Have you ever been somewhere, waiting in traffic or at the store, and a song came on that you’ve heard countless times? An uncomfortably familiar amount of times? What do you do? I like to use active listening to turn moments like this into mindfulness. As I absorb the song through my sticky ears (songs get ‘in my head’ really easily), I hunt for the following: Where is the beat? Finding the beat of the song and tapping it lightly on my chest (if I am hands free) can help me feel more calm and grounded. Are there any bits of silence between melodic or rhythmic sounds? What would it be like to listen for those, and maybe breathe deeply into them? What instruments am I hearing? Can I pay attention to an instrumental sound I have not noticed before? The easiest one for me is the bass because of its low, steadily placed sounds. If vocal, how often does the singer say a particular letter sound? This can be really fun because it activates the logic- and pattern- seeking part of my mind, which is different from the judgey part. 😬 What was the last song you heard that got stuck in your head?
I wanted to share with you a quick way to find your center even in the midst of a hundred thousand things to do. My mind tends to go extra fast when I have a lot on my plate, jumping from need-to-be-done tasks to concerns about things that haven't happened yet. It can be easier said than done to take a deep breath. When my mind is loud, it helps to have a physical sound to guide me into a mindfulness. In recent piano lessons, my students have enjoyed using piano keys as tools to find center with playful curiosity. We find a note or two to play together. (Pairs of black and white keys that skip over a note of the same color are harmonious.) My student plays the note or notes and holds them down until the sound goes away. We may notice how long the sound lasts and then play a note or two in a different spot on the piano (to the right, left, or center), perhaps comparing how long the notes lasted. Depending on mood, the focus can be simple mindfulness. In this case, we listen to the note or notes as invitations to breathe deeply and follow the quality of the sound: What would happen if, as the sound gets quieter, the mind settled more deeply into listening to it? This can be done on a digital keyboard, set to a piano sound.
Some of my favorite centering songs have 3 beats. What I mean is that their underlying pulse--akin to a heartbeat--is counted 1 - 2 - 3. This odd but centering rhythm has a swinging feeling and is used in ballads, meditations and waltzes alike. What happens when you listen for the 1 - 2 - 3 beat in these tunes:
*This gospel classic and this grown-up ballad sung by the late and beloved Aretha Franklin *Kermit's colorful question from the Muppet Movie
*My favorite waltz and love song from Viennese operetta
While you listen, if you like, find the pulse of each song. Once you can hear and tap along with the regular strong beats, try counting 1-2-3 over and over, along with the music.
How does this feel?
Elisabeth C. Swim
Playful Mindful Music Guide