Rosie wearing headphones

Listen Up!

Note: The following post is a reprint from my "Dave's Rave" blog on my old site originally published back in late 2010.

Welcome to Dave's Rave. No this isn’t where you come to see where I’m hosting my next all-night dance party. (Me at a dance party – scary thought…). No, this is my blog where I plan to muse on all things guitar and music – my proverbial soapbox if you will. So… on what topic have I decided to start this influential online publication that’s sure to eclipse the credibility, relevance & reader base of other more established music industry heavyweights? Well in thinking about where to start blogging as a guitar player and teacher, I started asking myself how I arrived here in the first place. The answer, I’m pretty sure, is the same for all of us musicians.

Long before I was a guitar player, I was a music fan – a listener.

Where It All Starts

I was someone who fell in love with the sound of music (not the film – that’s my wife's bag). The more I listened to, the more I wanted to hear. For me it was an escape that took me places in my imagination as much as it was a soundtrack to the here and now of my life. It wasn’t until sometime later that I even thought about actually playing the guitar. (Okay, so I did pose in front of the mirror with a tennis racquet pretending I was a rock star a few times), but the point is it wasn’t the instrument but the music itself that had a hold of me.

In Deep

Once we actually start the journey of playing and studying all the aspects of our chosen instrument and music in general (theory, technique, repertoire etc.), sometimes it’s easy to start hearing music differently - more analytically - and lose our first love that compelled us to become players in the first place – being a listener. And us guitar players are probably the worst. In addition to thinking subconsciously about the time signature, what key the music is in and trying to discern what chords or scales are being used, a lot of us gear-heads become preoccupied with questions like, “I wonder if that guy’s using a Strat or a Les Paul?” or, “How did they get that cool tone?” or, “What kind of pick does that guy use to play so fast”.

Why Am I Here Again?

Now of course I’m not saying it’s bad to ask such questions or listen actively to music with a view to improving your aural skills and overall musicianship. A great ear and the ability to identify the various compositional and performance aspects in music is an essential part of any musicians’ skill set and should be continually developed. I’m simply saying that in our efforts to get better at analysing and working with the technical side of music, occasionally we can find ourselves neglecting the joy of being a music lover. Sometimes it’s great to put the guitar down and just listen – purely for the enjoyment of the music, for the way it sounds and makes you feel, for the places it takes you and the images it conjures up in your imagination… and nothing else. I would argue that when you lose this wonderment of the mysterious and magical nature of music, you lose the very thing that makes your own music special.

The Magic

Have you ever heard a song and been instantly transported back to when you first heard it?

I remember when I first heard The Beatles. I also remember when I was a teenager and I’d heard people talk about this guy called “Eddie Van Halen”, and then when I actually heard him play…WOW. My life forever changed in that moment. I’ve been just as moved by pop songs, classic rock anthems, jazz tunes – even movie soundtracks or TV themes. You never know where it’s going to come from. A lot of these pieces of music I’ve never played and maybe never will, but when I hear them…

That’s the joy of being a listener and as I’ve strived to become a better musician over the years, I’ve tried to never lose sight of that first love. If ever I find myself going through a dry patch and uninspired to play, it's usually because I've been focusing too much on the mechanics of music rather than the magic. When that happens I don’t let it get me down – I just start listening. It’s usually not too long before I’m looking for my guitar again.

In my next post I’d like to share some of my thoughts on getting the most out of music as a listener. Until then, go put some music on.