As musicians, we have to process a lot of information in a very short amount of time. When we hear music, sounds are translated into concise items which then fit contextually into a space of time. Furthermore, if we are performing music, we are also producing even more sounds at the same time!
Zoltán Kodály created his revolutionary teaching approach based on using “inner hearing”, allowing his students to develop their listening, aural and performance skills in singing and ensembles. It trains people to be able to internalise and hear music inside their heads, without listening to or playing anything in the real world. Modern Kodály instructors teach this to all their students from a young age, and there is solid proof of improvement in their musicianship skills as a result.
Audiation is a technique derived from the Kodály method, and is a relatively new way of internalising music. In fact, I myself had never heard of audiation until very recently. However, it turned out I had been pulling off many aspects of this technique without realising…
In our previous article The Secret Music Practice Skill, audiation is defined in this way: Audiation is to sound what visualisation is to images. Visualisation is an excellent tool for artists who want to see the image before they draw it. Audiation is the same, in that it is a fantastic skill which can also help you to improve on your existing skills.
You can refer back to that previous article for the basics of what audiation is and how to do it. Today I’m going to discuss some other ways you can use audiation to improve your musicality. For musicians, audiation can give you an edge on playing your instrument, learning new music and even writing songs. Read on for guidance on how you can use audiation to improve each main aspect of being a musician.
Audiation helps you peel away the layers in music
Reading and analysing music can be compared to peeling an onion. There are always certain aspects of music that you notice before others. Often, our brains latch naturally onto aspects such as the main melody or where the beat goes. However, that is normally a very small part of what our brains are trying to process, either visually or aurally.
Imagine if you were able to not only hear more parts at once, but analyse what is happening in each of those parts simultaneously – and all when reading or hearing music for the first time. With audiation, you can!
Being able to analyse music aurally is of course very important for a musician. The musical part which each musician plays is only a fraction of the overall music an audience member hears at an ensemble performance. While practising your own part is very important, many aspects like general tempo, blend, and the balance of dynamics and acoustic rely on each player taking into account the whole group’s contribution. We have to listen in order to make these aspects sounds good. The key to listening effectively is to train our ears and musical imagination to let us hear and understand more at once in music.
Audiation can make practice time more efficient
As a singer, I am not able to practise for 6 hours a day, as it is a lot easier to overwork your voice as opposed to your hands. This, along with a heavy overall schedule means that I need to practise particularly efficiently.
I am a firm believer in using audiation outside of your allocated practice time to improve not only your skills with repertoire you are currently working on, but also improve your skills in general as a musician.
While singing is most definitely my first instrument, I also play the keyboard to a fairly high standard. I have found that if I don’t have time to practise extensively, I can still “practise” in everyday situations such as at my desk or while travelling. I often imagine myself singing along to tunes if I can’t physically do it for any particular reason, and tapping my hands on a flat surface to a keyboard part as I’m actually trying to play it.
Practising away from your actual instrument allows you to improve on four main aspects:
1. Physical instrument technique
Even away from your instrument, you can still work out fingerings, bowing techniques, breathing and vocal contours by listening to the music you need to practise.
Simply put yourself in the mindset you normally put yourself in while practising, imagine it as vividly as possible, and your brain will practise and learn in exactly the same way.
2. Memorising music
On top of the physical part, if you practise physical aspects of your playing by listening to music in your head, you are essentially learning how to remember your own part and everything else going on in the music at the same time!
This allows you to memorise new repertoire much faster as you are helping your brain to reinforce and retain the new information even without the need for the original source input.
3. Analysing music aurally
As musicians we each specialise in just one or a small number of instruments. However, as explained above, we still must strive to learn as much as possible about the instruments and parts we don’t play in order to understand and appreciate music more fully.
4. Playing “by ear”
Many songs are not available in a visual format, and even if they are, not everyone can read music or tablature. I for one can definitely not read keyboard tabs!
So often musicians need to resort to learning music by ear. This is an essential skill for other reasons, as it also improves your other skills such as improvisation and musical confidence.
Audiation helps you become more versatile
I listen to music practically everywhere. Especially when I’m out and about, I pay more attention to what is being played because of how I’ve practised audiation. Even if you don’t play the guitar, bass or drums, active listening with band recordings is a great way to improve your audiation skills.
Think consciously about how each part is being played. Listen to the pitches, the rhythm, the speed and so on. Becoming more conscious of each part will not only give you a better idea of how music is generally played, but it will also let you notice a lot more! You will find over time that you start hearing more subtle details that you previously didn’t pick up on. This could be both from a musical or production aspect (layers of mixing, compression and other details in the recording).
Imagine being a multi-instrumentalist
Let’s take a more detailed example. People often say I’m a very good air guitarist, yet I don’t actually play the guitar. All I know about playing guitars is how many strings there are, how they are tuned, and that the higher you move up the guitar away from the headstock, the higher the pitch. How does that work then?
Well, I’ve listened to a lot of music with guitars being a dominant instrument, and often when I listen to them, I attempt to visualise what they are doing and how they are playing. Since I began doing this, I am now a lot better at hearing different guitar parts such as rhythm and lead guitars, and also how to tell the difference between who is playing them.
In particular, there is a song I listen to with two guitarists and I used to struggle in telling who was playing which part. Now can tell almost instantly, and I can apply this to other songs as well, because audiation has made me a lot more aware of the intricacy of different layers in a track.
This has extended to many different instruments, some of which I have never played.
“But I can tell what people are playing from looking at sheet music or tabs!” Not quite. In my opinion people who go to concerts and constantly stare at the score, following it through, are missing out! You may know on a theoretical level, but as I said earlier, learning to listen to parts will make you far more aware than if you simply had the music in front of you.
I have definitely found that since I learned to open my ears more, and leaving the written m