Listening to Recordings

Jim Snyder

I’ll bet I’m older than you. That’s a good thing because I’m gonna tell you what it was like back in the day. Like 15 years ago. The radio stations actually played instrumentals! (FYI, that’s a recording with no one singing!) And some of these tunes were big hits … selling millions of copies!

Ha! Try to find one now.

Even if a popular band has a “horn section,” it’s usually relegated to the back row playing beeps and bops in between the singer’s lyrics. I’ve been trying to figure out why. It’s not as if we aren’t producing talented young ’uns. I work regularly with some stellar musicians who are almost 30 years my junior.

We aren’t less educated than we were back then … or maybe, as an audience, we are. When we’re rarely exposed to something, it loses its value.

A Bigger Effort. Who do you listen to if you want to know how the instrument you’re playing is supposed to sound? Where do you hear how your instrument is utilized in different musical styles?

Good news! You have many more options to find instrumental music now than we did “back in the day.” The only catch is that you have to make a bigger effort to look for it.

It was easier for us older folk because our parents’ generation played music (which was mostly instrumentals) on the stereo in the living room, and radio stations pretty much dictated the music to which we were all exposed.

Explore the Music. Now we’ve got the Internet with all its videos, streaming services, podcasts and websites. And don’t forget all those classic vinyl records and cassettes that someone in your family may still have.

The exploration is up to you. Hearing your instrument in varied ensemble and solo settings is one of the best learning tools you have available. So here’s my suggestion: Listen to a recording featuring the clarinet at least once a week. Any style of music. Any era. From any source.

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