough to explore what that piece of art has to offer. Give it time.

Also; our way of lives changed a lot. The act of "Active Listening" (Not ambient) is becoming more and more of a luxury each passing day due to time constraints.

Now; i didn't keep any statistic about this. But i can confidently say that; in my entire life, the vast majority of any piece of music which later became one of my all time favorites were the ones which grew on me in time. Those are the pieces that never gets old in which you keep discovering certain aspects and nuances as time goes.

Classical Music by definition was intended to be like that. So...

Another thing i discovered later in my life was the musicians side of it. Especially after my daughter started the violin. Her teacher is a stong advocate of being exposed to a wide range of variety within classical music. Therefore she was assigned lots of pieces over time.

As you can tell; some of those were not necessarily liked by her or were hated even.

But being a performer is different. When she practiced and dived deep to learn and understand the said pieces, maybe she didn't end up liking some of them anyway. But she always found certain aspects enough to develop an appreciation and respect.

November 12, 2019, 6:05 AM · "Active listening" is one thing -- the ears are hearing and the brain is processing even when we're not actively listening. Surround yourself with violin music and don't allow yourself to stop the music until the end of the whole work. It won't matter so much that you're "actively listening" as it will matter that the music is playing. Just because we don't think of it consciously doesn't mean it's not happening.

Think of how you learned to speak your first language as a baby. How did those first goo-goo, gah-gah, utterings become the language you could speak as a 4-year-old, a 10-year-old, a 20-year-old? Any parent knows their children are not actively listening most of the time "How many times have I told you to pick up your toys?!" and "I've told you time and time again not to do that!" And yet the children's brains are hearing the speech around them and learning what it sounds like and what the words mean even when they're not paying attention to what's being said.

We can learn music the same way. The more we are surrounded by great violin tone and accurate pitch production and clarity of rhythms the more we will start demanding the same from ourselves when we practice.

November 12, 2019, 11:50 AM · I would just handcuff myself to some pipe in the room and throw the key out of reach. Leopold Mozart recommends swallowing the key, but Flesch thinks that it isn't quite so simple.

It's not really active listening, but if you just play stuff in the background over and over, you may notice it eventually seeps into your brain, and then maybe you will be more ready for actively listening. I think part of the fun for me was trying to predict where the melodies or harmonies of a piece would go.

November 12, 2019, 12:13 PM · I agree with some posters above about just listening over and over helping the brain on a subconscious level. Listening with a score is good too, but I would argue not as the "only" way to solve this situation-plus there are tons of rare pieces that need not wait until you find a proper score to sit down (or ride the aubway, etc.) to listen to them. There are so many things performances can teach that no teaching can; perhaps things to avoid, or understanding about the many ways technical and musical problems can be dealt with. As you keep listening, you will notice things you never did before.
Edited: November 14, 2019, 10:12 PM · Just saying that if you can't "actively" listen to 2 hours of music right now, you don't need to feel inferior to Henry Butcher, who has never even read the program while the music was playing, not once (chortle). Everyone has a different skill set at any point in their lives. You can work at it and build up to it, just as you can with any other kind of mental stamina. Meditation? Sure! Prepare yourself mentally for other mental tasks, that's totally reasonable. But again, if you don't already have that preparation, then you needn't throw in the towel, and you also don't need to spend 10 years in a cave in the Himalayas eating nothing but turnips before you can try building your active-listening skills.
November 15, 2019, 7:07 PM · Even if I remembered to bring my glasses I still would not be able to read the programme due to the lights being down not to mention the illegable small print. And as for 'people watching', I would become very disinterested in the backs of thier heads very quickly. If you paid for your concert ticket why then would you not commit 100% focus on what you came to hear.? Do you go to a movie to 'daydream' and 'people watch'..? Most people don't because they want to follow the plot so they 'listen' to every word. Just like going to a concert, most people want to asorb every sound that is played, so they 'listen' intently. And, when you buy a new CD, do you put it on and then do the vacuum cleaning..? I would think that you would 'listen' from begining to end hopefully without any interuptions. There may always be some distractions that entre the mind, but thats ok, this happens to everyone. Complete focus can be resumed immediatly by just being aware of any wondering thoughts, then remind yourself......" Hey Monkey Mind, I'm listening to this music....."
November 15, 2019, 9:06 PM · All I'm saying is that one doesn't need to feel bad if one can't focus his or her mind on a single thing for two hours on the very first try. Concentration and mental stamina is something one can build.
Edited: November 15, 2019, 10:51 PM · And, all I am saying is how simple it is to focus the mind. Most people can focus thier complete attention on watching a movie for 2 or more hours, a CD would run for less than a quarter of that time. Of course listening doesnt require the visual sense, then close your eyes and allow the hearing sense 100% engagement. Thoughts will entre the mind, this is normal for everyone so no one should feel bad about that. The skill is not to dwell on the thoughts but to be aware of them then re-focus on the task at hand. This skill can be practiced doing any task like washing the dishes, be aware of the thoughts then immediately re-focus the attention on washing dishes. That process will happen many times and it is the same skill that is required for 'actively listening' to music, and playing music. But, as stated previously... '"if you are not interested in hearing, there is little point in finding a way to listen..." However, one maybe interested in being mindfull of the present moment.
Edited: November 16, 2019, 9:08 AM · "The skill is not to dwell on the thoughts but to be aware of them then re-focus on the task at hand. This skill can be practiced..."

Oh! So it's an acquired skill after all? If so then that means if one does not already have this skill (e.g., from having practiced it whilst washing the dishes) one might acquire it over time? Or should it be like "riding a bike" where the critical skill is learnt basically in a five-minute ephiphany?

Many many people find mental clarity and the ability to quickly refocus on a task to be quite difficult. For some it is (apparently) easier. The reason I'm so sensitive to this issue is because I'm someone who struggled mightily with that difficulty well into my adulthood. It's almost like a learning disability: People who don't experience it have no idea how challenging it is (or how commonplace), and apparently, there is no way to explain it to them either. Those who are particularly obtuse will insist that failure to develop that skill must be the result of indifference or sloth.

November 16, 2019, 4:22 PM · "The reason I'm so sensitive to this issue is because I'm someone who struggled mightily with that difficulty well into my adulthood. It's almost like a learning disability:..."

I struggled with this also, and my school record proves it. My focus improved when I discovered 'self help' books. That's why I am advocating the practice of 'mindfulness'.. And, this would not have gone so far if you had not provoked me with your ridicule.

Of course it's an acquired skill, most skills are!?

November 16, 2019, 10:39 PM · It's really the *way* you advocated "mindfulness." It kind of came across like, "If you lose concentration just immediately refocus your mind -- any moron can do it."
November 16, 2019, 10:46 PM · …...any moron can do it....

Whats your problem then....?

November 16, 2019, 11:22 PM · Nice try Henry.

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