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How We Listen to Music

Updated on April 3, 2013

In Aaron Copeland’s essay “How We Listen to Music” he divides the way we listen to music into three separate parts: the sensuous plane, the expressive plane, and the sheerly musical plane. In this short essay I will explain how I listen to music and my interpretation of each these planes. I will also be giving examples of artists that I feel fit these particular categories.

The first is the sensuous plane. Copeland defines this plane as “the simplest way of listening … for the sheer pleasure of the musical sound itself.” The example I chose for this category is the A-teens. They fit into the genre of pop music. The reasons why I chose this group is: they have a good and enjoyable beat, the message is always positive, you can dance to it, it talks about the joys of life and love, you don’t have to concentrate or think hard while listening to it, and it is helpful while doing chores or things around the house, making you finish things more quickly and efficiently.

The second is the expressive plane. Copeland states that “all music has a certain meaning behind the notes and that the meaning behind the notes constitutes, after all, what the piece is saying, what the piece is about.” The example I chose for this category is the music of Rachmaninov. He fits into the category of classical. His music can almost fit into the sensuous plane, but there is so much more to his music. There is, of course, the beautiful melodies to listen to on the sensuous plane, but there is also a large range of emotions that can penetrate your soul while listening. For example, it can portray sadness, happiness, excitement, etc. Rachmaninov’s music can take you into another world and really cause you to think.

The last is the sheerly musical plane. Copeland states that “the intelligent listener must be prepared to increase his awareness of the musical material and what happens to it. He must hear the melodies, the rhythms, the harmonies, the tone colors in a more conscious fashion. But above all he must, in order to follow the line of the composer’s thought, know something of the principles of musical form.” The example I chose for this category is hymns by the world famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir. This music fits into the sheerly music plane because the message behind the music is powerful, it speaks of devotion and love, it describes the relationship between God and us, and it brings feeling of happiness, comfort, and other positive feelings. This music, if listened to properly, will penetrate your feelings like no other music.

I think it is very important to understand why and how you listen to music. Understanding what level or plane you listen on a particular piece will help you deepen your understanding of music. By this you will become a “more conscious and aware listener – not someone who is just listening, but someone who is listening for something.”

What plane to you listen to music to most on?

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    • Reginald Thomas profile image

      Reginald Thomas 

      11 months ago from Connecticut

      Nice article. Good choices also. You might want to check out some of Aaron Copland’s music for additional listen examples. Fanfare for the Common Man, Rodeo to name a few.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Hey, that's poerlfuw. Thanks for the news.

    • petertheknight profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      Well said spookyfox. I do agree I could have done more, but I didn't because this was actually a short research paper I did for college English. lol I didn't really look too far into it nor have I read the actual book. But I think that there are a few points worth considering. Most people I have met do not like something about my choice in music, but I don't really care. You seem pretty educated on the may want to consider writing your own hub on this topic.

    • spookyfox profile image


      7 years ago from Argentina

      I find it interesting, though I wouldn't agree with your music choices, and I think you could expand on the subject much more.

      What he meant, I'd guess, is that the first plane is the same as watching a foreign movie in which you don't know the spoken language, without subtitles, or reading a comic book withot the dialogue: your attention is only on the surface and on the "pretty colors", or in the case of the music, catchy melodies, and usually relying heavily on the lyrics. Most people without a musical background can't relate to the music itself, so they need the lyrics in order to feel a connection with a piece of music.

      The other plane is where you put your attention on what the music makes you feel and how you react to it.

      And the third is when you're aware of the music for the music itself. Not because of love lyrics, not because of how much it raises your heartbeat, but because of the artistry, creativity and variety in which a musical theme is built and developed.

    • petertheknight profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      Yes, at the time I wrote this paper, I'm not entirely sure if I understood the different planes of listening to music. I probably still don't have a clue what Copeland really even means by all of this. Really, it is just the way that I understand his writing on the subject. I have not read the entire book though, so maybe I have no right to even post my thoughts on just a snippet of the book. But it was fun at the time and I absolutely love doing English essays...especially when they have to do with my favorite subject, which is of course music.

    • onceuponatime66 profile image

      Jackie Paulson 

      8 years ago from USA IL

      well written hub. I had no idea of all the listen "plane" had. I love enya, yanni, and all soothing music. But as Christmas approaches I always listen to the holiday songs for enlightenment. Cheers~


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