Friday, March 12, 2010

What it all comes down to is that listening is an activity but an extremely complex activity: difficult to observe, difficult to cultivate, difficult to articulate.

I read descriptions of aural skills required at various levels in music schools and I am puzzled. To what extent are these truly aural skills and to what extent are they verbalization skills? These are two rather different things.

My young improvising student has remarkable aural skills that he cannot verbalize. But why should he have to? I cannot imagine that the verbalization would enhance the sensitivity of his listening since it entails an intellectual bypass, which involves slowing down the auditory response.

If I compare his listening to my own I notice that my listening to notated music (Beethoven sonatas, for example) is filtered by a visual/verbal process that identifies the sound before I hear it. I cannot imagine that that corresponds to Beethoven's mode of hearing. If anything, the notation of conventional harmony is but a portal to a richer, fuller auditory experience made distinctive by the precise placement of black keys in relation to white, low pitches in relation to high, and so on. It has taken me years to catch on.