Compare how it felt listening to music before you ever learned an instrument, to how it feels now. Different?
Personally, I’ve found that after learning about music, how I observed it entirely changed. When I was younger, enjoyment of music for me was essentially pure unabashed appreciation for what I heard — I didn’t think about why I might like it, I just knew whether I did or not. But now that I’m familiar with playing and composing music, I can’t help but engage with it more; deconstruct the song, analyse the musicianship, critically listen to the instrumentation or compare it to my own ability.
You see, experiencing music changes for people if or as their musical journey progresses. Sometimes it’s good to remember what it was like before — how fresh and exciting it all sounded — and just enjoy music again as innocently as with the ears of a child, unadulterated by knowledge.
If you’re feeling burnt out on learning, here are some suggestions of other ways to engage with music that don’t involve actually practicing or playing – that could help you tap back into the aspiration and grit needed to keep you on your musical trajectory.
Listen to music (just, really listen)
Engaging with recorded music increasingly reads as consumption, rather than something to do with pleasure or leisure, or invigorating our own creativity. Reconnecting with music as a source of nourishment and inspiration can help jaded learners fall back in love with music and stay in the game. Here are a few ideas for how you can recalibrate your relationship with music through the way you listen:
- Practice active listening as much as you can. So often, listening to music is a passive activity – especially now that algorithms are so finessed at serving stuff up. Dial down the distractions, and give yourself a moment with some tasty tunes where you actually shut your eyes and hone in on the way a song’s been constructed: what’s really going on in there, and why does it make you feel so good – or not? Here are some suggestions of what to listen for, from Ableton.
- Create a playlist of songs you’d love to play live, and close-listen to the tracks. Imagine how your body would need to move if you were playing along, on your instrument of choice. What would your breath be doing? Your muscles? How would you centre yourself and lock into the groove? Great performers inhabit their music, and vice versa – their instrument, and the sounds they make with it, seem to be an extension of them. A lot of that boils down to psychology and being fully in the zone, not necessarily playing in a way that’s technically perfect. So, go on, spend some time with music thinking about how it makes you feel, and how you’d create that same sort of energy if you were the one performing.
- If you need a little more hand-holding than that, we’re here for you! Check out this playlist of tunes the Melodics team is listening to, over on Spotify.
- How much does the way we listen affect the impact music has on us? Australian composer and sound artist Lawrence English is a firm proponent that listening to music is a creative act in and of itself. Catch his Loop 2018 talk on the topic here.
We’ve also put together some Guided Listening blog posts, to help you identify an area of interest, and really dive in. Explore them here.
Get to know your heroes
Listening to podcasts is a great way to absorb inspirational insights into the career trajectories of your musical heroes: hear war stories; find out how their songs were put together; demystify their enigma (or have it reinforced); and learn where different artists sit in the wider cultural landscape. These are some of our go-to’s, which never fail to get us psyched about playing music ourselves:
- Questlove Supreme is a fun, irreverent and educational weekly podcast that digs deep into the stories of musical legends and cultural icons in a way that only Questlove can deliver. Not your typical interview show, this is about legends and legends in the making bringing their legacy to life in their own words. Look out for eps with the likes of Q-Tip, Pharoahe Monch, Chaka Khan, Weird Al, Biz Markie, and Babyface.
- Song Exploder sees artists dissect one of their strongest songs over the course of an episode and, piece by piece, tell the story of how it was made. Isolating the individual tracks that comprise the final recording, host Hrishikesh Hirway asks artists to delve into the specific decisions that went into creating their hit. Over 200 episodes have been created so far, featuring the likes of The Roots, Yo-Yo Ma, Jon Hopkins, Fleetwood Mac, Billie Eilish, Metallica, FKA Twigs, Arlo Parks, and Robyn. Also clock the Netflix version.
- Broken Record sees Rick Rubin, Malcolm Gladwell, and former New York Times editor Bruce Headlam take turns interviewing some of the biggest names in music. Rubin’s episodes are of particular note – hearing the legendary producer chew the fat with the likes of Brian Eno, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and David Byrne is pretty special stuff, and a great reminder of how magical music can make you feel.
Switched on Pop
- Switched On Pop is a podcast about the making and meaning of popular music hosted by musicologist Nate Sloan and songwriter Charlie Harding, produced by Rock Ridge Productions, Vox Media Podcast Network and New York Magazine. The hosts chat with leading artists, songwriters and producers to break down hit pop tunes to figure out what gives them their x-factor, and the role cultural context plays.
What had happened was
- What had happened was sees Open Mike Eagle sit down with legendary hip hop artists for an in-depth look at their life, impact, and legacy over the course of one season. Season one covers DJ Prince Paul (De La Soul, Handsome Boy Modeling School). Season two covers El-P (Company Flow, Run the Jewels).
There’s more to music than playing live! Developing your understanding of things like sound design, production and composition can help you to find the fire for music creation and performance again. Here are some great resources that take you behind-the-scenes of music making:
Sound design, production and composition tips
- Signals Music Studio – From songwriting to modal theory for dummies, Signals Music Studio cover all bases
- Tracklib blog – Many afternoons easily lost (or gained) here!
- Learn about synthesis – Don’t skip this interactive Ableton website
- Beat Recipes: Learn Drum Patterns for Nine Different Genres – Packed with crucial insights into the art of beat creation
- Learn Music for Free – Another great resource from Ableton
Take a free online course
- Berklee MOOCs – Learn from the greats!
- Build an effect or audio device – What’s better than mastering your tools? Learning how to make them!
- Design a VST plugin – One for the true music nerds
Want more? Check out this post on why people quit their instruments, and how you can avoid falling into the same trap.