Opening Your Ears

One of the many joys of teaching and studying singing, is getting to know songs and music styles in detail, which you might not have previously come across or chosen to listen to in much depth.

There’s something quite potent about this process of ‘sticking with a song’ because your role as a teacher/coach/student/choir-member/performer requires you to understand it better. It’s one thing to immerse yourself in music you’re already drawn to and fond of, but it’s another thing to choose to spend time with a song or a genre that doesn’t immediately ‘click’ with you. I think it’s wonderfully mind-opening, and there’s usually a personal ‘Aha!’ moment with most musical styles where suddenly the ‘curtains are drawn back’, the ‘language’ of the music makes sense, and the humanity and aesthetics of it can speak to you directly.

Whilst you’re getting to know a new song well enough to teach or perform it, a quiet magic happens between you and the world, in which something that didn’t make full sense to you at first, starts to make sense. This is a little like learning a new language, or a youngster learning to identify the shapes and colours of a tree, and to then know it to be called a tree. With a genre of music (or sometimes just a specific song within a genre) that doesn’t ‘click’ with you right away, it can sometimes be because the ‘musical language’ of that song or genre doesn’t make sense to you yet. It can be other reasons too of course! Not liking the message, a memory association, it not suiting your current mood, or just a feeling that you get when you hear it. Some of it is just personal taste. However I’ve often found that personal taste can change by spending time with a song or genre I don’t initially like, for a little longer than I’d be initially inclined to. In doing this, songs and genres that I might have dismissed and ignored, are given the chance to speak to me, and my ears and mind can adjust to their way of doing so. This process can help you to appreciate the very best of each genre and song, to teach and coach your students well in whatever genre they are interested in (as far as you are able with your knowledge and practice of that genre), and to expand your repertoire as a performer, and as a human.

When you learn, teach or prepare to perform a song, there are lots of different aspects to explore. You might be studying the technical nuts and bolts of a song (eg pitches, rhythms, melodies, lyrics, harmonies, structure, dynamics etc.), the most appropriate vocal qualities, the body language that best suits the delivering of it, the human attitudes and emotions of it, the message, the context, the ‘vibe’… There’s a lot to learn on a lot of different levels. A process such as this, that gently asks many different parts of the human mind, body and spirit to be awake and play their part, can be a wonderful, growth-ful experience. Both going deeper into genres and styles you love, and dipping your toes into song styles that feel new or uncomfortable to you, and seeing what you can learn.

This is a big, wonderful, gentle, powerful phenomenon, so I’m not sure how to make the right closing words for a mini-article about it. Perhaps I’d say, if you are curious about a genre of music or a song/piece, then go for it, try it. Listen to it. Sing it. Study it. Go to a workshop. Google it. Practice it. Look for resources. Sing it with friends, if you’re lucky enough to have friends who will sing with you. See how it makes you feel, and what you can learn from it. Notice if you have any big barriers up about what kinds of music you can/can’t sing, or that you will/won’t listen to, and ask yourself why? And listen for the answer. It’s interesting! 

Keep singing folks! Very best wishes, Hannah-Rose Tristram. To book a singing lesson, contact and see details on the homepage . For community singing, see GLOW Choir Brighton!