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  • Writer's pictureJake Boldman

How to Listen Critically

Updated: Aug 11, 2020

What is Critical Listening?

Critical listening is sitting down with an album, turning off/avoiding any and all distractions (tv, games, lights if it helps), and doing nothing but listen to that record. Seems easy enough right? With the constant barrage of visual and aural stimulation thrown at us these days, it might be more difficult than you think to sit and only listen.

Often times music is seen only as background noise where we check in every now and then to our favorite parts or are forced to listen because something crazy happened and got our attention. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that though! As I'm writing this I have some lo-fi playing in the background. It's chill and nice to work to. Enjoy your favorite music however and whenever you like. But in the spirit of critical listening we want our tunes to be at the forefront of our attention.


Why Do We Need to Listen Critically?

Listening critically helps us better understand the music we are striving to be better at. Especially for lead players! (I didn't restrict that statement to only lead trumpet players on purpose 👀). Lead players tend to have more responsibility on this matter because we are tasked with driving the proverbial "stylistic bus" in a big band setting.


I don't know any musician with a successful career that would own up to getting there without doing a TON of critical listening for years and years and years. We listen to study the great players that came before us and learn about what made them great, about why we love their music, their style. Listening makes it easier to recognize stylistic nuance in a players/bands playing and therefore makes it easier for us to "wear different hats" when we play different types of music meaning we can jump from one style to another if we have to. It is incredibly important in the development of young players. It's a lot of work but dare I say it, we should enjoy it! We love music after all.


How Can We Critically Listen?

I was lucky enough to do my undergrad at a college with a stellar big band program (University of North Texas). The community of students pushed each other to always get better. We would get together to hang out but would listen to Coltrane or Basie or the newest jazz album to come out and would discuss it in real time. We would critically listen to these albums together and have in-depth discussions about style, tone, time feel, phrasing, and solos because we loved listening. Either that or we would get together and play together, still discussing the same topics but putting them into practice. We were having fun hanging and learning together.


It's interesting being in a younger generation and having all of the resources for musical content that we do. It's overwhelming sometimes. It can be difficult finding a place to start just because of the epic amount of media we have access to. Fear not though, the hardest part is picking where to start. Lucky for you I have a big band listening post you can check out.

The Takeaway

Listening is one of, if not the most, important parts of being a musician. Get together with your friends and have a listening party, discuss what you love or don't love about it. How are we supposed to play jazz or classical or funk or bluegrass if we don't know what it sounds like? Take the time to get into your favorite music. Learn all of the characteristics of that music and find out what makes you love it. Make yourself aware of its history, who started it, where it came from, why they decided to do it that way. Play that music often and imitate the great players to a fault. Transcribe and put their licks or style into your own playing. Then and only then can we start to develop our own sound and become individuals and innovators.



Alright y'all that is IT for this week! Whew that made me want to listen to some killing tunes and connect with some friends. *for people reading this in the future, we are still in a global pandemic and super shut down still so we can't hang right now and its lame*


Make sure to stay hydrated and keep listening! Until next time.


-Jake



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