Tuesday, May 18, 2021

The value of listening

by Rick Blechta

It’s no great news that modern society is not very good at listening anymore. We tend to talk at each other, thinking only of the points we would like to make or concentrating on the next thing we’d like to say. The causes of this trend are not what I want to discuss today. My guess is I can’t offer any solution that you couldn’t think up yourselves.

Rather, I would like to talk about something that occurred to me this past week which immediately bore fruit when I tried it.

In a past blog post, probably several years ago now — after all, Type M is close to celebrating its 15th anniversary — I pointed out the value of speaking your writing out loud at some point in the editing process. I’d like to refine that idea a bit further.

Actually, my “Aha!” moment came while I was practising trumpet. I’m involved with a recording project for my band SOULidified and I just wanted to check what I was sounding like. That’s hard to do when one is doing the actual playing, so I pulled out a mic and recorded one of the songs. I was appalled and pleased in equal measure when I listened to the playback.

I didn’t pack things up when I finished my practice session and went on to a bit of writing. I’m nowhere near the editing stage on my Work In Progress, but as I’d come up against something that required further thought, I decided to do a spot of editing to maybe get myself unstuck.

Inspiration struck.

I had the recording software still turned on, a mic at hand, so I turned it on and recorded myself as I read something from the previous chapter.

I often read passages aloud to check the flow and uncover weaknesses, but I never have recorded myself and then listened back to it.

When musicians practise, we seldom record ourselves and that’s a shame because when you’re playing it’s hard to really listen closely. There are too many things going on requiring concentration, so we really cannot devote the mental space to closely follow the nuances of our performance as closely as one can when only listening.

I discovered the same thing happens when we speak out loud, although truthfully, to a lesser extent.

Just reading the passage out loud and then editing the weaknesses would have worked pretty well. That I already knew. But sitting there passively as the playback of my reading went on, more and more things leapt out because my concentration was total on what was being said. There were all sorts of little nuances I would have missed.

I was pleasantly surprised by some things and appalled by others. So much more was revealed.

Trying again a few days later, I got the same result.


From now on recording and listening back will be part of my editing arsenal. Try it and see if you agree.

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