do you ever wonder…

What music sounds like to other people? I do. I never wonder what the world looks like. But I wonder what they hear when they listen to things. Some ten years (yikes!) after I quit playing the violin seriously I was asked to join a working quartet. At first I played first violin. When it was clear that I was no longer technically up for the task, I moved myself to second. It was interesting to hear inner voices, and take them even more seriously. I eventually quit the quartet, as it wasn’t fun, and I felt too much pressure. They were really good and serious. I was just fooling around. But the experience changed how I listen to music. And now, every time I listen to something, I wonder what it sounds like to other people.

8 thoughts on “do you ever wonder…”

  1. I wonder that all the time. I realized a while back that other people don’t hear the records I’ve played on the same way that I hear them. I hear the parts/pieces, and I think they hear more of a gestalt with some notable bits in it. It’s taken a year or two of not listening to a record I worked on to get anywhere near being able to hear it “fresh” and more or less objectively.

    And I’m pretty sure musicians hear music very differently than non-musicians, as do music obsessives compared to casual listeners, fans of a genre vs. people who disdain it, etc etc. And not just interpret it differently, but actually hear it differently. Sounds like a project for a carnal sociologist, if it hasn’t been already.


    1. I’m not sure about you, but when I used to perform I would never play a piece for a few days before I was supposed to play it. If I did, it always came across as cold – like I was still working on sections, or ideas, or practicing. Practicing and playing have very different feels. And there’s something about time away from a piece that makes the performance sound “fresh”. The first times I started to do this I would also get nervous before a performance (“what if I forget it… I haven’t played it in a while”). But those nerves were also good.

      I feel the same way about lectures. They’re often best when I’m prepared, but not when I’ve been going over it for an hour before lecture. Of course, this is a risky strategy (I’m not as experienced as I was when I played). But hey, I guess I believe in the risk/reward calculus. The higher of the former, the higher (and lower) of the latter.


  2. Do you hear what I hear?

    I turn on the car radio to the jazz station. It’s the middle of a song. The person next to me hears perhaps almost random notes that maybe sound good or maybe don’t. But I hear someone soloing on the changes to Sweet Georgia Brown.

    On a TV show about Kind of Blue, bassist Ron Carter says that Paul Chambers (the bassist on KoB) was the first bass player to not play the root. I had listened to a lot of records that had Paul Chambers, but I had never “heard” that difference, certainly not in the way that a bass player would hear it.


  3. And before this gets too snobby, I will say that when I watch sports I see things differently than others do. I remember watching Hockey with a friend who played for a season in the NHL, and football with a friend who tried out for but never made the NFL. They saw things I never saw. Same goes with watching basketball with jdwblahblah. There’s something interesting about what experts see/hear that amateurs don’t.


  4. Being a lifelong musician and music freak, I think about this often. I especially notice it with the little parts of a song that fascinate me — the certain way a high-hat is hit or maybe an interesting phrasing on a guitar chord — that are lost on others.

    Then again, I can’t tell the difference between $20 and $50 bottles of wine, and fine cinematography is mostly lost on me, so different strokes and all of that.


  5. So one dimension is experience & education, which seems to make almost everything different for different people. As a trivial example, I showed my spouse a garlic mustard plant and a violet plant — they looked alike to him, even though at this point I can immediately spot the difference.

    And then there is biochemistry, at least for some things. Different people really do taste and smell things differently, depending on which receptors they have. I’ve often wondered whether this isn’t true for things we see and hear and feel as well.


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