3 Ways to Listen Like a Pro

In the book Music: Ways of Listening, author Elliott Schwartz argues that our listening skills have been “dulled by our built-in twentieth-century habit of tuning out.”  I can’t help but agree with that and admit that I’ve been guilty of it myself.

The Bible says more than a dozen times, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” In light of this, it seems this isn’t a 20th century phenomenon after all.

There’s nothing more important to a musician than how acutely we listen.  So how do we cultivate ‘ears that hear’?


1.  Listen More than Once

black woman listening

Sounds simple, right?  But how often do we receive sound advice, hear a great message, or read a great book and rush right on to the next thing without stopping to let it sink in?  The great violinist Itzhak Perlman said, “When we learn something slowly, it leaves us slowly.  When we learn something quickly, it departs our minds quickly.”  So, let’s take our time and embrace repetition.  Want to really know that piece of music?  Hear it over and over again.  Want to really learn that spiritual lesson?  Sit with it, meditate on it, listen again to the words that were spoken until you have internalized the message.

2.  Listen in Lots of Ways

man headphones

When I get called in to play a new Broadway show, I need to know it backwards and forwards before I show up in the pit that first night.  I prepare myself by listening to the music almost constantly.  Sometimes I listen while watching the musical score so I see the notes of the whole orchestra flying by.  Sometimes I listen while looking at my horn part, so that I really understand the specifics of what I need to play.  Sometimes I just listen in the background while driving, walking the dog, or doing other mundane tasks.  I listen to the cast recording, the original recording, and the current pit orchestra playing it themselves.  Sometimes I even listen to it while falling asleep at night.

Want to know what God has to say in your life? The Bible says, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”  Listen to the word while you exercise, while you cook, and while you travel to work.  Listen to a few different translations to hear interesting nuances of interpretation.  Listen when you are deliberately paying attention and when you are not.  The Bible says that God’s word will not return void, so no matter how and when you listen to it, there are promises attached to that hearing.

3.  Listen More than you Talk

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At one point in my career I oversaw a team of artists from many arts disciplines. They were a mixed group of dancers, actors, musicians, potters, storytellers, etc.   Working with them all jumbled together I began to notice that the musicians seemed to be more adept collaborators than those from other disciplines.  They specifically flourished in the large group conversations.  As I began to grapple with the reasons why, it struck me that they were simply better listeners.  I noticed they spoke up less often in conversation.  They were thoughtful responders to what they had heard rather than steering the dialogue based on their own agendas.  It’s not that the people from the other arts disciplines didn’t listen; of course they did.  It’s that the musicians were able to listen with such focus and intention and understood the value of remaining quiet until they could truly contribute something of import to the dialogue.

Want to become more sensitive to what God is saying to you?  Spend less time talking at him when you pray and more time lingering in his presence.  Thoughtfully prepare questions for those spiritual mentors in your life and then listen while they pour out their wisdom to you.  Talk less.  Listen more.  The Greek philosopher Epictetus said it this way, “God gave man two ears but only one mouth that he might hear twice as much as he speaks.”  

Looking for a great way to listen to the Bible everyday?  Check out my favorite resource- Daily Audio Bible.  Subtle backgrounds of ocean waves and meditative music add to this daily dose of God’s word.

2013 Copyright by Misty Tolle

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11 thoughts on “3 Ways to Listen Like a Pro

  1. Thank you. I now place my hand fully over my mouth and say, “Speak Lord, thy servant is listening.

  2. MISTY, I’M SO THANKFUL FOR YOUR BLOG. GOD HAS BEEN GETTING MY ATTENTION LATELY TO LISTEN MORE DEEPLY. I FIND SOMETIMES I’M THINKING HOW TO RESPOND RATHER THAN REALLY LISTEN. YOUR GRAND-FATHER TOLLE WAS MY MENTOR FOR MANY YEARS. HE COULD KEEP ONE’S ATTENTION WHEN NO ONE ELSE COULD. YOU REMIND ME OF HIM. I’M ALWAYS SO EXCITED TO READ YOUR NEXT BLOG. GOD BLESS

  3. This is a powerful lesson. It’s hard at times to shut out the noises of life. I will be more intentional In listening to those things that are true, noble, pure, and lovely so that I may hear Him better.

  4. Da Capo! From the “head”. Re-hear-sal is just that, to re-hear the music. I, too, am a musician, and I resonate with your post! I love Ps. 75:1 on the Amplified Bible, “We give praise and thanks to You, O God, we praise and give thanks: Your wondrous works declare that Your Name is near and they who invoke Your Name REHEARSE Your wonders.”

  5. I really enjoy reading your thoughts, Misty. Good things to think on!!

    On another note (pun intended :)), I’m pretty sure from now on when I hear “Be Thou My Vision” I will think of the breathtakingly beautiful way you did it at the workshop last week. Thanks for sharing with us!!

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