Let see if you are really listening to the music. Here are some ideas and thoughts to consider. Before I begin explaining some techniques for improving your listening, let me say I’m a musician and producer and so it’s my work and passion to really listen to the music intensely from a musical and audio perspective. This is what is called developing your ear. Also, the ability to hear such details starts with hearing the song in the best format (a CD and/or FLAC format) and on quality speakers and/or headphones. Also, stop your world for a moment and really listen…. you’ll be surprised at what you’ll hear and feel.
What draws me into a song first is the melody. Music, via the melody, can stir the emotion. It feels like it touched you and your hooked. Others hear the lyrics first or the vocalist. Some hear a riff like in ‘Smoke on the Water’ by Deep Purple or some of the riffs from Led Zeppelin and/or Van Halen. What about the vocal harmonies from the Beatles, Queen or Def Leppard? What about the instruments? And let’s not forget the talented musicians and their performances. A special thanks to the late Prince as the embodiment of all things mentioned above. Regardless of how you enter a song, I want to introduce you to some techniques to enhance your musical listening ability. That means more enjoyment for all who listen.
Usually, you start with the song first. Does it move you? What stands out to you? Are you starting to hum the song during the day? Does it bring back memories? And, what’s important to me is if it invokes a visual component, not a video, but a picture in my head. Did you ever hear a song and envision something and then you see the video and it’s totally different? Have faith in your vision of the song.
If you’re listening to the vocals, start listening to the nuances in that voice. The hi and lows, the build ups and resolutions. The ad libs, the tone and most important the unique sound of that voice. Once you hear a vocalist in a song, it’s hard to not hear them in it. Then the additions of harmonies from other singers to enhance the vocals and songs. Try to listen to the harmonies as if they are the main vocal line. Doing this will give you a better appreciation of what’s behind all the vocals. What about harmony notes played on different instruments?
Now the instrumentation and musical arrangement. You can usually hear more instrumentation, notes and so on as you listen to the song over and over. I remember seeing a TV special where they broke down some Stevie wonder songs and you can’t believe what is in those songs. And only after hearing the breakdown did I catch all the instrumentation in those songs. The mix, as they call it, is the mix of all the vocals, harmonies, instruments and so on to make the whole song. The mix effects how the sounds are placed in the stereo field, what instruments stand out, also to make sure one instrument is not masking another, the tones/EQ used and much, much more. There are effects added to make it sound like the music is in a big hall, small environment, etc.
And then the PERFORMANCES!!!!!
Being I had to incorporate many techniques in producing my ‘Battle of Armageddon’ (Piano Concerto #1, 3rd Movement) from my Tribulation Rock “Operalet”, I think a breakdown will give you a very in depth look at what is behind a song and it’s recording. I was simulating an orchestra (but there is nothing like the real thing) and what you would experience if you were listening to one in a concert hall. It is an ideal way to demonstrate all the nuances in making and recording music. I’ll try to not go too far into the weeds but would you have heard all of these things by just listening to the song quickly or once?
• I picked my sounds (sampled violins, cellos, etc.) from different sound sources because each sound module or keyboard has different sample instruments, giving you different timbre, technique, tone, etc. So, that is more realistic to the differences in real players and instruments from varied manufacturers.
• You have to think, play and arrange one instrument at a time. For example; don’t play a chord with one hand to get a three part harmony string part. Play each note separately and preferably from three different sound sources. And picture how that would actually be played as opposed to a keyboard player.
• If you play each instrument and note separately, it will also help you to think three melodies as opposed to a chord mindset. This will enhance the arrangement and naturally incorporate counterpoint into the melodies.
• I used an orchestra chart that showed me the musical range of each instrument so that it is realistic and can be reproduced by a real player, need be.
• In you mix (talking stereo in this blog but could apply somewhat to surround sound) the sounds have to be hitting your ears like they would in a real concert hall with a real orchestra. For example; the 1st violin in your left ear, then start around 10 o’clock for 2nd violin and so on. More reverb on the horns in the back because they will reach you ears a little later then the strings would in a real hall. I found a seating arrangement chart of how a real orchestra is situated to reproduce it accordingly.
• I used the same effect (reverb to simulate a concert hall) on all instruments in the mix. That’s the sound effect you would hear from each instrument in that actual hall.
You can check out my music at www.desbeemusic.com/rock-operalet/ As you scroll down that page you can click on the “Hear it Here” icon to preview the music. That will give you an idea of these techniques in action and hopefully you will now know how to really listen to the music.