Listening With My Eyes

We’ve all seen it haven’t we?

The rhythm section guy at the jam session with his eyes closed. In the zone. Completely in tune with himself and his playing. Not so much with anyone else’s though.

Way too loud. Way too busy.

Way too soft. Way to sparse.

They’re obviously just listening to themselves, not anyone else. The sound, the audience, and the rest of the band are the victims, of course. They suffer the abuse of the self-centered super-musician while the musician enjoys they’re own incredible personal concert of none other than themselves being awesome. He’s his own world, closing everyone else off with his closed off eyes.

I don’t mean to say everyone who closes their eyes while they play is this guy. Some of my favorites close their eyes when they play, I’ve just made a conscious decision not to allow myself to do this.

Over time I’ve rapidly realized that I’m turning off my most important resource for communication when I close my eyes. Musicians can only accept communication with our ears and our eyes. That’s all we have.

So a secondary problem with closing our eyes when we play is cutting off the rest of the world. We can neither communicate nor accept communication when we close our eyes.

I think the primary problem is we can stop listening and stop prioritizing our listening. This doesn’t apply for everyone. But I will say that the people I enjoy playing with the most tend to have eyes open for connecting and the people I least enjoy playing with tend to have their eyes closed.

For me, my eyes are always focused on the most important thing going on, whatever that maybe. Usually its the soloist. Sometime it might be the bass player’s right hand as we start a new groove, or to encourage the piano player with a smile when they play a delicious voicing at the right moment. Maybe the conductor if I’m playing a musical or with an orchestra. It might even be my ride cymbal hand.

I call this listening with my eyes.

When I put effort into focusing my attention with my eyes I get so much more out of my experience. I play with the ensemble better. I concentrate on the current priority better. I remain engaged in each sound that’s made and react accordingly. I can enjoy the lovely surprises that the act of making music drops on you when you least expect it because I’m primed for the moment.

Listening with my eyes really works well for me. It may be that its not your thing and that’s just fine too. As long as you’re being a good band member and not being that guy I talked about earlier more power to you!

I triple dog dare you to give it a try though.