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Guest Article:  Janez Janežič

4 Levels Of Listening To What’s Inside Your Favorite Song

Whether you are a metalhead or a classical music enthusiast, we all love listening to awesome music created by our favorite artists.


Especially for musicians, it can give us a lot of inspiration and motivation to work on our music, as well as many new ideas to use in our own songwriting.


And sometimes we think to ourselves, it would be so nice to be a fly on the wall when the creation process was happening, or see what was inside the composer’s head when he was writing the musical piece.

And maybe we might be able to do just that. Not in a literal sense, of course, but analyzing our favorite songs by actively listening to them.

Active listening is not the same as just any listening. To do that, you have to take the time and be 100% concentrated on the song, write stuff down, listen to sections multiple times, etc.

Writing down your ideas about what’s happening in the song is crucial here. If you have a list of them, you can always refer back to it, when writing music.


And the beautiful thing is: you can be completely wrong about what the composer was actually trying to do. The value is in the process, and becoming a better composer because of it. You don’t want to be imitating your favorite artist anyway, you want to have your own identity.


With that in mind, let’s explore a few different levels of seeing what’s inside your favorite music:

Structural level


Listening to more complex songs, this level usually makes more sense, but I personally also like listening for different tricks inside simple pop/rock songs, and love it when they deviate from a standard verse-chorus formula.


You can ask yourselves questions like: How many sections are there? How many times do they repeat? Why do you think the song is structured that way?


Here is a more advanced one: do ideas from different sections intertwine in any way?


Write out the song section in “ABCD” form (each letter presents a different section), and comment on them. You can then practice composing using different structural formulas you have written out.

Technical level


What techniques are being used to produce the sounds? This is especially valuable if you are an instrumentalist yourself.


If you are a guitarist like me, you can produce the same notes using different techniques, each giving the phrase a different sound. For example, tapping can sound much more fluent, while sweep picking can sound a lot more aggressive.


Listen to different techniques that are being used, and try to use the same techniques in your own writing.

Conceptual level


What are the individual musical ideas that are being used? Musical ideas can be anything like a melody, rhythm, chords, chord progressions, etc.


What chords are being played at any given time? What’s the chord progression? How do they connect? Did the composer use voice leading or counterpoint? For each answer to the previous questions, you can write chords to a section of a song and train on the ideas.


Is the melody ascending or descending? Is it lively or monotonic? Do melodies in different sections relate to each other? Do the same melodies appear in different sections?


You can also use the same melody and reharmonize it with different chords and make it sound different. You might like the original version better, but you’ll see all the possibilities the composer had at his/her disposal.


How about the rhythm of the chords or melody? Can you use the same rhythm and write different chords or different melodies over it? Sure you can.

Emotional level


This one is in my opinion the deepest level of them all, and the one who matters the most, if you want to write meaningful music.


Everything inside the song either contributes or hinders the emotion. All you have to do is ask yourself: how does this section make me feel, and why?


Look at all the ideas you have already written out before and evaluate them emotionally.


What does a descending melody feel like? What does a lively ascending melody feel like? What about the chord progression? Does the feeling of the music match the lyrics, or is it shallow?


I have tested this level on my younger guitar students, by showing them some of my favorite songs. I was surprised at how accurate they have described the story of the song, without even knowing the lyrics or the title.


You can compile a list of musical ideas and emotions and refer back to it whenever you have a specific problem to solve in your composition.


Doing all the analyzing will make you a much better composer and songwriter, so it’s worth taking the time and listening to music with full focus, and also then use the ideas and write songs for the trash can.


To save you some time, you can do that while waiting in line, riding the bus or train, driving (as a passenger) … practically any time you don’t have to think.

About The Author:

Janez Janežič is a guitarist, songwriter and composer from Slovenia. He loves arranging and writing songs for his bands, and also teaching the craft to his guitar students. If you are a guitarist and are looking for the best guitar lessons locally in Novo mesto, be sure to visit his website.

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