How to Develop Listening Skills: A Musician's Guide

Published on 4 April 2024 at 14:32




You have been studying and playing a musical instrument for a few years. And you practice diligently every day, right? But do you remember listening to music by famous composers who have composed music for your instrument? Or why not for voices or other instruments as well?

Every musician, whether beginning, advanced, or professional, should often listen to the works of great composers performed by great musicians.


Why is this so important for you as a musician?

How do you go about listening to other musicians playing?

What are the steps you can take to become a better listener?


Listening to the music of different artists offers you, the performer, various learning experiences. Provided that you are listening to various artists, composers, instruments, ensembles with different setups, orchestras, operas, and ballet music. The list is endless. The more you listen, the better you become at hearing the nuances of other instruments. 

Listening to music and developing an appreciation is like practicing your instrument. You become more efficient in hearing, learn what you want to hear in performances, and gain a better perspective when attending live concerts. In addition, your appreciation for different styles and instruments and how pieces should be played increases. You can then determine how you want to play a particular piece of work. Also, you can listen to improve your understanding of a specific piece you are working on at that moment in time.

Different musicians have their own ways of listening to a particular piece of music. And there are many different ways I would listen to music, as I usually have a particular idea in mind.

When I want a peaceful afternoon, as I sometimes wish to listen to a soothing piece, I listen to J.S. Bach's Goldberg Variations, even though it has lively sections. 

There are these moments when I want to be entertained, and I listen to songs, jazz music, or pop music. 

Should I listen to a particular piece of music that I am working on, I usually follow along with the score in my hand. When I practice that piece, I make mental notes of anything I want to bring to my attention to incorporate into my practice later. 

Sometimes, I listen to get ideas about what the music, which is new to me, sounds like. I check the tempos, as different players can vary the tempo slightly. I will listen to several various artists' performances. Yet other times, I might want to analyze a piece of music, its form, and its structure to make informed decisions about my performance of that particular work.

Therefore, there is more than one way to listen to music. There are a multitude of ways that depend upon your goals as a musician. Whether you listen passively or actively, listening to artists other than yourself is always of great value in broadening your understanding of interpretation and performance practices and assisting you in your growth and development as a musician. 

How can you get the most out of your listening experience? 

One way is to listen to different pieces played by other instruments as much as possible. Another way is to listen to the same music played by various artists. As no two performances sound the same, there is much to learn and benefit from doing the latter.

Make notes for yourself. Write down what you liked about the piece about that particular performance. How did it compare to another rendition of that exact piece?

Suppose you wish to learn more about an instrument other than yours and its sound quality. Listen to several pieces composed for that instrument by different artists.

The idea is that the more you listen, the more you will appreciate and develop your favorite list of music you want to listen to.

Here are more ways to make your listening experience more meaningful and enjoyable. Think about or be aware of the following aspects and questions when you listen to a specific piece. 


The name of the composer

The name of the composition

The period of the piece

The instrument/s being used in that piece

Is the work a solo, chamber music, an orchestral, or a vocal piece?

The year the composer composed that work. 

What is the specific story or history associated with that particular piece?

Are there descriptive elements in the music?

How does the music make me feel? 

Are the melodies sad or joyous? 

Do I want to listen to this work played by different artists?


Musicians and music enthusiasts alike can answer the questions above. Of course, one can listen to any piece of music with little thought about its origins. However, having a better understanding of such details enhances our listening experience. Thus, we gain a better perspective when listening to that work. 

There are more musical aspects that a musician listens to in any given composition, such as tonality, harmony, form, and structure. Once we become familiar with these specific aspects of compositions, our focus can quickly shift to the other elements.

One of my favorite composers, and I love to listen to and play his music, is Joseph Haydn. I particularly enjoy his energy, positivism, and humor in his music. His string quartets speak to me the most among the immense body of work he composed during his lifetime. Once we know that Joseph Haydn belongs to the classical period and wrote many string quartets during his lifetime, we can focus on the aspects of the pieces that reflect that particular musical period.

Listening to music is essential for musicians as it assists the performer in learning and growing as an artist.

How do you enhance your listening experience? Please share in the comments below. In the meantime, happy listening!

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