art of listening

The Art Of Listening

When was the last time you sat or laid down to listen to an album all the way through, start to finish? Just you, the music, the environment you are in, and maybe a significant other. Could be an older album that you have heard a million times before or a new one where your ears and mind come in fresh, ready to explore. I asked this question over on Twitter earlier today and had mixed responses. Many have never done this while others could not remember the last time they have. It is an experience that requires a few simple things, a love for music, a little patience, and time.

Many people seem to think it is unreasonable to do something like this because of the amount of time it takes to devote to the process. Odd thing is that most of us wouldn’t think twice when deciding to watch a two hour film yet when asked to devote 45 minutes to an hour with a collection of songs it seems like a far fetched notion, a waste of valuable time.

A good album can read like a book if you let yourself fall in. Just like reading a new book there is sometimes that little bit of hesitance within the first few chapters, your’e not sure if this will be worth your time when you get started and you let yourself get distracted or anxious. I feel focusing your attention to music without doing other things at the same time is akin to meditation. To many it would seem it is seen as simply white noise to fill the silence while they work and play. Even if you have your favorite songs that you listen to countless times over there is still something magic about letting yourself exist purely with the music and nothing else.

When I give myself time in the morning or evening to simply lay down and listen to music I catch myself getting lost in the words or nuances of a recording. Other times I find I am staring off into the sky lost in a memory or an idea. It gives me a chance to slow down and get lost in my own mind rather than having my hand be held as I am guided through a story and instructed how to feel as movies or books often do.

Music allows you to be anything, it gives you the chance to clear your mind and let your thoughts guide you to a place not often visited within the fast moving world around us. If you give yourself an empty palate within your mind the music will fill it with color and emotion. If you allow yourself to get lost from time to time you will quickly start to discover ideas and memories once forgotten or create new ones in the process.

Here in lies the beautiful part of the idea. Take a moment here to consider the last time you gave yourself a few minutes to simply exist with no distractions. Sometimes we trick ourselves into thinking we have while in reality it seems a lost art. The art of doing nothing. It can seem to be a bit of a zen idea, sure, but I believe we could all use a few zen moments in our busy lives. I do realize that things change, and maybe for some of us there really is no time in today’s world for admiring music in this way but that idea makes me kind of sad to imagine.

Music can be an experience just like any other form of art or meditation and it should not be overlooked so casually. Life is too short not to allow yourself to get lost in your imagination every now and then, it’s a gift and it should be exploited. I think what brought these thoughts to my mind was the fact that I have a few distinct memories of listening to albums in this way and they are such fond old memories that will stay with me. This is not something I would expect everyone to do on a regular basis, but it’s something that I could encourage anyone to explore at least once.



  1. Jorge Quinteros - July 12, 2011 at 9:18 pm

    When you posed this question on Twitter, I had to struggle to think back when I’ve actually listened to an entire album. Truth be told that I never have and it certainly hasn’t been due to lack of interest in an artist. It has more to do with the easiness in which we can purchase specific songs we like from an artist rather than having to purchase an entire album. I buy single more than albums and when I listen to those, it’s when I’m generally engaging in something else like bike riding, driving or working out.

    The reason I can’t sit or lay down to listen to music is the same reason why I don’t take naps. I feel like I could be doing something more productive with my time. But that’s just me. I always feel that I have to be occupied with something so I find it difficult to just relax even while I’m on vacation.

  2. Neil - July 12, 2011 at 9:46 pm

    I do it myself all the time whether it’s a long classical piece or a new record like the new fleet foxes was probably the last album I gave a serious focused listen to. A lot if things I listen to while driving which is admittedly where I hear most music.

    Good writing though this is why I like this place it’s not just about photography.

  3. Nate I. - July 12, 2011 at 10:30 pm

    Agree, agree, agree. One of the best posts I’ve read on here.

    Last time I listened to an album all the way through without actually doing something else in the meantime was May 31, I believe. However, almost all of my music listening through the day when I work comes in the form of complete albums, and my commutes offer me pretty decent times to sit down with little on my mind except the music. Still, I’d love to do this more. When I was in high school, this was more of a daily occurrence…ah the good ole days!

  4. Simon Thulbourn - July 12, 2011 at 10:35 pm

    I do this every night, I find a calm album, either a new one or an album I’ve listened to 100x before and just sit with my headphones and listen to the album from start to end.

  5. Lauren - July 13, 2011 at 1:11 am

    “I feel focusing your attention to music without doing other things at the same time is akin to meditation.”

    I definitely agree! I love to get lost in the music – I find it incredibly awakening and relaxing in the way meditating can be. Great article!

  6. Fernando Vieira - July 13, 2011 at 1:18 am

    In the world we live in, it’s not always a priority but it could be, I mean music is therapeutic and overwhelmingly educative. Many times when I write and wonder, I use music like a key, what I mean is that with the help of music I tend to give the “poems” some background. There are things I wrote in the last 10 years that are based on musicians our songs.You wrote about music getting certain memories back…all so true…it gives us the opportunity to travel in time, relive the moments and share feelings with others. It is important to give yourself the time to do this…like you said it it’s zen…

    Thank you for this great place…

  7. Philip Curwen - July 13, 2011 at 2:16 am

    Well said indeed!

  8. Solarisphere - July 13, 2011 at 5:23 am

    It’s certainly been a while since I’ve had time to listen to music. It’s one of the most relaxing things I can think of though.

    Also, could you release the the image as a desktop? I love the colours.

  9. Vesselin Petkov - July 13, 2011 at 10:08 am

    MTE. Great post!

  10. The Art of Listening | think log - July 13, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    […] The art of doing nothing → […]

  11. SoundMan - July 14, 2011 at 7:23 pm

    The days of sitting down alone or with friends to listen to an album are long gone. There are way too many distractions vying for our leisure time. Hell, even the artists seem to be phoning it in. Albums creation seems to be a lost art. Just try to find a carefully written and produced album worth listening to all the way through. We live in a world of sound bites. I posit that you have to search the used vintage album bins to find anything that deserves that kind of attention.

    There was a time when I couldn’t wait to get the latest album from my favorite band and sit quietly and listen to it from cover to cover, like a good book. Then get together with a few good friends, a bottle of wine and share the experience together with a little candle light. There were even FM radio stations dedicated to playing entire albums. They were once the cutting edge college radio stations playing nothing but AOR (Album Oriented Rock).

    Here is a challenge for you. The next music review you do try to find a current album that is worth listening to from beginning to end. One that is coherent enough that can tell a story. One that the music just can’t be fully enjoyed unless it is listened too in it’s entirety.

    I’ve got or will make the time. I do still know how to relax. Just please show me an album produced today worthy of time and I’ll buy it.

  12. John - August 12, 2011 at 5:44 pm

    I love music.I listened to “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning” by Bright Eyes from start to finish multiple times. Besides him, I listened to every Rise Against album from start to finish countless times! I love Rise Against!!

    Love your photos!!

  13. Mark - October 7, 2011 at 9:13 pm

    Agreed. I have a few memories of lying down on my bed at night in near-total darkness, listening to some pretty transcendent albums the full way through. I wish I had time to do that sort of thing more often today, but I’m usually so busy I can’t even be bothered to give full attention to individual tracks. (Fortunately I’m on break right now and I can!)

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