Listening for Affect

Many people fall in love with music because of how it makes them feel. For such people, the technical focus of a lot of the listening we do in formal music education can draw their attention away from this aspect of music that they most love. That’s a shame!

We believe strongly in the importance of being able to listen for the technical details of music. But we also believe strongly that we should be able to direct our attention to more holistic aspects of music such as tension, emotion, and dramatic shape—both because this makes us more “musical” and because it is so much of what most people love about music.

As we move forward in this text, never lose touch with your instinctive reactions to music. They are valuable in and of themselves. And when we can place them alongside our technical listening skills and see how they relate, our learning will be even more powerful.

Activity: Listening to Music Instinctually

Goal: Build or strengthen habits of listening to music holistically, and with attention to emotion and affect

Option 1: Moving to feelings in music

  • Instructions: While listening to the various songs in this playlist, try air-tracing the tension curves and/or arc of the music.
  • Reflection: What do you notice about the more tense moments in the music? In juxtaposition, what are some key traits in music that you find calming, sad, or low? What aspects of the music differentiate the affects of “Run Free” by Hans Zimmer and “Romantic Flight” by John Powell? Take note of these characteristics so that you can add more feeling to the style and musicianship of your repertoire!

Option 2: Draw a visual representation of music

  • Instructions: Draw or paint the feelings that are represented in the songs of the playlist below. It may be helpful to start with a structure or frame such as a circle.
  • Reflection: What kinds of images does the music invoke in you? How did your visual representation change based on the affect of the song?


Suggest a song for this playlist!



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Foundations of Aural Skills Copyright © 2022 by Timothy Chenette is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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