How We Listen to Music

How We Listen to Music


It is possible to presume that everyone listens to music in the sameway. Reason being, it is difficult to determine why one puts on theradio, attends a musical concert, or is interested in hearing amelody. However, music sounds different to different listeners. Thereare listeners that are keen on the meaning of a musical composition.Others are simply passive listeners that merely listen to the musicalsound. Also, there are listeners that listen to music with a keenconcentration on the musical elements. But, the best music listenersare those capable of actively listening to the words of a song, ableto understand the meaning and identify the elements used in acomposition.

The paper explains the three different levels applicable inexplaining how people listen to music. These are the aesthetic,expressive and sheerly level.

Aesthetic level

The aesthetic level refers to people that listen to music passively.Passive listeners are individuals that merely listen to the musicalsound. There is an inactive connection to the words, rhythm, tone orharmony among other musical elements in a song, except sound. Thelistener is in a state of mind where they are not bothered by thecomposer’s choice of words, whether the music is harmonious or hasan unrelated tone. It is better illustrated by an individualswitching on the radio while doing something else, like maybecleaning. The individual is aware that there is music playing, butwhen asked they are unlikely to recall what radio station they arelistening to. In some instances, the listener may not even be awarewhat song is playing on the radio. Reason being there is noconnection to what the singer is saying. Rather, connection to themusic derives from the fact that there is musical sound.

It is correct to conclude that in passive listening, an individualis said to be listening to music because there is a masterpieceplaying. When someone enters a room that is quiet, they are highlylikely to experience loneliness. Supposing that an individualswitches on music in the room, they begin to hear sounds. Thelistener loses themselves in the sound that comes from the music andprovided the music continues to play, they do not feel lonely. Theyuse the musical sound to avoid loneliness. Hence, the listener isonly interested in something that will preoccupy their mind. In thiscase, music becomes the best substitute because the listener fixatestheir mind in the musical sound and is less concerned about the wordsused in the composition. Listening to music on an aesthetic levelexplains why a song may have a sad theme, yet the listener continuesto listen oblivious of the sad tone. To the listener, music is ofartistic value and assists in passing time, especially when it is amusic video.

Expressive level

Individuals that are keen on the meaning of a composition refer tothe expressive listeners. This means that there are people who listento music because of what the composer is saying. There are thousandsof compositions in the world, and every music composer has theirreasons for creating a song. Thus, there is music that expressessadness, happiness, music that is entertaining, music that soothes,among other themes. Expressive listeners are more likely to beinfluenced by their mood in selecting music. For example, whensomeone is feeling sad, they may choose to listen to music that isencouraging. The intention is that the meaning of the song willlighten up their mood. Another example is someone that is in lovelistening to love music, which enables them to feel more connected totheir lover, most likely when they are not together.

Listening to music expressively implies that indeed music hasmeaning. There is a message that the composer intends to communicateto the listener. Expressive listeners are hence conscious when musicis playing. They are not just interested in the sound that is createdby music. In addition, to sound, the listeners must hear the wordsand understand them, so as to enjoy the music. They cannot simplyswitch on music and passively listen, but have to concentrate andcarefully select their music. It explains why some listeners havetheir preferred choice of music to others. A listener may like lovemusic more compared to praise songs or vice versa.

Understanding the meaning of a composition is very important forexpressive listeners. It is the only way that they can express theirfeelings. For instance, in a burial ceremony, the music is mainly sadand speaks about how the deceased has left. Listeners expressivelyreact by crying to the words because they understand that they willnever see the deceased again. Supposing someone that was at theburial hears the song playing in another place, they are likely tofeel emotional and remember their deceased, even though it is yearslater. The listener has developed an emotional connection to the sadsong, which explains why they cry on any reminder of the song.

Sheerly level

The elements of music are important to some listeners, which makesthem sheerly listeners. Music does create sound and results inemotions, but there are more musical elements that are equallyimportant. One cannot simply compose a song and sing without payingconsideration to the rhythm, pitch, harmony as well as tone. For apassive listener, it is unlikely to notice that a song does not rhymeor is not harmonious because provided sound is produced then thelistener listens. The conscious listener is concerned about the themeand is unlikely to pay consideration to other musical elements.However, for the sheerly listener, every aspect of the music mustcoordinate. For instance, the listener cannot listen to a sad songthat has fast rhythm or a song where the listener struggles to hearthe words. There must be proper coordination of the sad song with arhythm associated with sadness. The words in a song must be audible,especially when there are instruments accompanying the melody.

Music that comprises of properly coordinated musical elements is moreappealing to the sheerly listener. It explains why it is possible forsome listener to listen merely to the tone of a song and candetermine the name of the song. Sheerly listeners are mainly musicinstructors and analysts. The individuals are well-versed with everymusical element and can be able to detect what elements are missingin a composition. Hence, they are active listeners, keen on everysound, tone, melody, harmony and pitch and how they relate to thecomposition. By listening to music, an analyst can explain the use ofthe different music elements and critic when necessary. Theinstructor on the other hand passes the musical listening andcomposition skills to music students.


Music listeners can be categorized as passive, active and bothpassive-active. The passive listeners have no conscious connection tomusic and only listen to the sound on an aesthetic level. Activelisteners are keen on the theme of a song. They listen to the wordsused by the composer keenly and become emotionally attached to music.Active listeners are expressive and must have a motivation forlistening to music. Passive-active listeners are more alert whenlistening to music on a sheerly level. In addition to listening tothe sound and theme, they also listen to music with a keen on thedifferent music elements.