Who Listens to Music?By Don • Category: Inspiration, Songwriting Tips
Contributed by Tom Slatter of www.songwright.co.uk.
Who listens to music? Music fans of course, but they do so while reading a book, dancing, or doing something else. By listening like a musician the songwriter can learn a lot more about their own craft. This article is about listening like a musician, and about how doing so with one particular album helped me to learn things I could use in my own songwriting.
It sounds like a stupid question doesn’t it? I bet almost everyone you know listens to music. But what if we specify that ‘listen’ means just that, listening. Not having music play in the background while you do something else. Not even listening to an mp3 player, or dancing in a club. I’m talking about giving the music your full, absolute attention.
Who listens to music like that?
I think you’ll admit that not many people do and why should they? Music is about providing a soundtrack to your life, and most people’s lives don’t include paying deep attention to every sound they hear. For most normal people, music is for fun, not reflection.
For us songwriters though, music is our art and our craft. Listening, really listening is a vital tool that can help us improve on that craft.
I’ll tell you a story.
The earliest album I can remember buying was Rust in Peace by the band Megadeth. I love it, and I know it backwards, and over the years I’ve listened to it in several different ways.
When I was in my early teens I would pore over the lyrics, hum the guitar riffs, bang my head to the drumbeats. I listened to it like the normal music fan, loved it, but didn’t think too much about it.
In my late teens, I started learning the guitar parts and realized just how complicated it was. I saw the rhythmic precision needed, the tricks and techniques used in the guitar solos, and I developed a greater understanding of it. I also learned a lot about writing my own riffs.
Later still, at University, I wrote a dissertation on thrash metal. I went back to Rust in Peace and for the first time thought about the structure of the songs. I learned that only one of the eight songs on the album follows the ‘normal’ song structure of verse, chorus, verse, chorus, middle eight, chorus. One of them is a heavy metal ‘theme and variations’, another changes tempo and key completely halfway through and never returns to where it started. All of them use scales that, while common in heavy metal, aren’t used much in other kinds of pop music.
Through listening to that album like a musician I learned a lot about songwriting and guitar playing.
Why don’t you try the same thing? Pick a CD you don’t know too well. Learn to play the songs, or even, like I did, write down the structures, make a note of the scales, key changes, tempos and time signatures.
I guarantee you’ll learn a lot that you can use in your own songwriting, if learn to really listen.
About the Author:
Tom Slatter is a secondary school music teacher from London, UK. He also produces a songwriting blog and podcast at www.songwright.co.uk