Listening Journal

“New Music” can startle us with its range of unfamiliar sounds and reworking of traditional musical and so-called “non-musical” materials. This semester we are engaging with music as both receivers and performers, both of which require attentive listening. When we listen to live music, we have only one chance to listen, contemplate, and interpret the sounds. Recordings give us a chance to re-listen and contemplate music more deeply.

In these recurring assignments, we will practice attentive listening with the mind focused on the different elements of sound: pitch/melody, rhythm, harmony, texture/timbre and their interactions which go into creating the whole work of art.  It requires that you listen to the assigned musical work several times, always with a pen and paper handy to capture your thoughts and observations. Listening is a personal exercise. There are no right or wrong answers, just different degrees or intensities of observation.  Aim for depth and detail.

Ideally, you should make notes for all of the pieces heard in this class. For this assignment, you will turn in responses for each week for pieces that are assigned that week’s topic throughout the semester. You should have at least 12 entries by the end of the semester.

Due Dates:

Every Monday in the semester, writing about the music in that week’s topic. You’re not writing about last week, but about the week ahead.

What you will do:

Your Listening Responses should demonstrate two things:

  1. Objective: Detailed observations about the piece. Write what some call a “thick” description: a description of the work sufficiently detailed that someone who has not heard the music would understand. This is the objective part of the assignment you should be able to corroborate every observation you make with the music itself.
  2. Subjective: Your personal analysis and interpretation. Here you will take your observations further to comment on personal meaning. This is the subjective part of the assignment and can take many shapes: you might pose questions that the piece raises, point out personal experiences with the music, make connections, posit ways of composing that the piece inspires, critique the piece from an aesthetic point of view, etc. You may also choose to create a work of art of your own in response to the piece: write a poem, compose a piece yourself…

There is no maximum or minimum length of these assignments.  Your description of the music should be adequately detailed to evoke the sounds in the reader’s mind. Generally, I would consider anything less than 250 words inadequate. Be sure to Clearly Label the 2 sections.


You should write your Journal as a Private Post. To do this, write your post, then in the right sidebar of the screen under “Publish” select “Visibility” and then select “Private”:

Private Post Setting


Some things to think about as you listen:

Deep and attentive listening involves both the ears and the mind:   hearing and also active questioning. In your questioning, you will move in stages from observations about the music (what is going on?), to more analytic lines of thought and finally to interpretation and personal meaning.  The following steps are meant as a guideline. As you become more confident with your listening, you may find your mind thinking ahead and asking many questions at once. You may even ask different questions than those given below. Throughout this process, keep notes on everything that you observe, think, ask, or wonder.


Observations: What do you notice in the music?  Think about all of “new” elements of music: pitch logic, time, harmony, texture, density, process, performance ritual, etc. As you listen, take notes, jotting down anything and everything that you observe in the music.

Analysis: How do the different elements of music work together? Is there variety? Contrast? Unity? Does the piece change frequently or does it stay the same throughout? Is there a text? If so, how does the music reinforce the meaning of the text? Or contrarily, how does the music work against the text? Is there any repetition in the piece? If so, could you diagram how the different parts are organized?

Interpretation: What mood does the piece seem to express? How? What does the piece make you think of? Why? Does this piece remind you of anything? (A work of art, a book, a poem, something in nature, for example?) Why? What questions does this piece raise? These might be aesthetic questions or questions about the composer or the historical context. This is the place for you to make connections with your own life and experience and explain how the piece can have meaning. You might also consider comparing your very first listening of the piece to your latest have you heard anything you didn’t notice at first? Has your understanding of the piece changed or remained the same?