A More Pleasurable Approach to Listening or Playing Music?

A COVID-acceptable pleasure, perhaps enhanced.

Posted Jun 28, 2020

Marty Nemko
Source: Marty Nemko

Previous installments in this series offered thoughts on how to make the most of two recreations that are okay in this time of COVID: walking and reading. Here I turn to music.


Listeners tend to fall into two categories. I call the first, The Organics. They simply experience the music. The other category is The Analytics. Typically, they've taken a music-appreciation or theory course in college or one of the iconic Great Courses by Robert Greenberg.

Here, I’d like to offer a third way, one that might be particularly appropriate for Psychology Today readers. I call it The Emotional Way: As you listen, whether it’s an instrumental or vocal, try to get in touch with how each piece, section, or lyric makes you feel. Yes, it could just make you feel happy or sad, but also, it might evoke an emotional-filled event that would feel good to revisit, perhaps the first time you fell in love, when you lost someone you loved, a triumphant moment in your career, or a time, perhaps now, when you feel at sea.

Here and here are some musical selections that lend themselves to emotion-centered listening.

Perhaps even more likely to evoke emotions is music that you recall from your life's key moments. For example, many couples have a song, perhaps the one they did in their wedding's first dance, but there are many other possibilities. The article, "The Music of Your Life," may evoke some ideas.


Except perhaps if you’re a beginner, as you sing or play your instrument, focus on creating feeling: joy, sadness, peace, or anger. Sometimes, even within the same piece, you can evoke different emotions. The ability to suffuse emotion is a core difference between playing and artistry.

If you have trouble infusing emotion into your music, listen to your favorite recording of that song or piece. Is there anything you'd like to imitate? Here, I try to infuse emotion as I play A Day in the Life of a Fool on the piano.

If you’re taking lessons, you might ask your teacher for help in bringing out more feeling.

The takeaway

Music can provide respite from today's stresses, whether you’re an Organic, an Analytic, or if you try The Emotional Way. A few of my clients and I find that to be an option worth having.

I read this aloud on YouTube.