Wednesday, September 2, 2015


"All music is played by ear."
- Hal Galper

What is your musical diet?

You know the expression, "you are what you eat." As a musician, you are what (and who) you listen to. So what kind of musical diet are you on? Too much junk food? Too much comfort food? Too much of the same kind of music? Too much of a single artist or style? Do you spend some time listening attentively and thoughtfully? Do you listen to the kinds of music you perform regularly (or want to perform)?

These are important questions to ask yourself, especially if you are a music student. It is impossible to become a good musician if you haven't spent a lot of time listening attentively. If you listen to something and don't like it, you should ask yourself why you don't like it? What exactly don't you like? If you do like it, what do you like about it? Specifically.

If your food diet primarily consists of hamburgers, hot dogs, and drinking pop, you will probably find eating sashimi and drinking sake unpalatable. But if you regularly experiment with new foods, eat slowly and with care, and keep an open mind, then your palate will evolve and become more sensitive and you will taste differently. This will then fuel a desire to try new foods and combinations. The same is true of your musical diet.

How do you listen to music? 

Do you listen in the car? While you are surfing the web? While exercising or jogging? Do you ever just listen with no distractions? You should. Just listen to the music and do nothing else. Close your eyes and let your ears wander. What images does the music evoke? What colors? How does it make you feel? Listen to one track two or three times in a row (or ten). Did you hear anything new or different? Write down some observations in your practice journal. You have a practice journal, right?

The key to improving your palate, for food and music, is to consume slowly, with a minimum of distractions, and with attentiveness and deliberation. Go to live concerts as much as possible. Allocate a portion of your practice time for attentive listening. Make a habit of it.

Hal Galper is world-class jazz pianist and educator. If you aren't familiar with him, take some time to check out his website. There is a lot of good stuff there. There are also a number of YouTube videos of his masterclasses, and I highly recommend them. This is one of the my favorites.

Your musical diet is what feeds your musical (aural) imagination. How you listen to music will have a profound and positive affect your diet, and this your musical imagination. Like Hal says in the video, "How many think you have trouble playing what you hear? Well you are all wrong. You are all playing exactly the way you hear."

Who have you checked out recently? 

I've been listening to Ibrahim Maalouf and I really enjoy his music. He has a beautiful tone, full of color and nuance. His music is an evocative mix of ethnic and modern, acoustic and electronic. It seems to be looking back and forward at the same time. He doesn't overuse the quarter-tones on his custom four-valve trumpet, and his ideas are never kitschy. His songs are beautifully constructed, and show a deep understanding of form, melody, rhythm, and space. Check him out!

Every great musician I know is always talking about their latest musical obsession. They are always recommending artists to their friends, peers, and students. I love this, and I write down all the recommended artists and albums in my phone or in my notebook. So don't be shy about recommending artists, or calling your friends and dragging them off to concerts. Or have a listening party!

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