• Ben Vasko

Tuba-Less 1.3.1: Intro to Listening Edition

Howdy y'all! I'd like to thank those of you continuing to read this as well as those of you reading for the first time. I am excited to keep learning together and to share my experiences with this project. Things with BD have been going great and the summer is moving along smoothly. I have been thinking lately about what a family we have here. Generations of musicians, performers, and teachers, all here because we care so much about the people who have made up this amazing organization. No ego, just love. How cool.

Today's topic is so important that I am dividing it into an indefinite number of parts. Listening is by far the most vital aspect of music. If there is no listening, what is the point of creating music? It is the skill we form as musicians that allows us to navigate the world around ourselves differently than our fellow humans. It is the ability we foster with the hope of developing a deeper understanding of life and its purposes. Born out of our own curiosity, listening is the avenue by which we accelerate our possibilities in music.

"In order to listen to learn, we must learn to listen."

While listening is a skill we all possess, active listening is something we must practice. It is not necessarily a difficult ability to sharpen, but it does take time. Listening with the intent of gaining knowledge involves an acute focus. Therefore, in order to listen to learn, we must learn to listen. I remember wanting to listen to long symphonies when I started college. Hour-long masterpieces in large, drawn-out forms such as Bruckner symphonies seemed impossible to survive through without losing all focus and interest. However, by learning how to listen and practicing, these behemoth works became an exercise in attention. Unlocking this skill uncovered the different gems that are buried within music. Becoming a geologist of sound allows us to carry our art further and further.

Here are tips for beginning to stretch your ears and practice listening:


Simply listen to as much music as you can. Ask for recommendations. Find new artists. Find new music by artists you love. Scour the internet for live recordings. Anything you can do to find new material to consume will expand your aural palate.


Listen to music you have heard many times before with the intention of discovering something new. If you are checking out that same jazz album you revisit every couple of months, track one player in the band. What is the bassist doing for the whole tune? The drummer? The pianist? Listening in this regard is very big picture.


Put a small section of music under the microscope. What scale did you just hear? What chord? Find instances where the form of a song or piece changes so you can have an audible checkpoint when you listen on a larger scale.

In addition to these techniques, watching videos of performances can be very beneficial to beginning to actively listen. By watching musicians perform, we can allow our ears and imaginations to track the sounds we hear when we take the video away. At the bottom of this page, I have posted a live video of Tigran Hamasyan performing for Today's Listening. I encourage you to watch it and notice who plays what and when. After familiarizing yourself with it, listen to it without watching the video. Can you see the percussionists and their instruments? Can you identify which stringed instruments are playing at a given time? Being able to picture the ensemble you are listening to and deciphering the sounds you hear are important ways of staying present while listening to recordings.

Listening is the reason we make music. If you are a musician who doesn't listen, ask yourself why you do what you do. If you teach music but don't listen, are you really teaching music or are you simply instructing people to operate machines by rote? I greatly appreciate all of you sticking around with me as I uncover these thoughts! I can't wait to continue exploring this idea of listening together.

-Scroll down for Pic of the Day and Today's Listening-

Pic of the Day: BD Brass Staff contingent unwinding with our wonderful host Donna after another day of teaching.

Today's Listening: "Love Song" by Tigran Hamasyan, performed live by Hamasyan with the Berklee Middle Eastern Fusion Ensemble:

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©2018 by Ben Vasko.

Boston, USA

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