Deep Listening – You’ll Hear It

On today’s episode, Peter and Adam answer a listener’s email question about what jazz musicians mean when they advocate “deep listening.”

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AM: I’m Adam Maness.

PM: And I’m Peter Martin.

AM: And you’re listening to the “You’ll Hear It” podcast.

PM: Daily jazz advice coming at ya.

AM: Coming at ya. Well, today we’re taking a question from an email. You know, we do do question – we do do.

PM: We do do.

AM: Questions from emails.

PM: We do potty humor apparently. (laughs)

AM: We do. You can email our producer here, [email protected]

PM: Yes.

AM: And you can send us a question.

PM: That would be cool.

AM: You can also go to,

PM: Youllhearit.com

AM: Youllhearit.com and leave us a question. Also, you know what, if you have a tune that you wanna hear on the backend of our show, we still do this.

PM: Yeah, we still do.

AM: So send an .mp3 to Andrew at openstudionetwork.com

PM: We’re not doing it today because we didn’t get any good ones.

AM: Yeah, we’re very–

PM: If we get some more good ones, we’ll do it, we had some great ones.

AM: We’re discerning. Yeah, for sure.

PM: We are discerning.

AM: But they’ve all been really good, actually, the ones we’ve played.

PM: The ones, of course, we’re not gonna play some crap, man. We got quality here, quality control.

AM: This question is from David.

PM: David.

AM: And David asks, “Hi guys, I came across your podcast in “2 Minute Jazz” videos last month and I love the vibe. Wonder if some of your
other listeners are like me. I was a high school musician, dropped it in college, and picked it 25 years later. I played jazz piano in high school, but never learned jazz correctly because I’m classically trained. I know theory and I can sight-read anything, but I only recently learned to listen and I have trouble improvising lines in a melodic way. I work full-time, so I practice two to three times a week. My goal in the future would be to play in a trio or a small jazz combo. Yes, I know that means more practice time, but I’ll have to be patient because of my other commitments. My question, what do you mean when you say ‘listen deeply?’ I have an idea of what that is, but how do you actually listen? What do you listen for? Do you try to hear changes, chords, solo lines? Which do you listen for first? Sorry, that was all the first question. Thanks, David.”

PM: David, yeah thank you, David Kissinger. Grandson to our former Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger.

AM: No, we don’t know that

PM: Oh, we don’t know that.

AM: For sure, yeah

PM: It’s possible.

AM: Unbelievable fact, number nine here.

PM: We don’t know that he’s not.

AM: We don’t know that he’s not. This is a great question. We talk about listening a lot.

PM: Yes, yeah yeah.

AM: And so we can definitely go into some ways to listen.

PM: And I mean deep listening, I think we’ve made that distinction before or maybe David heard it from somebody else, but I think we do want to acknowledge and really emphasize the difference between deep listening and just listening, and the way that I can find to sort of explain that easiest maybe is that deep listening is the way that a musician, a practitioner of the craft of playing jazz music, would listen to something as opposed to a fan. Now, I think that gets a little confusing because we are fans, also.

AM: Sure.

PM: Maybe even first and foremost and so there’s nothing wrong with listening as a fan, but you’ve gotta do some deep listening. It’s kinda like if you’re a plumber, you can, you know, open up underneath the sink. Anybody can open up and admire some beautiful work that’s done with the piping or whatever, but a plumber is gonna look at it and be like, wow. He’s gonna know the engineering behind it. And why this was done and look at it in a way that you or I wouldn’t. Well, I don’t know if you’re a plumber or not.

AM: No, you’re gonna take it apart.

PM: Yeah.

AM: For sure.

PM: Take it apart. And so, I think that’s the first thing is just sort of understanding what, what and why we would want to listen deeply, and then we can get into kind of how you do it and what it is.

AM: Yeah, I mean, a good way to go about this, David, is maybe to think about it like you are taking apart a machine, and you’re someone who works on this machine, and so the first thing you do is look at it from an overview, right? What’s the overall sound? ‘Cause if you’re deep listening and you wanna get deep, chances are or at least this is how it should be is you should be listening to something that strikes you, that you love, and so the first thing that I listen to or that I pay attention to is, like, wow, how do they get that overall sound? What is that overall sound? What’s going on to create the sound here that I love?

PM: Yeah, I think that starts with everybody in the band having a similar uniform of overalls. Get it? Okay, sorry.

