Music is everywhere. We listen to music while we commute, while we work, while we wait for a call to be forwarded and sometimes even to fall asleep. Almost every store and every restaurant strengthens its atmosphere by picking certain tunes.
But, when you ask someone what kind of music they like, too often “A bit of everything” is the answer. If you usually let music just wash over yourself, and you want to develop a deeper understanding of music, then the following ten steps will make you a person with a passionate opinion on the subject.
1. Change your radio station
If you’ve been listening to the same radio station since forever, it’s time to change things around. Most radio stations stick to their playlists, making your chances of discovering new artists or styles very small.
Identify your favorite host or show on that radio station, and listen to other stations for the rest of the time. You don’t need to stay in the FM range. You can explore stations on the AM waves, or listen to online radio stations. Know that online radio is not only Last.fm, IHeartRadio or Grooveshark. There are plenty of independent radio stations online, for example GothVille Radio.
2. Explore different genres of music
If you usually tune in to commercial radio stations, you only catch a small part of the music spectrum. If you are ready to leave this monochromatic soundscape, then you can explore the vast sea of music genres. For starters, you can identify influential artists and sounds of a genre by reading around on Wikipedia. As an example, you can read about Blues and listen to the snippets that are provided with the article.
Start with the main genres, and once you’ve determined which genres particularly resonate with you, you can dive into the sub-genres and crossover-styles.
3. Listen per album
Many artists record an album as a total piece of art. If you only know “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, then you’re missing out on the entire package of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Even on YouTube and Spotify, playlists are available that contain all tracks of an album.
You can take an easy start by looking up the albums of your favorite hits, and then listen to the entire album. Do you see how your favorite song suddenly has an extra dimension?
4. Listen to albums chronologically
Now let’s go one step deeper into understanding music. If you have an afternoon’s worth of time, try to listen to all albums of a band chronologically.
Some bands, like the American progressive rock band Dream Theater, try to build a connection between the last track of one release and the first track of their next release. Most other bands, however, simply grow and change over time. If you listen to their entire discography chronologically, you can identify the roots of your favorite hit.
5. Read reviews
When you listen to an album for the first time, try to listen to it very carefully. Pay close attention to the stylistic references, to the emotions and to the links with previous work of the artist or band. Once you have listened to the album for a first time, look for reviews of the album online, and see if you agree or disagree with the reviewers.
Finally, give the album another spin, and see if you now recognize some of the points of criticism and praise of the reviewer. If you strongly disagree, you can simply write a comment to the online review to voice your opinion.
6. Your emotional and physical reactions
If you have identified the artists, bands and styles that appeal to you in particular, try to explain why you precisely like them. Your taste in music is a voice from your subconsciousness, and if you pay close attention to your emotional and physical reactions to music, you can learn more about yourself.
At the same time, identifying your reactions to music, and the emotions it evokes, can help you define precisely why you like something. You can now build an argument to explain your preference—the opinion of a passionate music lover.
7. Get a quick introduction to musical instruments
A crucial element of understanding music at a deeper level is to hear the different instruments that contribute to it. You don’t need to be able to read sheet music nor play an instrument to hear the difference between an oboe and a violin.
You can grab a quick introduction to musical instruments right off the internet by browsing “instruments of the orchestra” on YouTube. The example of the clarinet here is one of the many options.
8. Listen to music history podcasts
During your commute, while cooking, or vacuuming, you can listen to music history podcasts. In such podcasts, experts will help you understand the connection between your favorite music and the socio-economical conditions at the time of composition. A great example is Today in Music History.
Other podcasts, such as the A to Z of Classic Fm Music focus on bringing together tons of small pieces of information to spark your listening.
9. Compare different recordings
Classical music pieces are recorded over and over again, but rock bands also occasionally record the same track as a studio version, and then as remixes or live versions. Listening to different renditions of the same piece of music trains your ear to listen for rhythm, tempo, color, emotion and all details that add to the final result that you hear.
10. Attend free concerts
Free concerts are available almost every weekend: conservatory students play for free to practice performing for an audience, or open-air fairs have a band playing to boost the atmosphere. If you hear free music playing, don’t just walk past the artists. Stop, take a seat and listen to their music, their performance and their energy.
Do you consider yourself as someone who is passionate about music? Do you like discussing records and bands? What do you do to understand music at a deeper level?