“Listen even more than you play.” – Mick Kinney

I once saw a sign on the wall behind an online fiddle teacher that said, “Listening is Practicing.” Sounds like the lazy way of practicing, I thought. But after a second think, I realized how much work your brain does listening to other people play the songs you want to learn. 

How often do you listen to a cover of your favorite song, and think, “But that’s not how it goes,” because the cover artist did something different to your favorite song? You have it in your head so solid that you recognize when it’s off a bit. That’s “ear memory”! Mick Kinney says that internalizing the melody goes a long way in helping you practice when you do pick up the instrument to try it out. “Ear memory can guide you as to how it sounds.” 

According to Mick, Bruce Molsky listens to a tune dozens of times before working it out on his fiddle. That way, he can use his knowledge to make his fingers create the same tune. Ear memory eventually stimulates muscle memory!

Barbara Panter adds to this idea of listening being a form of practice: “Listening over and over to a tune is essential to have it in your mind. It’s a great idea to be able to sing the melody before you try to play it.” Once you have it, you can break it down into smaller pieces to play it. Don’t even worry about which version to listen to. Learn the basics and make adjustments later.

So keep those radios on and CDs turning! Or more likely – create those Spotify lists and replay your favorites over and over again.

Professor Harold Hill, the fictitious con artist of The Music Man, may have been using the “think method” for his scam, but he was really on to something! Getting a tune solidified in your brain is a great way to start practicing!

~ Maura Nicholson