Whether we’re playing a Beethoven sonata, improvising a blues solo, singing a love song, or dijing, the ability to “hear ahead” is important to cohesive and expressive music making. There’s no magic amount of time a musician needs to hear into the “future”, but a rolling aural snapshot of the next section, phrase, lick or even note is important to playing or singing music.
Almost everyone does this intuitively--it’s how we communicate ideas through speech. Musicians hear ahead to anticipate what comes next and prepare technically and musically to play as they would like to. We hear ahead when we improvise and it’s also a key element of memorization--thinking (hearing) ahead.
Check out Gerald Klickstein’s insightful and methodical blog The Musicians Way. He describes and outlines a practice of “feeling ahead” of which hearing ahead is a key ingredient. Hearing ahead informs the musical sensibility which informs the physical gesture which creates the sound.
Try it--sing or play some music you know (even just a simple melody) and be aware of the “sound” in your head--your mind will “play” what comes next before you actually sing or play it. Developing awareness of hearing ahead and honing our ability to do so helps us perform more effectively. Our creative self has a flash (however long it might be) to determine how we’re going to play or sing what’s next.
It’s especially helpful to have a teacher or coach guide you and organize your progress as you expand your ability to hear ahead. The teacher will integrate hearing with feeling ahead and anticipating/formulating gestures before you make them.
- Sing or play a song or piece you know. With each passing phrase, be aware of the next phrase and its sound in your mind. Did you realize that you already do this?
- Try hearing farther ahead--longer “chunks” of music to come. Do you find it helpful, confusing, distracting...?
- Do you find a “sweet spot” for how far ahead you can hear effectively? Does it vary depending on the music or upon...?
- Now apply your imagination to an upcoming phrase. Experiment with different creative interpretations. Be aware of the role of hearing ahead while acknowledging each passing moment with curiosity.
- See Gerald Klickstein’s post “Mental Imaging” which puts hearing ahead in the context of practice, performance, and creativity.