AM: Yeah.

PM: Okay. (laughs)

AM: And (laughs) good one. No, but then from there, once you kinda identify okay, well this sounds moody or, you know, slow or airy or beautiful or happy, whatever it is, then you might think about like, okay, what instruments are making this sound?

PM: How do they achieve that overall mood or vibe?

AM: Right and just what’s the instrumentation?

PM: Right.

AM: That can be the first way of breaking it down. Okay, I hear piano, I hear bass, I hear drums, I hear a trumpet, I hear a saxophone.

PM: Right.

AM: I don’t hear a trombone, thank goodness.

PM: Yep, yep.

(both laughing)

PM: You know what I mean. So you start then breaking down the moving parts within what you’re hearing. Now you probably already know what the instrumentation is if you bought the CD and you see who’s on or whatever. But just be aware of that. Be aware of what instruments are making that sound.

AM: No, I think that’s very important because the next kinda levels of many of the things where I think we’re gonna say kinda depend on you knowing who’s playing and then like how the instruments in the different positions interact with each other. And then also just how individually, sort of your instrument. So, like, we’re pianists so, normally you’re gonna spend more time at a certain level kind of analyzing and listening and trying to do takeaways from the piano standpoint. But I think in order to be able to do that, you have to not only know all the other instruments that are playing, but know a little bit about why and how they’re doing what they’re doing, so that when we interact or want to analyze how a great pianist on a recording is interacting with those other instruments, you know what’s possible, you know, and you know why certain things work. You understand why certain conversations happen. I think most, you know, recordings that, in the jazz world, that we end up wanting to and also listening to deeply have generally so much great interaction, you know? And then I would even say that, yeah, I know people are thinking Well, what about solo piano? Even in solo piano, there’s interaction with oneself.

PM: Of course, yeah.

AM: You know?

PM: Art Tatum, it’s like a lotta different voices going on and things. And so that, as a listener, on that fan level, that top level that we started with or bottom level if we look at building up, the interaction is such an important thing. I mean, it’s beautiful, it’s moody, it’s deconstructed, it’s complex, it’s painful, it’s all the emotions that we know music can do. It’s so much more exciting when there’s a group of one to 100…

AM: For sure.

PM: Putting that together and interacting it, so I think a lot of the deep listening, when we really get to deconstructing it, is about seeing how a collective achieves the complexity of music.

AM: Absolutely.

PM: And how that can be done.

AM: Absolutely, as you were talking about, this collective and what they’re doing. The first way to do this, you’ve identified the instruments, you hear the sound, you hear the collective, is to isolate one of those instruments. It doesn’t even have to be your instrument…

PM: Right.

AM: …but isolate the bass and listen to just what the bass player is doing. And then you can hear that in relation to the drums, in relation to the piano, in relation to the saxophone. Or isolate the piano and just hear how that pianist is interacting with everyone else, and that’s sort of the first step, I think, really diving deep on something.

PM: Yeah, absolutely. Then I think once you get to a certain point of listening, and look, deep listening, I think, involves repeatedly listening deeply.

AM: For sure.

PM: But you cannot rely just on listening to something a lot. What’ll happen is when you listen to something over and over again, be it music or somebody saying something, anything that’s repeated. You’ll start to, sort of on an unconscious level, be able to identify patterns and memorize it or whatever.

AM: Things start popping out.

PM: Things start popping out, but the deep part. Like, you could listen to something, a thousand times to a recording, and never listen to it deeply. And you might think that you know, but you don’t really know it. You know it as a fan. That’s what we’re talking about, that delineation between a fan and as an actual practitioner.

AM: That’s right.

PM: So I think that you can actually attempt to do some of that deep listening right from the beginning. But either way, you’re looking at a lot of repetition in it. And the way that you know you’ve listened to it enough, not necessarily deeply enough, but just enough paired with the deepness, is when you can sing every part.

AM: That’s right.

PM: You know, and you can jump around and I think of like–

AM: You know every drum hit that’s about to happen.

PM: You know every drum hit. Right and not only do you know all the different individual parts, you know sort of a progression of what’s going on in that recording in terms of like, what’s important. Not to say that there aren’t two things or three things or five things important at the same time, but there’s always that one thing that’s kinda highlighted. So you can kinda sing along and bounce between the different instruments to a drum fill, to a hip bass line or whatever.

