Hearing vs. Listening

As we walk down the street many sounds come into our reality. We hear buses accelerate, laughing, shouting, fire truck sirens, motorcycles… a whole array of auditory stimulants.  The awareness of these sounds is not a matter of choice but a matter of biology because we hear these sounds whether we like them or not.

Listening, on the other hand, is a matter of choice. If you are talking with someone you have the option of just hearing the sounds while you think your own thoughts or actually listening to what you are hearing. To listen means that you are carefully considering everything that is being said and responding to it.

If you are a musician and you are only hearing what others are playing without listening, the results will be chaotic. The dynamics won’t match, some notes will be inappropriately louder or softer than the others, the timing will not be in synch, and other problems will occur. In affect, you will not be playing with others, you will only be playing simultaneously as others play.

The potential for musical or social intimacy becomes possible when you listen to others, and impossible when you don’t.  A bad band sounds like they are playing in the same building but not in the same room.

In a great jazz band, everything that is played is listened to deeply in order to assess the inspirational and navigational value. While the sax player is soloing, the drummer, piano player, and bassist have many response options. They may imitate, play against or just play time without any dramatic response. When musicians listen at this deep level they are opening up access to the moment, talking musically with each other as new ideas occur. 

Nothing of value can happen between musicians (or civilians) without listening, a mandatory prerequisite for successful intimate human interaction.

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