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How can I listen for individual parts in music?

One way of practicing your listening skills is to listen to other people jamming and focusing on the different aspects of what they are playing. 

Now that you have some experience using your ears to dive into complex sounds, try it with the music you hear every day around you.

See if you can pull out each individual part with this kind of super-focused listening.

Think About

  • What kind of listening is helpful for jamming and improvising?
  • How can I focus my listening to hear the different things happening in the music?

Get Started

Below are some examples of real musicians jamming for you to listen to. 

  • Listen to some of the examples below and identify the individual parts of the music:
  1. Here are some Indian musicians performing the group called Sakhi.

Can you separate out the voice, flute, ankle bells, and drums when they’re all playing?

Additional Info: Performing artists: from R to L – Nandini Shankar (violin), Kaushiki Chakrabarty (vocal), Debopriya Chatterjee (flute), Bhakti Deshpande (dance), Mahima Upadhyay (pakhavaj), Savani Talwalkar (tabla). An inspired initiative created by the visionary Kaushiki Chakarbarty. She is the leading female vocalist in Indian classical music.

  1. Next up is the Campbell Hall 7th grade and high school “World Drumming Ensemble” perform traditional West African Djembe music using instruments (djembes & dun duns) and costumes (dashikis) under the direction of Jason Lee Bruns.

There are at least 3 parts: djembe (the hourglass-shaped drum), the dunun (the long cylindrical drum down front, 3 different ones), and the bell (which is on each dunun).

  • Can you make out the 3 parts?
  • Can you do it with your eyes closed?
  • Which parts tend to blend into each other until it’s impossible so separate the out without looking?
  1. Now we have a smaller djembe ensemble

Try to listen and pick out the different drum parts as they perform together!

  1. Here is a different type of example, SINGularity (in Bb) by Timothy Michael Powell, inspired by the lowest note in the Universe (at least as discovered so far), a low B-flat 57 octaves below middle C, coming from a black hole. 

  • Can you pick out the separate voices?
  • How many do you hear?
  1. If you are enjoying listening for rhythms, you might be interested in listening for rhythms in everyday life. Check out this short film FOLI (there is no movement without rhythm) filmed in Baro, Guinea Africa by Thomas Roebers and Floris Leeuwenberg:

  1. Go back through the different videos and pick out one part that you can sing, hum, tap, beatbox, or play on an instrument. Try repeating it over and over again along with the video and then varying your part a little bit. This can sometimes be a helpful technique when you are jamming. 

This was just for practice. No need to share what you learned. Though you might want to share your ability to pick out individual parts and perform them.

Next Steps

Return to the XP: How can I listen when I improvise or jam?


Return to the XP What skills will help me improvise and jam?