Listening to Music
Why listen to music?
- music that matches your mood helps you to feel understood and validate your emotions
- the right music can also positively alter your mood
- relieves the physiological and psychological symptoms of stress
- improves emotional regulation & control
- promotes mindfulness & facilitates flow
- Gain an understanding of how music functions in various contexts
- Learn what you like and don't like in a piece of music (and why)
- Helps you to develop your own voice as a musician and composer
- Hear how the musical skills you learn are applied in real music
- Broaden your musical vocabulary
Activity #1 - Song Analysis
1. Start by just listening to music, preferably music that you have not heard before, so that you can hear each element of the song/piece with a fresh ear.
The playlists to the right can get you started. Put the playlists on shuffle and as you listen, pay attention to how each song conveys its message. It's okay if you don't have the technical musical vocabulary to explain it yet, just pay attention to how certain elements of the music resonate with you.
This is a non-comprehensive list of great songs. Head to the forum to suggest some of your all-time favorite songs to be added to the playlist!
2. Choose one (or more) of the songs on the playlist that you heard for the first time and that stuck out to you. Listen to it a few more times, then complete an analysis of the song by answering the following questions:
1. What attracted you to this particular song? This can be simple. Maybe it was the opening guitar riff or the tone of the singer's voice. Perhaps a particular lyric stood out to you. Perhaps you found the melody catchy or liked the instruments that were used (even if you don't know exactly what they are). Whatever it is, write it down in whatever way makes sense to you.
2. In your interpretation, what is the overarching theme of the song? What do you think the artist was trying to say? What is this song about, and who are they talking to? What might the artist had been thinking/feeling when they wrote this song? Again, this is your interpretation of the artist's intentions. Ultimately, no one but the artist themselves knows the true answers to these questions. As best as you can, provide examples from the music and/or lyrics that support your ideas.
3. How does the song make you feel? Does it make you happy, sad, hopeful, nostalgic, angry, etc.? Maybe your feelings change over the course of the song. Note what moments in the music provoke certain feelings, and why you think that is.
One thing that makes music function is the use of both tension and release. How does this particular song build tension and release that tension, and how might that influence your emotions while listening?
Finally, note your physical reactions to the music. Are there moments that make your heart race, make your chest feel heavy, or make you hold your breath? Are there moments where you can't help but dance or tap your feet? Remember that the ways in which music interacts with our bodies is an important aspect of its function in our lives.
Further Listening: Essential Albums
Below is another non-comprehensive and in-progress list of suggested music to listen to. Listening to a complete album can help you to understand the relationships between songs and how artists compile them to create a larger narrative.
(scroll to the end of the list for Activity #2)
[ album - artist ]
Classical Music (not quite "albums," but a list of long-form classical/art music works)
The Messiah - George Frederic Handel
Symphony No. 9 - Ludwig van Beethoven
Piano Sonata No. 2 in Bb Minor, Op. 35 - Frederic Chopin
Nocturnes (Trois Nocturnes) - Claude Debussy
The Rite of Spring - Igor Stravinsky
The Well-Tempered Clavier, BWV 846-893 - Johann Sebastian Bach
St. John Passion - Johann Sebastian Bach
Requiem - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Tod und Verklarung - Richard Strauss
Op. 16 (6 Lieder) - Clara Schumann
Symphony No. 4 in D minor - Florence Price
Appalachian Spring - Aaron Copland
Afro-American Symphony - William Grant Still
Symphony No. 1 - Gustav Mahler
The Nutcracker - Tchaikovsky
Pierrot Lunaire - Arnold Schoenberg
Kind of Blue - Miles Davis
Brilliant Corners - Thelonious Monk
In the Wee Small Hours - Frank Sinatra
Billie Holiday - Billie Holiday
At Last! - Etta James
The Complete Ella and Louis on Verve - Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong
Abbey Road - The Beatles
What’s Going On - Marvin Gaye
Sticky Fingers - The Rolling Stones
Thriller - Michael Jackson
Bad - Michael Jackson
Blue - Joni Mitchel
The Wall - Pink Floyd
Innervisions - Stevie Wonder
Purple Rain - Prince
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road - Elton John
Sounds of Silence - Simon & Garfunkel
Pet Sounds - The Beach Boys
Rumors - Fleetwood Mac
Listen Without Prejudice - George Michael
The Doors - The Doors
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars - David Bowie
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill - Lauryn Hill
Epiphany: The Best of Chaka Khan - Chaka Khan
Trilogy - The Weeknd
To Pimp a Butterfly - Kendrick Lamar
Damn - Kendrick Lamar
Confessions - Usher
Stoney - Post Malone
The Chronic - Dr. Dre
Illmatic - Nas
ATLiens - Outkast
Pop & Alternative
Vespertine - Bjork
Nevermind - Nirvana
In Utero - Nirvana
Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not - Arctic Monkeys
OK Computer - Radiohead
Back to Black - Amy Winehouse
Illinois - Sufjan Stevens
Jagged Little Pill - Alanis Morisette
A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships - The 1975
Yourself or Someone Like You - Matchbox 20
American Idiot - Green Day
Pinkerton - Weezer
A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out - Panic! at the Disco
The Black Parade - My Chemical Romance
Transatlanticism - Death Cab for Cutie
Ceremonials - Florence + the Machine
21 - Adele
Born to Die (the Paradise Edition) - Lana Del Rey
Hot Fuss - The Killers
A Flair for the Dramatic - Pierce the Veil
(What’s the Story) Morning Glory? - Oasis
Deja Entendu - Brand New
Activity #2 - Playlist Assignment
Create a playlist of at least 10-15 songs. The songs toward the beginning should represent how you currently feel, then gradually transition to songs that portray how you want to feel. Alternatively, the playlist may start with songs that represent your current situation, then shift toward songs that symbolize where you hope to be in the future.
Have fun and get creative, and if you choose, make multiple playlists that focus on different aspects of your desired change. Ultimately, these playlists should serve as a tool that you use to alter your outlook when you're feeling down. If you wish, share your playlists in the forum (with a few words about what they represent) to inspire others in the course!
Below is an example playlist that follows a clear theme: moving on from a break-up. Your playlist may not (likely will not) appear as straightforward, and that's okay! Self-selecting music to listen to is all about considering your personal associations with the music. What's important is that the songs on your playlist empathize with you in the beginning, then take you to a more positive place by the end.
That brings us to the end of the music listening module, but be sure to continue listening to music throughout the course and beyond. Listen to plenty of the music that you know and love, and make an effort to explore new music often to broaden your perspective and musical vocabulary.