AM: When he goes to the bell of the cymbal here or he puts in the mute or whatever. Totally, totally.

PM: Yeah, and so then that’s when you start to deconstruct it in a way that you really can focus in on that interaction and why people are playing things. Not just that they’re playing something great, but why was it played.

AM: That’s right. And then you can go into even more granular levels. You start with kinda deconstructing the form. Is this the intro or is this part of the form? Is this the top of a chorus or an interlude? You know, these kinds of things. Here’s the ending, they triple tag it, or whatever it is you’re listening for.

PM: And that’s I really think is important. That’s the now you’re getting to the nitty gritty of some analysis of like, what’s going on. And I love doing that kind of, after you’ve listened to it deeply enough that you really know it. But now you’re like, okay, now I wanna break it down. You know, it’s like I know my way around the building. Now let’s pull the walls off and see how this bad boy’s put together.

AM: Where are the pipes at?

PM: Yeah, yeah.

AM: Yeah.

PM: And I think, you know, these things in terms of form, but what the actual construction of the form is, number of bars, but then what is the harmonic form, what are the changes?

AM: What are the changes that would be next?

PM: Is that altered? And then the overall structure in terms of is there a segue, is there a vamp, is there an intro or you know, kinda what those things. And those are all kinda finite, less esoteric kinda things that you just learn.

AM: Yeah, this is nuts and bolts of how that music is built. You’re like looking at the schematics, basically.

PM: And then you can go in, of course, deeper and should in terms of, like, each solo. That’d be the overall form and then how that’s put together, and then you’re kinda going more on the smaller level.

AM: The solo architecture is next for me. What I was thinking of, of listening to how each soloist or even just one particular soloist is phrasing over this form. Where are they putting the breaks? How often are they playing? Are they getting busier as it goes on? Is it getting more intense or are they kind of staying at an even keel or even having a bit of an arc where it dips at the end? You know, like all of those things are something that when I’m deep listening, I’m really thinking about and trying to hear and trying to just absorb what they’re doing, you know?

PM: Yeah, and I think that when you do that, when you’re doing the solo architecture, this is a time, a part of deep listening where you may for a day or even several days, several sessions of listening, just listen to that one solo.

AM: For sure because it–

PM: Yeah. You never wanna totally divest it from the whole performance but I think as you’re studying it, it’s good.

AM: Well, because it’s not just about the soloist, either. Once you kind of get the feeling of the soloist’s phrases, and maybe you can sing the solo, now you have a chance to hear what the bass player’s doing

PM: Right.

AM: As the solo develops. Hear what the pianist is doing as the solo develops, here’s what the drummer is adding as the soloist, you know, plays higher on the trumpet. The drummer adds this thing or this one phrase answer. That’s when you’re really starting to get deep into the tune.

PM: Hence the name, deep listening.

AM: That’s right.

PM: Well, and I think, too, what you’ll start to see, David, is that, and everybody, that the better you know some part, like say we’re talking about the solo now. So you really know the solo, you can sing it, you know some harmonic things, you know some patterns that are going on. The architecture of the solo, you know, on an entire level you kinda know. What happens then, don’t stop there, so as you’re listening, these other things should start to pop off in a way, you know like what the drummers are doing and stuff because now you don’t have to just, like, you know the solo. You don’t even have to listen to it, it’s there and you hear it, but you can actually hear that while you’re concentrating on something else and I know you asked about what do you listen for first. I think, on the solo level, you listen to the solo first, and once you really know that by that kinda deep listening and analysis of the architecture of the solo, that you’re gonna find, and look, this all depends upon how difficult and complex you know, that solo or that tune is. But you try to start with some maybe simpler things. Not lower skill level, just simpler, so that you can hear the stuff, but once you know that solo, all the things that are happening in the other instruments just start to pop out in a way that you never heard before.

AM: So true, man.

PM: Whereas your fan listening, you’re listening to everything. You’re catching the vibe, you know, maybe you latched onto a little bit here or there, but it’s kinda like you go into a restaurant and all these great flavors are coming, but you’re having fun and talking while you’re eating.

AM: Yeah, yeah.

PM: You know. Whereas a chef is like really concentrating on. Wait, let me break down that one little celery thing with the salt and how is that interacting?

AM: Yeah, it’s so good.

