How to Do the Listening for MUS 113

When you do the listening assignments, give them your full attention. All the music I’ve assigned you to listen to involves three “layers of listening”:

  1. The song: a text that has music and, in most cases, also lyrics.
  2. The performance: sung and played at a particular time and place in history, by particular singers/instrumentalists, in particular social contexts.
  3. The technology of the recording process, which mediates what you hear. The recording itself is essential to our understanding of the music and its context and meaning.

When you listen to any of the music assigned in this course, keep the following Listening Methodology open and handy. Take notes on what you hear according to these suggestions.

Listening Methodology for MUS 113 (adapted from Country Music: A Cultural and Stylistic History, Jocelyn R. Neal)

I. The Song or Piece of Music

A. The Words

  • What do they mean?
  • What is the story about?
  • What allusions or references are in the words? For instance:

To current events
To past events
To real or fictional people
To other songs or forms of expression

  • How do they sound?

What interesting or original vocabulary is used?
What poetic techniques are used?

  • How are they organized?

What is the form of the lyrics?
What is the rhyme scheme?
What words, phrases, or sections repeat?

B. The Tune

  • What does it sound like?

What is the range – i.e., how high or low does it go?
What are its rhythms and contours?
Does it quote or borrow from/sample other sources?

  • How is it organized?

What is the form?
Do phrases or sections repeat?

C. The Chords/Harmonic Progression

  • What is the chord progression?

What chords are used?
Does the chord progression borrow from other sources?

Mississippi John Hurt
II. The Performance

A. Musical Style

  • What is the sound of the musical ensemble or production?

What instruments or sonic techniques are used?
Are there identifiable instrumental/sonic techniques from a particular time or place?

  • What is the arrangement of the song?

What rhythmic patterns or grooves are used?
What are the musical roles of the different instruments?
How do the different instruments function in creating a narrative, mood, or vibe?
What is the mood/vibe being conveyed?
What is the overall organization and form of the song as it’s performed?

B. The singer or performer

  • What does the voice sound like?

Smooth or raspy?
High or low?
Vibrant, flat, resonant, emotional, deadpan?

  • What performance techniques are used?

Singing with vibrato?
Regional or ethnic accent?

III. The Recording

A. How was the sound captured?

  • What were the conditions where the recording was made?

Was it live? In a studio? On a front porch?
Are there audible clues to the setting or location or the recording?
Are there audible clues to the time period when the recording was made?

B. What technologies were used in the recording process?

Direct-to-shellac or –acetate?
Electronic microphones?
Multi-track recording?
Sound-processing software?

C. How is the sound delivered to you, the listener?

  • What form does the final product take?

Shellac or cylinder disc?
Digital track? Etc.

  • How does the final product affect the way you hear the music?

How is the fidelity?
Are there things that interfere with your listening, such as uncorrected mistakes, tape hiss, cracks and pops?
How do these things add to or detract from the music’s meaning?

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