What instruments have been used? What is the texture of the song? What kind of timbral characteristics can you hear? What production techniques have been used? What layers are there?
What are the lyrics saying? In what way do they fit the music? Are any lyrics repeated? What makes the hook catchy? What is the structure of the song like? Does it appear to follow a popular structure, such as AABA or ABABCB? Does the mood of the song change?
What chords have been used and what do you notice about the use of harmony? Are there any key changes? Is there a chord progression?
What instruments affect the rhythm the most? What is the purpose of the less rhythmic instruments? Are there rhythmic patterns? Do any of the patterns repeat themselves? Do they happen over a phrase or bar, or does the piece not have any obvious rhythm?
What is the melody like, and what is its range? What main instrument holds the melody? Does the voice have melody? Is this consistent or does it alter? What is the contour like? Or is there no obvious melody? Why do you think that is?
Don’t worry, we don’t expect you to answer all of these questions in one active listening session! A good idea is to focus on one section of these questions at a time. Every time you listen to the song, you should aim to answer another set of questions. What’s more, these questions are not the only ones you should answer, as they are just a good starting point. The main aim of active listening is to learn things that will help you further your music career. So, ask the questions that you want the answers to. For example, if you want to learn more about song structure then focus on that.
Active Listening Exercises
Once you have honed your active listening techniques by getting some practice in, then there are some active listening exercises that you can employ. This will not only help you learn more about a song, but will help to improve your future creations by enhancing your producing and critical listening skills.