Tips to improve your critical sound listening skills

According to Neurolinguistic Programming, there are three basic representational systems: visual, kinesthetic, and auditory. These are the filters through which we all collect, store, and decode the information we select from outside our mind. In other words, it is the way we perceive things happening in the world. All guilds, all industries concentrate on one of these three systems. Design, for example, is visual; sports and gastronomy are kinesthetic; while the music industry is related to the auditory system.

Photo by Magda Ehlers from Pexels

For this reason, people working in this industry tend to have some characteristic traits: they remember sounds more than images or concepts, they have a sense of rhythm, they think sequentially, and, among other things, when they are going to explain an idea, they usually start by saying “listen”. Although auditory people have certain strengths compared to others (visual or kinesthetic people), this does not mean that you cannot learn these skills and develop them in depth. Auditory people have acquired and deepened these abilities unconsciously, and you, yes, you, can start doing so consciously; and, in case you already consider that you have listening skills, you can always improve them.

Let’s start by marking the difference between the two verbs. Hearing and listening. The first one is one of the five main senses, and we can’t help but do it. We simply perceive sound stimuli from the environment and our brain processes them to give us an idea of the reality around us. Now, listening is a conscious act. It consists of focusing attention on a particular sound, according to a particular purpose. To survive, our cavemen ancestors listened to a distant call in the forest, or the growl of a wild beast, or the murmur of what would later become an avalanche. However, listening is not only a survival tool, especially when it comes to music. Whether playing, composing, dancing, buying, selling, producing, editing, mixing, or studying music (among other things), listening is the main tool. It’s observing with your ear. Maintaining a balanced dialogue between your ears and your brain (and even your gut).

Listening is a blade that you can sharpen every day. It is a habit that can be learned and practiced every day. We can choose to do it critically or unawarely. The latter, for example, is the way ordinary people listen to music for the first time, that’s how they form a first impression and thus decide whether or not to add that song to their Spotify playlist. Critical listening goes much further, it goes to the bottom of things, it’s about dissecting sounds, questioning them, delving into their meanings, placing them in a context, and learning to replicate them, refine them, mix them, expand them, etc. This is exactly what a professional team like Enhanced Media does, as well as others in this field.

So, what can you do to improve your critical listening?

You already know the first tip: understanding the concept of critical listening. The second tip is to be willing every day to work on developing this habit and take it seriously. Only then will you gain critical listening skills.

The third tip is, as simple as it may sound, to spend a moment of the day listening to everything around you. Religiously. Whatever the place (the forest, the city metro, the supermarket, etc.), and, ideally, you should change places every time you do this exercise. It doesn’t have to be a long time: twenty minutes is enough. When you arrive at any place for the first time, when you wake up in the morning and stay in bed for a while before starting your day, as you wish. Set the timer, 20 minutes, and listen, and identify as many sounds as you can (your breathing may be one of them). Familiarize yourself with them, burn them in your memory.

Then do it with music, and don’t close your mind. Listen to all kinds of genres, and do it critically: without doing anything else. Even though classical music is the basis of everything we have now, listen to whatever the algorithms and other people’s recommendations offer you, and take the time every day to listen to something without doing anything else meanwhile. Pay attention to one thing at a time. The rhythm, the instruments, the timbre of the voice, the contrasts, the predominant notes, the harmony, the melody, etc.

Photo by Sound On from Pexels

Fifth, study a little every day. Again, it can be twenty minutes. Read up on music, trends, equipment, news, music theory, trivia, history, etc. Update yourself all the time because there is always something new to learn. It doesn’t always have to be an article or a manual: it can be tutorials, lessons, or masterclasses on YouTube channels, or podcasts, or webinars, or lectures. Be creative.

Last but not least: take care of your body, even if it sounds obvious. Sleep well, and don’t work with auditory fatigue. Avoid exposing yourself to excessive decibels. Eat well, drink water, exercise, meditate, relax after work, and seek silence. Seriously: it counts and will improve your listening skills. Remember that critical listening has both an intellectual and a physical aspect.

Best of luck!