5 ways to practice active listening of flamenco music
Do you know the difference between active listening and passive listening?
Passive listening is what we do when we listen to something without really paying it much attention. Have music on in the background while you cook or clean or take the bus. In this case listening is not the primary activity.
Active listening is listening to music with focus and intensity without distraction.
You need to be engaged and interact with what ever music you are listening to.
Active listening is a skill that can be learnt and like any skill to become good at it you need to practice.
The following are five ideas about what you could think about when you are doing some active listening practice.
This list is not exhaustive, as always we want to offer you are starting point for your own explorations.
What palo are you listening to?
'Palo' refers to the style or form of cante, toque and baile. It is always a good idea to put what you are listening to in to the context of a palo. Some examples of different palos are Fandango de Huelva, Tangos, Soleá, Alegrías.
If you're not sure of the palo, how would you describe the mood of the piece? Does listening to it trigger any of your five senses? Do you like what you are listening to?
Can you hear and recognise the compás?
'Compás' refers to the shape (and speed) of the rhythmic cycle and is unique to each palo. For some flamenco music that you listen to the compás will be obvious but for other pieces not so much.
Try to focus on the rhythm and see if you can connect to it somehow with your body.
Once you recognise (or not) the compás you can focus your attention on the guitar. You can listen out for
- Melody - the arrangement of notes played to create a phrase of music, how many different melodies can you recognise?
- Dynamic - referring to the rise and fall in volume of the guitar, how do the dynamics change through out the piece.
- Pitch - are the notes played mostly high or low, or both?
- Texture - how many layers of sound do you hear? Is there only one guitarist or more?
- Percussion - Can you hear the guitar being used as a percussive instrument as well as a string instrument?
There are many avenues for focused listening to cante. Here are some ideas to get you started.
- What is the tone of the singers voice?
- How are the dynamics of the letra (verse)?
- Does the singer stretch any phrases of the verse?
- How does the structure of the letra compare with the compás?
- How many compás are there in one letra? Can you count them?
- Do any of the lines of the verse repeat?
- How does the cante make you feel when you hear it?
5. The Ensemble
Once you've listened to individual elements Try listening to your piece of music as a whole.
- What is the size of the ensemble?
- How does the guitar accompany the cante?
- Which parts are strengthened by the guitarist and which are left to breathe?
- If there is a dancer, how do the musicians and dancer work together to create the soundscape you are listening to?
- If you took the music away would the dancer's movements seem as powerful mournful, musical?
Do you have anything that you would add to this list? Will you decide to spend some time building your understanding of a piece of flamenco music today?
There is no right or wrong way to listen, but if you want to improve your understanding of flamenco music then you need to decide that you are going to pay attention.