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Syllabus: Part 1

Discover new depths, detail, and structure in all the music you hear, play, and love.

In six weeks you’ll wake up your ears and musical brain using the mighty skill of active listening and learn a four-dimensional framework for understanding how music is put together – and why it has the power it does.

Part 1 of The Musician’s Ear begins with The Active Listener’s Handbook and proceeds with six weekly Listening Guides, each with detailed exercises to help you dig into the musical details of audio tracks selected from a surprising range of classical to contemporary musical genres from all over the world.

Part 2 continues the journey through four listening guides focused on classical, jazz, and world music traditions.

The Active Listener’s Handbook

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The Active Listener’s Handbook is your all-in-one guide to active listening. It explains the process and equips you with a clear method and frameworks you can use to begin exploring any music you choose.


  • Introduction: The Power of Active Listening
  • Chapter 1: Active Listening – How To
  • Chapter 2: The Dimensions of a Musical Note
  • Chapter 3: Instruments and Timbre
  • Chapter 4: Pitch
  • Chapter 5: Rhythm
  • Chapter 6: Dynamics and Articulation
  • Chapter 7:Musical Texture and Form
  • Chapter 8: Audio Frequencies and Effects
  • Summary
  • 7-Day Action Plan

Week 1: Instrumentation

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The best place to start with active listening is the simple question: What instruments are there?

This apparently simple question turns out to be the gateway to a whole range of interesting exploration of the layers, roles, and interplay between each part of the musical whole…

Week 2: Texture and Form

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Listening for instruments in Week 1 brought us to hear that music is often constructed in multiple layers. These layers can relate to each other in three basic ways, known as musical texture, and described in the Handbook.

Exercise the power of listening “deep” and discover how shifting and changing textures between these basic three creates form, motion, and emotion in music.

Week 3: Rhythm

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Rhythm – the durations of the sounds and silences – determines much about how different musical layers or different musical sections change from one to the other.

Learn how to listen for rhythm and how it creates form in genres as varied as rockabilly and classical.

Week 4: Pitch

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Pitch is the highness and lowness of a sound. As pitches move through time, they can go higher, lower or stay the same. Yet from these three simple choices come all the melodies and harmonies past, present, and future.

Learn how to hear the patterns, repetitions, and variations in the movements of pitches that construct the melodies and the distinct musical forms that we hear and enjoy.

Week 5: Harmony

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Harmony is what happens when pitches occur simultaneously stacked atop one another. In addition to referring to a harmonized vocal texture, the harmonic landscape interacts with all the other musical dimensions, proceeding through time in chords and chord progressions.

Learn how to hear the patterns, repetitions, and variations in the movements of the harmony that provide a framework and structure of how melody interacts with the other pitch dimensions in music.

Week 6: Audio Effects

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Audio effects utilize electronic and digital means to change the quality or timbre of the sound in a variety of ways. In a way, listening for audio effects teaches us to listen more directly to the actual sounds we are hearing. Awareness of and use of audio effects has evolved with recording, and has effected how we all listen to music – even acoustically.

Learn how audio effects are employed as other musical dimensions, to differentiate form and texture, to tell a musical story, and how they have expanded the potential of acoustic instruments.