Want to Become a Better Musician? Stop Playing and Do This Instead

Jon Clemence
6 min readMar 24
Scrabble tiles arranged to form the phrase “listen more.”
Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

When I was a kid, the adults in my life often said, “God gave you two ears and one mouth so that you would listen twice as much as you speak.”

As a society, many of us seem to have forgotten that message. Much public discourse, to our detriment and shame, is really nothing more than attempts to speak over one another. It seems few are willing to hear out any competing viewpoints, and thus many miss out on the learning and growing that occurs in genuine, respectful debate.

This epidemic lack of listening is certainly not good for society, but there is another area where listening is also just as critical: music.

I don’t just mean the obvious — that you interact with music by listening to it. I mean that it’s subtle listening, really listening, that is an art you must master if you want to become a better musician. This includes broadening your musical tastes, refining your ear for music, and focusing on both others’ playing and singing and your own.

So let’s take a look at the four ways listening can make you a better musician.

Listen to good music — period

When I was young, I liked classic rock and, well, not much else. After all, I played the guitar, and the heyday of guitar-based music was the 1960s-80s. Naturally, that is where I focused my listening attention: bands like Tom Petty, Boston, and Petra dominated my CD collection (yes, I’m old).

Now what often happens is that as a person gets older, their tastes solidify. A kid who likes jazz is likely to be an adult who likes jazz. If you didn’t listen to country music growing up, you probably won’t listen to it as an adult. So if you played the odds, you might assume that I’m even more of a classic rock guy now, and to heck with those other, lesser genres of music. Bob Seger FTW! \m/

But the older I’ve become, I’ve actually done the opposite: I’ve learned to embrace music from many different genres. I sometimes wonder what the Spotify algorithm must think about me. I listen to everything from Brahms and Bach to Scrapper Blackwell and Son House, Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller, Willie Nelson and Hank Williams, Nickel Creek and Punch Brothers, Stevie Ray Vaughan, the…

Jon Clemence

Medium needs more guitar-related content. I. Am. That. Hero!