If you’re a songwriter trying to improve your craft, consistently making music is just one part of the equation. Listening closely to the music you hear is one of the most powerful ways to write better music. This means that every time you listen to music, you’ll have the opportunity to learn something that can apply to your work. Here are three ways to make better music through critical music listening:
Detail what you like or dislike in the music you hear
We all have our personal preferences in music. However, you may miss out on a valuable opportunity to hone your craft if you stop at your initial reaction to the song. If something moves you in a song, find out exactly why and how to apply it to your own work. When you stumble across music you genuinely dislike, learn exactly why you feel that way and avoid repeating what you hear in your songs. Make a habit of doing this whenever you listen to music! You’ll find a constant source of inspiration for your songs and awareness about how music works in general. It’s one of the most powerful actions you can take as a songwriter.
Practice mentally mapping out the songs you hear
Every song you listen to is an opportunity to differentiate and map out the music you hear. It entails separating each musical feature of a song and trying to nail down its identifying qualities: instrument, tempo, pitch, production treatment, etc. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by a piece of music, but try to focus on understanding the inner workings of the song. The more you try mapping music, the better you’ll get at applying your understanding to your own music.
Listen to music through a music theory context
Try analyzing the music you hear daily through a music theory context. It could be a track from your favorite artist or the theme music to the evening news. Listen closely to identify music theory concepts such as intervals, chord progressions, song structures, etc. By practicing active listening, you’ll be able to identify music theory elements you’d like to hear in your work.
Listening critically to music takes a conscious effort, but you’ll get better at it the more you try. Doing this in tandem with keeping up a consistent songwriting practice will help you to write your best music by gaining a broader understanding and appreciation for music in general.