When you’re a beginning music student, it’s hard enough to learn the instrument, let alone play with other people.
I remember when my first violin teacher would play piano accompaniment to whatever beginner piece I was learning, I struggled to hear what she was doing and what I was doing.
And when I first played in youth orchestras, I couldn’t understand how everyone seemed to be able to read music for the first time and listen to each other while correctly playing their own part.
But like anything in life, these are things that you can practice…
Musical awareness practice with drones
I want to share a simple practice you can do to expand your musical awareness. It will allow you to hear yourself along with other voices. We’ll use drone tracks to flex our listening muscles.
- Start by just listening to this D drone track.
- Next, play an open D string.
- Key step: Shift your awareness from the sound of your own fiddle to that of the drone.
- Continue to shift back and forth between listening to yourself and listening to the drone.
- After doing that a bit, see if you can hear both at the same time.
- Don’t worry if you can’t. Just keep alternating between the drone and yourself, keeping a good tone.
If you simply practice shifting your consciousness from the drone to your own playing, the two will naturally sync up in time.
Once you can do this, simply extend the practice to more complex things: intervals (two notes), scales, tune phrases, whole tunes.
Even the most advanced players can benefit from this practice.
In fact, advanced players may already be doing this without realizing it.
Once you can do this with a single note, try to do it with intervals (two-note patterns), scales, tune phrases and whole tunes.
Musical awareness practice with play-along tracks
You can also do the same basic practice with a play-along track. Alternate between listening to yourself and the play-along track.
Let’s try it with the first quarter of Blackest Crow.
Start by just listening. Then just play it. Then try to shift your attention from the play-along track to your own playing. Keep alternating. Once you can do that, try it on the rest of the tune.
Playing with others, listening broadly…
If you get the hang of this, it will be a little easier to play with others.
You’ll be able to hear what the banjo, guitar, accordion or bass is doing as you play.
The practice also makes listening to music fun. As you listen to a recording or performance, shift your attention to different instruments. Then see if you can pull back and hear it all as a whole.
What’s truly powerful about this practice is how it can carry over to the rest of your life. Can you listen to what others are saying while you also hear your response? Can you close your eyes and shift between hearing “external” sounds (like street noise) and “internal” sounds (like ear-ringing, internal dialog)?