PM: That’s the way we do this. You know, so I think, also he was asking about you try to hear the changes, chord, solo lines. I think for all those things that’s within the context of what we’re talking about. You’re breaking down the different sections first, and then the solos and then what everybody else is doing, as opposed to saying, “Okay, I’m gonna go through and just listen for chords that everybody’s playing.”

AM: Yeah, at a certain point, too, if you really wanna get deep, you’re gonna have to take this to your instrument on some level.

PM: Yes.

AM: You know, if you really want to get inside the tune, you need to learn the tune. Learn what the changes are, learn the melody of whatever
tune you’re listening to, and then start transcribing, and you don’t have to, I don’t mean like transcribe every solo, you could just pick out those things that we were talking about, that pop out. You know, maybe there’s a
phrase that gives you, you know, the jazz face.

PM: Right.

AM: You know what I’m talking about?

Ooh.

AM: Stank face.

PM: Stank face.

AM: Just transcribe that, figure that out, and now you have it. And if you know the changes, you know where to apply that to other situations, that’s great.

PM: Yeah. And we’ve got an ultimate tip comin’ on with the very end of the episode that I think that folks can layer in with what we just said that’s gonna be very helpful.

AM: Are we gonna remember to do it this time?

PM: I just wrote it down this time.

AM: Okay well, I’m just making sure.

PM: I’m a little scatter brained.

AM: Before we get to the ultimate tip, thank you David for the question.

PM: Yes.

AM: Send your emails to [email protected]

PM: And thank your grandfather for his service to our country.

AM: Okay, we don’t know that that’s the truth or not. Don’t forget this week we just launched the Jazz Piano Jumpstart. This is a jazz piano course designed to take a novice jazz pianist to actually being able to play some actual jazz piano.

PM: A verified neophyte.

AM: That’s right. We’ve got great things like guided practice routines and play-alongs. The whole course is 77 bucks, that’s one of our cheapest courses ever.

PM: That’s right. And it’s very regimented in terms of time. It’s not regimented, I don’t think in terms of style, we’re very flexible guys. But it’s seven weeks, taking you from the novice jazz piano to a master, akin to Oscar Peterson, right?

AM: Well, no. I mean, it’s a scalpel.

PM: I just saw our promo, that’s why I was thinking about that.

AM: It’s a scalpel, not a machete.

PM: Okay, yeah. No, but we think folks are gonna have, we’re already getting, I mean people are already a couple days into the program, which is exciting for us.

AM: Because it’s also on our new platform, which is lightning fast.

PM: Lightning fast. It makes you learn fast, it makes you think fast.

AM: That’s right.

PM: It makes you play fast. Openstudiojazz.com, go there. Check out the Jazz Piano Jumpstart. 

AM: So, do you remember the ultimate tip or did you forget?

PM: I do remember the ultimate tip. So this, we’re talking about deep listening, so this is pattern recognition. That’s the best way I can sort of say it. And what this means is like, as you’re doing all the things that we talked about, and probably some other ones you hear from other folks that you want to layer in. Find the places from the beginning as you’re doing your deep listening. That are similar or different. And that’s what, when we talk about patterns, that’s really what that is. A pattern is something that’s either repeated or not repeated, but it has some kind of connection, and I always think of the easiest way to think about that, is maybe, you know, like the head at the beginning and the end. That’s the simplest pattern in a way. So that one’s easy to get, but there’s other things on more the level of during a solo that people play, so normally, most people kinda push that to the back, or don’t even ever think about it, I want you thinking about that deeply as you go, so that means anything, a bass line, something at the beginning and the middle of a solo, anything that’s repeated or repeated a couple times. A rhythm, something the drummer does, something. Recognize those patterns, because it’s one of the biggest kind of, you know, triggers in our brains, to get us to really remember something deeply, and to understand something deeply. So, we do it on an intuitive level anyway, but if you can kind of recognize something that’s, you know, deep listening, we’re talking about being more conscious about our listening and everything. I think that’ll help. So, try to identify what those patterns are. Did it make sense, or am I

AM: No it makes perfect sense.

PM: Am I going too deep?

AM: No, no. Perfectly deep.

PM: I don’t wanna go underwater.

AM: Yeah, like I said. I’m about as deep as a puddle, so.

PM: Nice.

AM: Pretty shallow up in here.

PM: Yeah, well til tomorrow.

AM: You’ll Hear It.

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