Here at EasyEarTraining.com we have a series called Open Your Ears which introduces you to various new genres and styles of music you might not have heard before. The idea is to broaden your musical horizons and encourage you to listen actively when you hear music.
The name, of course, is a pun on “open your eyes”. But there’s a powerful point in that distinction—because to truly open your ears, you must close your eyes.
Why is closing your eyes powerful?
Simply put: because so much of the world is visual. Today more than ever, we are surrounded by bright, colourful distractions.
If you truly want to hear music fully and clearly, it’s essential to block out all this visual noise. This idea won’t be a revelation to you. We all instinctively close our eyes when we’re trying to listen intently for a quiet sound, or we let ourselves get fully absorbed in the music playing through our headphones.
When you’re doing ear training, whether it’s with dedicated exercises or lighter practice like exploring new music with the Open Your Ears series, you should remember that closing your eyes can suddenly make the task of listening properly much easier.
Ultimately ear training is about critical listening. Not just hearing but actively listening, and the key to listening actively is focus.
Can you hear with C L A R I T Y ?
Do you understand what you hear in music? If not, your ear training skills may only be part of the issue. Understanding requires attention. The more distractions you are surrounded by, the less likely it is that your brain will be able to pick apart the sounds it needs to.
when applied to totally focused listening.
So how does it work? There are 3 steps:
1. Dim those lights
Close your eyes.
Your ears are now infinitely more focused.
That’s Step One. Close your eyes, and in that dark, black void, just focus on the sound.
2. Focus your ears
Step Two is to isolate the sound. That means not just closing your eyes, but closing your ears to everything except what you’re listening for.
Block out the distraction of other instruments, other musical parts, any environmental noise in the recording.
You must even block out your own imagined chatter! In meditation practice it’s referred to as “the monkey mind”, which keeps a steady stream of talk running through our head whether we mean to think it or not. You will most likely find that even as you try to listen intently, some part of your brain is jabbering.
this is too hard…
oh this bit is good…
should I be trying to hear this…
and so on…
Let those chattering thoughts go and embrace the silence of your mind and the darkness of your closed eyes.
Allow only the sound you are interested in to register in your perception.
3. Bring it back
Then Step Three is to start letting the world back in.
Wait! Let in only what’s useful. Keep your eyes closed to the world’s visuals and create your own inside your head instead.
- See the music in your mind’s eye, even as your actual eyes are closed.
- Hear it (i.e. audiate) it in your mind’s ear, even as you stop the recording and your ears hear only silence.
- Feel the music flowing. Not a real-world sensation, but that imagined, emotional, instinctive feeling.
Create your own world of musical sound, centred 100% and focused 100% on the musical element you want to understand, to appreciate, and to enjoy.
Truly hearing music—and hearing musically
Try experiencing music this way and suddenly hearing becomes listening. It becomes understanding. It becomes truly musical hearing.
If you love music.
If you love listening to music.
If you want to be musical more than anything in the world…
Then don’t you owe it to yourself to stop, close your eyes, close your ears… and experience your perfect musical world inside your head?
Is that sounding a bit too airy-fairy?
What “Opening Your Ears” means in practice
As you get started, “Opening Your Ears” means closing your eyes. When you’re listening to music, it’s astounding how much richer and immersive an experience it is with your eyes closed.
Things you’ve never heard before, rich meaning, significance and emotion you were oblivious to—even in songs you thought you knew intimately. You need to actually do this a few times before you realise how much it changes your relationship with sound.
After that, you needn’t literally close your eyes (though you might still choose to) but remember that singular focus, and bring it with you to each ear training session or musical experience.
Opening Your Ears means making it a priority to listen to music—not just hearing it in the background while you get on with chores.
To put it another way, Opening Your Ears means you STOP and listen to music. Never being too afraid, embarrassed or lazy to stop doing other things and give music your time.
Opening Your Ears means listening to music with the respect it deserves. Music is not just decoration for advertising and TV shows.
If you’re reading this, you already know how important music can be and how much it means to you. And yet, surrounded by uses (and abuses) of music and by songs that hardly seem worth paying attention to, it is easy to forget the intense and respectful attention that truly great music really deserves.
Music means something to you. Don’t be afraid to admit that and don’t let yourself forget it.
Opening Your Ears means paying zero attention to distractions which arise while music is playing. This takes willpower. You’ll feel yourself having to make an effort to drag your focus back to the music each time your mind wanders. It’s a lot like mindfulness meditation – seems simple, but is intensely difficult at first!
The easy option is to let the music just wash over you or pass you by. The musician’s option is to instead allow only the musical elements you’re focusing on to register and having the strength to block out the rest.
There is one highly-trained classical musician who simply cannot listen to music in the background while working—music of any kind—because it proves far too much of a distraction. He has trained his brain and his ears to respect music, to appreciate music, to treat music as something valuable and worthy of his undivided attention. Having trained his brain and his ears to respond to music will full attention and understanding, it’s impossible for him to just tune it out.
You don’t necessarily need to take it that far. But isn’t it an inspiring idea? To let music hold such power over you.
Can you imagine how much richer his experience of music is for having trained his ears this way?
Notice I said “music of any kind”. Although he preferred classical music himself, he was alert and engaged with any kind of music and had learned to find the greatness in any genre he encountered.
Opening Your Ears also means being open to experiencing all kinds of music and sound. The more musically trained you become, the easier it is to reject “bad” music. A new song you’ve never heard before. A genre you think you hate. An amateur performer creating simplistic melodies. Even the environmental sounds in the world around you which at first don’t seem musical at all… or are they?
You never know unless you give them the benefit of the doubt and take the time to listen. Not just hear them, not just ignore them, but open your ears and listen. Looking for a place to start with this? Check out our Open Your Ears series.
The world around us is full of exciting distractions. Don’t let your musical life suffer as a result!
Close your eyes to the visual. Close your ears to the distracting sounds. And open your ears to a broader, richer and more exciting world of music than you’d ever imagined.
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