The Habit Of Active Listening And How To Develop It

“You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear.”

-Sherlock Holmes


These famous words can be used to refer the ear as well. We have very well mastered the art of hearing without really listening. Listening requires a higher level of involvement but it also results in greater knowledge gain. When it comes to music, listening helps you understand better. There are many elements to music such as melody, rhythm which are equally important to appreciate the art. There are some exercises that can help you sharpen your listening skills.


  1. Try playing a song which you like but don’t get distracted by it. It may be a short duration song say 3 minutes but you need to completely focus on it.
  2. Now when you are listening to the song focus only on a particular musical instrument. For starters, take guitar or drums that you can clearly listen to. Try to find the melody or the rhythm and how it supports the song. It will also help you to understand how it blends with other instruments. Play the song again and again until you finally understand the instrument’s role in the song.
  3. You can also try to locate the instrument's stereophonic position; for example, full right, centre or left-centre. It would be best to use headphones for listening to the song.
  4. Repeat this steps for each instrument in the piece.
  5. When you get a hold of how each instrument works individually try picturing how they all work together to build the musical foundation. Find out where they work together and where they don’t.
  6. Listen to the song again and try to make a diagram of its separate sections.
  7. Now again listen to the song and go through it using the diagram you just made and find out how the instruments are introduced in each section and in which sections they play.
  8. Now it’s time to focus on the backup vocals where its present and where it’s not.
  9. Then try to determine how the harmonies change during the song and in what way they change.
  10. Now note all lyrics while playing the song

Be expressive and let the music affect you. This exercise will point you in the right direction and you will have a fresh view of the song. Active listening is one of the most vital skills for a musician. You will find yourself appreciating the art in a whole different way if you just listen better.

This article has been contributed by Sharad Nirmalkar, Akarsh Singh and Abha Soni.