Stare With Your Ears

Håkan Hardenberger
Håkan Hardenberger (on right)

Jazz trumpeter Ingrid Jensen–pregnant with her first child–went to Sweden to play in a festival that included performers from fantastic trumpeters like Ingrid from all over the world, including Swedish trumpeter Håkan Hardenberger (check out a documentary about him here). The only trumpeter Ingrid’s baby reacted to was Hardenberger. His tone is so resonant and gorgeous that it made her baby dance. There is some evidence that babies, even in the womb, are able to recognize and learn sounds, like songs, or their mother’s voice.

Rex Martin
Rex Martin

Another player with amazing tone is Rex Martin, a virtuoso tuba player, who continues and expands upon the legacy and teachings of the legendary Arnold Jacobs, longtime Chicago Symphony tuba player and brilliant teacher. Rex is one of the many world-class musicians who spoke with me about practice for The Practice of Practice. Rex had two older brothers who also played tuba, so it’s a good bet he had some early tuba listening exposure before he was born. Here’s the connection between these two superb musicians: listening. But not just any old kind of listening. Listening on steroids. As poet and spoken-word genius said, “Stare with your ears.”

I’ve cued the video below to start at 3:22, so if it doesn’t, fast-forward to that spot. Hardenberger is working with young trumpeter Elizabeth Fitzpatrick. First, notice the difference in tone and musicality between Ms. Fitzpatrick and Mr. Hardenberger. Pretty amazing. But what’s really helpful is what Hardenberger tells her about listening.

Among other gems of advice, Hardenberger said, “Real listening is listening before.” In addition to singing their parts, listening with this kind of intensity is a theme that I heard in just about every player I’ve spoken with about practice. That kind of listening is taken to the highest level by Rex Martin, who told me that he strives to play toward an ideal sound he hears in his head, a sound and musicality that’s better than he’s capable of playing. And if it’s better than he’s capable of playing, it’s better than probably anybody alive is capable of playing on tuba.

Want to learn more about listening? Get a copy of The Practice of Practice and read Chapter 28: Stare With Your Ears. Learn more about the book here.


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The Practice of Practice
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Basic Music Theory: How to Read, Write, and Understand Written Music, by Jonathan Harnum
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