Do We Use Our Ears to Play Music?

by | Sep 3, 2021

Do we use our ears to play music?

See the Note, Play the Note, Hear the Note

Using your ears to play music is like using your eyes to move something! Have a look at an object that you’d like somewhere else. You see this object and have an intention to move it, and then you move it with your hands. Now you see it in a different spot. You can imagine seeing this object in the new spot before you move it, but then you move it with your hand and your eyes aren’t involved in the action. Now imagine you are playing a note on the piano. You have the desire to play the note, then you move your finger to push the key and make the sound, and only then do your ears hear the sound. It is a physical act done by the body which our ears are not involved in. We cannot hear the note until we have played it, so using our ears to play music is like moving something with our eyes. Do we use our ears to play music? Not really.

Your Aural Imagination

Where does the desire or intention to make a note come from? We can imagine that we see an object somewhere else in our imagination, decide to move it, and then move it. Do we imagine we hear something before we play it? Yes, we do! We can hear things that are not really there. Don’t worry, you are not crazy. I hear the note before I play it. Most musicians do, even if they don’t realize they are doing it. They use their inner hearing or aural imagination, and though we do use our ears to develop this inner hearing, we turn inward while we are playing and use the aural imagination to produce the desired sound. 

Playing The Dream

When I’m playing in an orchestra I have to tune with other musicians and be aware of things around me with my ears but the sound I’m producing comes from within. I’m singing from my aural imagination. Playing the dream! I’m sure you have experienced the wonderful, or annoying (depending on your attitude) occurrence of having a song in your head. It’s not playing but you can hear it playing, in a way. You are “hearing” the song in your aural imagination. A musical dream or unconscious singing begins and all of a sudden, “The weather outside is frightful…” and it’s Christmas in July. You might ask “How did that song get in my head?”. Your aural imagination is having a little dream. 

The Song in your Head is the One you’re Playing

It is this inner hearing that we can use when we are playing an instrument or singing. Make the song in your head the one you are playing and your body will know what to do. You’re giving it clear signals about what you want it to produce so it will respond. The body remembers what finger to put down because you’ve already trained it to do that when you played this song in the practice room. You’ve had all that proper practice time singing the sounds as you played while you worked it up. It remembers how to breathe efficiently because you’ve trained it to take great breaths each time you play. The body knows how to phrase because you are singing the phrase the way you want it in your imagination. Never losing the idea of sound, you trust your inner singer and you sing out the phrase.

Easy, Like A Walk in the Park

The next time you are watching amazing feats done on an instrument, or with a voice, ask yourself, “Is that person thinking about their body?”. We don’t think about our legs when we are walking and music played from within can seem as natural as a walk in the park. The musician may not even be aware of what they are doing. You can ask them what they are thinking and they might say they were not thinking. Making it look easy, they are out of their senses, at least enough to not be distracted by them. In their own musical world, telling a story, they hear the sounds from within before they play and send them out for us to enjoy, with our ears.

We are the audience and they are the performers. We use our ears, they don’t. No thinking, just mentally singing, cutting out the middleman, eliminating the voice in the head, or any thought telling them which finger to put down. They are just doing it. Those high notes coming up are not a worry, instead just sing them out, thinking of the sound they want only when it is time. They just do it, they just sing. 

Practice Anywhere, You’re Never Bored

Memorizing music is easy, just play the song in your head. If you make an error it doesn’t interrupt your music because it is easy to keep singing if you practice that way and form good habits. Music has momentum and the body loves and responds to the rhythm. Try to stop a catchy song that’s stuck in your head and you see that this can be a difficult mental task. Music is indeed powerful! You might find it difficult at first but with training, you can use your imagination to rehearse, anytime. Use your imagination to hear the perfect sound you’d want, or see if you can make it through the whole piece from memory. A cure for boredom while waiting in line anywhere.

Your Inner Hearing gets Clearer

At first, your mental hearing might be fuzzy and blurred. As your ability to use your aural imagination increases, your inner hearing gets clearer and your abilities to create the sounds you want to on your instrument will grow. While you are singing in your imagination, the body has the freedom to find the most efficient way to make the sounds you desire to produce. As your inner hearing grows, you’ll experience different qualities of sound as the sounds you can imagine expand and get clearer.

The horn you play has less to do with how you sound than you’d think. This is why a cheap instrument, in good hands, can sound wonderful. Hear the notes with a beautiful tone in your head and the body finds the sweet spot of the instrument to make it match. It is not something consciously done, but instinctively. We have faith in our work in the practice room. We let go and free the inner musician inside to play anything we can imagine. 

Use Those Ears!

How do we expand our aural imagination?  We use our ears! We listen to music. Listen to the great players playing your instrument and other instruments. Players with beautiful sounds for you to soak deep into your sub-conscience and remember later when you are playing. Imitate those sounds in your mind and you’ll start hearing from others how good you sound. You, of course, won’t know because you won’t be using your ears to listen to yourself. You will be creating the sounds you are imagining from within. I will be using my ears to listen to you and I can’t wait to hear what you come up with! Happy playing everyone!!! 

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