You may remember from my previous article that I argued that we are all—barring some handicap—able to be musical. Therefore, I will not go into much detail about that point because that article addresses most of my reasons for believing this. Keeping this in mind, however, the question becomes: if we are all capable of being musical, how do we become musical?
The simple answer to this question is: we become more musical by listening to music. Being musical, Aaron Copeland would argue, is more than simply being able to perform music. He would say that the person performing music may never grow beyond mere imitation of other musicians. However, performing music does not have to be limited to imitation and can, therefore, lead to being musical. Before this can happen, we must learn to listen to music.
Listening to music is more difficult and complicated than simply using it as background noise. We are not “listening” to the music being played as background music at the gas station as we pump gas. Listening to music needs to be more involved than that. We must listen to music actively.
Furthermore, listening to music is more difficult and complicated than playing anything that our contemporary culture might call music. We need to listen to music that is timeless, music which we often refer to as “classical.” It needs to have complexity and purpose. While we can—and maybe even should—listen to popular music, we must also be training our musical tastes with a variety of music. Through a total immersion of music, our ears begin comparing aspects of the music we hear and listening for resolve, tempo, tone, and other elements of music. The great thing about listening to music is that we will not always consciously recognize that this is what we are doing. We will not know that our mind is doing the math of the music while we listen to it.
Listening to music will, eventually, help us to progress beyond all of this. We will seek to understand why music does what it does. What makes some music objectively good and some only subjectively good? Objectively good means that the music has value across time and cultures, and subjectively good means that it has value based on my musical tastes.
The most important thing we can do, then, to learn to be musical, is to start listening to music and we need to teach our children to ask good questions about it. Avoid questions such as, “Do you like this?” Aim for questions such as, “Why do you like this?” “What are the notes doing?” or “Will this song be appreciated by future generations?”