Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

How I Listen to Popular Music

Recently, it occurred to me that the way I react to music is rather unique. It goes a little like this:

Listen #1
If I like the song, my toe will begin to tap in time with the music. My head may bop. As long as the melody doesn't vary too much from verse to verse, humming along is also a distinct possibility.

If I don't like the song, I may still unconsciously tap, bop, or hum. Consciously, however, I only give the song one more chance to win me over. If it's no better the second time around, from then on it will fall on deaf ears.1

Thus, the rest of this guide is only applicable on songs I do like.

Listen #2
The toe-tapping becomes more enthusiastic. If I'm alone (or wtf),2 my humming turns to singing during the chorus, and I may hum the bass line or insert backup vocals in other spots. My fingers tap on the closest available surface, miming the fingering on a violin. Strangers start to give me funny looks.

Listens #3-4
Instead of singing along, I harmonize. My fingering now mimics a potential violin duet. I've got the chorus pretty much memorized, and have started to pick up the rest of song. If I'm alone or wtf, I may dance with reckless abandon.3 My fianceé starts to give me funny looks. Strangers back away slowly.

Listens #5-7
I try out different harmonies, sometimes matching up with the singer, sometimes with a guitar or another instrument playing a melody. The finger-tapping becomes faster and more complex, and I may do some percussion with my other hand. My dancing is recklesser and more abandon-y. My fianceé backs away slowly.

Listens #8-10
Here's where it gets interesting. Although I've sung along ever since listen #2, only now do I begin to actually pay attention to the words I'm singing. Only now do I start to realize what the song is about. My fianceé, on the other hand, has known ever since her first listen.

There are exceptions, of course. I may catch on earlier if the lyrics are peculiar, insightful, or peculiarly incite-ful. But typically, it takes much longer than it should for the lyrics to find their way past my tongue to where they can penetrate my skull.

You might think it's odd for a writer to notice the music long before the words, but the explanation's simple: I've really only been a writer for four years. I've been a musician since I was four.

You do the math.

But enough about me. What about you, dear readers? How do you listen to music? Do you hear the lyrics first, or the notes? Are you a toe tapping, head-bopping, singing, dancing fool? Or do you just lay back and let the music wash over you?

Inquiring minds want to know. And so do I.

Enlighten me.

1 Unless I'm holding an umbrella.
2 With the fianceé.
3 i.e. Like a white guy, but with rhythm.


  1. Lol. I love this! I was a musician long before a writer too. But I also wrote lyrics so I guess I pay attention to both. I love all sorts of music, but for a song to have me singing along and making a fool of myself, it has to be DIFFERENT. Which is really hard to come by nowadays, dontcha think?

    Are you a writer? Then you MUST enter this CONTEST!

  2. It’s true; the fiancé does pay more attention to the words than you do. Probably how I caught the two typos in this post.

  3. I've found that I enjoy listening to songs written in foreign languages. I think it's because I can focus on the sound of the words without getting distracted by the meaning.

    Or maybe I'm just addicted to J-Pop.

  4. Alli Allo: Unique songs are certainly harder to come by these days, but they're out there. You just need to know where to look. (Unfortunately, I don't know where to look. I tend to luck into songs whilst traipsing across the internets.)

    Denise: My company laptop is to blame for the typos. I couldn't it connect to the internet, or copy the post to my flash drive without first re-formatting said flash drive, so I ended up having to retype the entire post. (Oh, and while we're on the topic of typos, you misspelled fianceé. I'm the one with one e.)

    Xonmus: I do my best writing when listening to songs written in foreign languages (such as the Icelandic band Sigur Rós). If I can't understand the words, it's much harder for them to distract me from my own.