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Difference Between Hearing and Listening to Music

Music has a unique way of conveying feelings, emotions, and even stories, regardless of the country and language of a person who listens to it. Various techniques and methods allow a composer to transfer mood and feeling so that the listener can perceive and understand it. However, most people hear music but do not listen to it. In other words, a person perceives melodies and their messages but does not distinguish the structures that stand behind them. The features of these two ways of experiencing music are easier to demonstrate with Beethoven’s “Eroica”, in which various structures intertwine to form an emotional composition that is understandable to the audience.

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A feature of hearing music is that a hearer perceives melodies and themes through his or her internal feelings, but does not pay attention to the elements that affect them. A listener, on the contrary, hears a change in tone, melody, theme, rhythm, harmony, and dynamics, which allows him or her to understand the composition of the symphony. For example, the first part of Beethoven’s symphony carries a joyful mood, which is formed mainly due to a fast rhythm and pace.

However, the themes are also contrasting, for example, the entering part is portentous but not threatening, while the second movement is short and incomplete and switches accents from one group of instruments to another (Lee & Martin, 2018). At the same time, the second movement in the symphony is gloomy and threatening, which clearly contrasts with the background of the first vivid part. These features allow the audience to plunge into history and, without words, understand the feelings and emotions that the author tried to convey. However, listeners understand these features, while hearers only perceive them.

Another notable feature that affects deep and challenging to interpret feelings is the length of movements and the use of code by the author. Lee and Martin (2018) note, “The movement is at least twice as long as the usual first movements of earlier symphonies, and no composer before had used the coda in such a developmental way” (p. 243). Beethoven expanded the code so much that he created the second developed part as well as the conclusion (Lee & Martin, 2018).

These features created an opportunity to convey emotions that are difficult for people to interpret, since they rarely encounter such manifestations in real life. However, while a hearer will be impressed by such a strong emotion and will justify it with inner experiences, a listener will understand that the features of the composition cause it and appreciate the composer’s skill.

In conclusion, one can see the difference between a listener and a hearer by reviewing some features of the construction of Beethoven’s “Eroica.” The primary skills of the listener are the ability to distinguish between various components of music, such as a melody, theme, and motive. Changes in it that affect the transmission of meaning and feelings, for example, dynamics, rhythm, and timbre, also relate to these abilities. Beethoven’s “Eroica” is an indicative composition in this case, as the author’s innovative methods helped create a deeper connection between the listeners’ subjective experiences and the music’s external perception. For this reason, the hearers can vividly feel and perceive the emotions of each movement of the symphony, and the listeners notes the features of their construction.


Lee A. J., & Martin F. D. (2018). The humanities through the arts (10th ed.). McGraw-Hill Education.

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