Ways to Learn / Teach to Be a Better Listener


When you play, you will likely copy music that you already know and love. A delicate touch is often required to precisely duplicate the sound. You’ll hear your limitations and be forced to improve.

The frets on a guitar get you about 95% of the “note” – beyond that it’s feel and bending, or “microtones.” Very subtle movements affect resonance and harmonics. Beginners will be ham-handed with very crude approximations; advanced players smoothly move between tones in a ‘musical’ fashion. And guitars are rated easiest to learn…

Violins have no frets, so it’s all by touch. They are rated hardest to learn…

Buy an entry level model in the Fender (Squire) or Gibson (Epiphone) families. These are the heart and soul of Rock history and cover most genres. Buy a guitar with single-coil pick-ups for pure tones (e.g., Telecaster, Stratocaster, Jaguar) rather than one with a Humbucker (e.g., Gibson SG or Les Paul). The Humbucker cuts electric noise but creates rougher sounds.

In the “hardly used” market at Craig’s List or Guitar Center, these cost about $150 to $300. Don’t get the cheapest student models…one step up is better…

Get a TUBE amp (I have a Blackstar HT1) or the well-reviewed Boss Katana solid-state models. The cheap solid-state amps will kill your ears. Trash! A decent starter may be $150 to $200, but you can resell if you don’t like it.

Guitar amps use tubes differently. Imagine a pot of warm water (Fender amp), hot water (Vox Amp), boiling water (Marshall), boiling over (Mesa/Boogie). They max out the electricals of the tube and create a unique ‘foam’ or ‘head’ that is immediately obvious. It’s as if the resonances and after-effects run on and on. Solid-state (except for Boss Katana) can’t do it and sound horrible.

If you like Beach Boys – Fender, Beatles or British Invasion or Jangle Pop – Vox, Classic rock and Metal (to include Black Sabbath and AC/DC) - Marshall, modern Heavy Metal - Mesa/Boogie.

Headphone/listening tube amps are NEVER maxed out to the state of torture. So, they feel like oil or butter and smooth the sound.


I just did… and wow. That was brutal. And really eye opening.

I’ve noticed this constant trend in a lot of pop and rock music of hiding sadness underneath layers of mirth. The list of chirpy and upbeat songs with very dark meaning goes on and on. I’ve always wondered why certain emotions are never embraced and expressed openly.

But his explanation on specificity really opened my eyes. When you create a song with the intention of mass appeal, you lose depth of the shared canvas on which you draw your expression. And negative emotions as a whole seem to be actively avoided in pop songs. Sadness is absent almost in the entirety of Hip hop / rap, whereas anger is very prominent.

But there are a lot of songs that seem to have the express purpose of making you forget your emotions and just rock out / dance / whatever. Like… What is the emotional expression in Darude – Sandstorm? It sounds amazing, and I love it, but emotion isn’t the purpose.

As a listener, it seems managing expectations plays a huge role in how we experience music.


@Xgatt, this is an interesting topic and I’m not sure if it possible to “learn” or “teach” how to be a better listener but if I’d love to hear how others feel and push this topic. With that said I’m a former musician from my younger days back in the mid 70’s to mid 80’s that has played in a orchestra doing live performances and also played in a “rock” band with friends in high school and college. I’m a trumpet and guitar player but can also play the Ukulele (Hawaiian instrument like a guitar but with 4 stings) but haven’t played with a band in years (20+). My first wife was a singer (soprano) from middle school to high school, former mother-in-law a piano teacher so I’ve been around music for a while. My latest project is restoring a Fender Jazz Bass that a friend gave to me but since I wanted to play a guitar again I’m going to just restore the bass and sell it or trade it for either a acoustic or electric guitar so I can play again. Here’s a picture of the bass:

Back to the teaching/learning issue: I’ve tried teaching a few non musically incline friends what to listen to and is a 50/50 thing where some are quick to pick up what I hear as differences and then the others just can’t hear any differences so I think it a skill that one might learn over their lives and not something which can be easily passed on to another.


It probably requires sincerity on both sides, more so from the learner. We’re your friends really Keen on learning it, or was it just in passing?


Thanks for sharing that. I’m listening as soon as I get home. Excited to give his podcast another try.


It probably requires sincerity on both sides, more so from the learner. We’re your friends really Keen on learning it, or was it just in passing?

They were pretty much keen to learn why I have so many different headphones, DACs and amps and did try hard to hear differences and some even asked to try some blind testing since they weren’t sure if when they heard differences was it due to visually seeing me switch tracks, amps or DACs.


I was going to do this on my own…then was like “to the internet!” and it provided!
I think it would still be fun to create a new one with some of the new terms people are using I.E. “it has sounds of coffee bean pasta rattled in the complex caves of Guatemala” What does that even mean!! I just pulled that out of thin air lol to make a point.


Performances. I was raised on a box set of RCA Victor Red Seal recordings, Monophonic of Beethoven’s 9 symphonies with Arturo Toscanini conducting the NBC Symphony Orchestra.

I’ve heard better recordings. I’ve heard quieter background and less tape hiss artifact. I’ve heard more famous ensembles. But I’ve never heard Toscanini topped. Ormandy does very well. Charles Munch is very very good.

It is astonishing how the conductor’s interpretation can control the orchestra. And this is why I own at least 3 (maybe 4) versions of the 6th.


Yes. Once I picked up a violin, and I couldn’t even figure out where you blow into it.




There are also resources like Harmon’s How To Listen from Dr. Sean Olive that are interesting. I found that the Macintosh version doesn’t run on the most recent versions of MacOS, but the Windows version might still work fine?