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Feeling vs Listening

When we watch some sort of performance or concert people always say either of the following: “Wow i couldn’t stop watching, it was awesome” or “It was OK , not really my vibe”. Which makes sense. Now that we’ve looked into some of the conscious and subconscious approaches to one’s “Vibe” there’s another side to all this. The difference of feeling vs listening.

To me, feeling (in the context of a performance) can be approached by:

“Asking the why and how to hopefully understand the decisions the performer made consciously or subconsciously to play and perform the way they did". (The difference between playing and performing is another soon to be blog as well).

Listening can be defined as:

“Appreciating the overall performance, touching the surface of the depths of emotions portrayed through a performance."

Both are great approaches to “watching” a performance and both can be used in different contexts. If you do too much of one you can go crazy by overthinking and “over feeling” every little thing in your life (essentially over complicating your emotions), which as we can imagine isn’t the healthiest of things.

So going to watch a concert can be approached in 2 different ways: You can go and watch the players, look at their technique, look at how they connect with the conductor, try and connect with the conductor in a way that delves you into their mind, understanding maybe why they did a crescendo, (getting louder in volume) or use a specific tempo (speed) in a specific section, why they did a divisi (taking a chord and having each player play a singular note instead of the whole chord) compared to non-divisi, etc etc. OR you can go and appreciate the practice of art and sit and listen to the vibe as a WHOLE, meaning you walk out thinking “wow that was nice” or “i didn’t really like it, i don’t know why”. Both are great concepts and great to approaching different aspects of one’s performance or art but both have substantially different results.

In a conversation i had not too long ago, a friend and I discussed that “You can’t explain a feeling, it is not describable because it is an inner concept, just like we can’t know what someone thinks or we can’t know what someone feels”.

I disagree to an extent.

Here’s why.

What is the study of psychology? Psychology is defined as:

“The scientific study of the human mind and its functions, especially those affecting behavior in a given context”.

This means that using this definition and concept, we can use the physical and spiritual (vibe) behaviors of someone to understand what someone COULD be thinking(this is a theory). So my argument is the following.

You can understand someone else’s feeling through the intent and approach to your own feeling.

Just like how psychologists and behavior analysts use one’s immediate reactions, long term reactions and physical reactions to situations to understand someone’s thought and reaction process, we can do the same in music. With music it’s a little more complexe. In music there are two sides, the intent and approach of the performer and the intent and approach of the listener. If both aren’t compatible in some way the connection won’t be suffice. In most cases if the performer has a good intent in the approach to what they are doing as well as a well developed technique grounding the listener will be able to catch the performer’s intent. If this is done it’s what we as a society call “liking one’s performance’ this in relation to the world theory (which I’ve mentioned but will go in more depth next blog) is the introduction to the philosophy of understanding the bond between performer to listener.

I must clarify that none of this or future blogs are facts but they are theories (concepts that aren’t fact but have been derived from someone’s opinion and viewpoint, in this case, mine).

Now, one can argue that a performer’s intent may be as profound as a professional world class performer but they are not thought of as the highest of caliber. This is obviously because with everything that we do in life we need some sort of skill to do the given activity which then gives a given result. So here is the updated version of my theory on feeling:

You can understand someone else’s feeling for art through your intent and approach to your own feeling with the current level of technique you have available to you at that given moment and time.

This simply means that the more technique you have available to you, the more viewpoints and approaches you have available to you when approaching a specific task at hand (a given phrase, tempo, or timbre). So this means that just like “knowing” how someone’s vibe came to be, you can “just know” how someone’s feeling and intent for music came to be. If you spend too much time focusing on the how you will never learn to appreciate the why for the approach and the result for one’s artistic ability. That is the difference between science and philosophy, many people tend to spend so much time to find an answer to their questions, for example:

“Why is it that music makes us feel this way”

Instead of

“How do i feel when i hear music this way”

These two concepts are insanely vast and different, one is the scientific approach and one is the philosophical theoretical approach.

Can you guess which one is which?

Science is actual fact. Science can establish the what and the how but it can’t establish fully the why. It’s an actual fact. It doesn’t exist to make us feel better or worse but to establish truth from falsehood. If you were feeling sad, science can determine what area of the brain is responsible for that which can then help you understand the approach, not the doing.

The philosophical approach is to understand the unknown. Which is basically impossible. We can build theories to help us believe in concepts that may help us feel like we have an idea to the definition but we do not have proof.

So the answer is as follows:

Science: “Why is it that music makes us feel this way”:

  • Why------> neurotransmitters send signals to the brain

  • Gives the brain a reaction

  • Forms a hormonal response

  • Activity in the Cerebellum and amygdala

  • We “feel good”

Philosophy: “What do i feel when i hear music”

  • Science can’t define that because there is no physical feeling you feel

  • The feeling of emotion is unjustified and simply a concept (the thought of hormones and neurological impulses are simply an explanation for the reaction, not the feeling)

  • What do i -----> implies something is being felt. In reality there is nothing being felt because there is nothing physical as we just mentioned.

  • So what is feeling?

  • This could be related to Freud’s dream state theory, but in the end we still don’t know

So after reading all this and not having an answer to the question Feeling vs listening, what is the point of all this?

Well if you understand that feeling is not physical but it is a concept that can’t be explained you may treasure this concept even more: What is it in a performance that can make you go through this feeling state? What does science have to do with this (nothing), How has evolution made us believe in science more than the theory of feeling? How does our behavior connect with our performing? Is playing music a sense of non reality? What is reality?

These are all concepts worth pondering about.

See you next time,


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