Musicing of whatever kind always includes another kind of doing called music listening. Music makers listen for what their thoughtful actions produce and for what other musicers do and make. In addition, each musical practice usually includes (or attracts) a group of people who act specifically as listeners or audiences for the musical works of that practice. Thus music listening is an essential thread that binds musicers, musicing, and musical works together. But how shall we explain the nature of music listening? And what does it mean to be a competent, proficient, or expert music listener?
In everyday life, nothing seems to come between ourselves and the sounds of our environment, including the sounds of tunes, loons, mosquitos, and spoken language. Listening seems direct and automatic. Perhaps we should say, then, that sounds come to us loaded with all the information we need for their complete and accurate understanding. If so, then sounds must be fully formed external objects that listeners merely "copy," or receive immediately (without any mediating cognitive processes).
Some "ecological" theories of perception advocate this immediate view of listening. They hold that all forms of perceiving involve the direct pickup of information from the environment. 1 In this view, hearing and seeing are controlled by the qualities or "affordances" of objects that fit our needs and goals. From this standpoint, listening is essentially thought-less. 2
There are several basic reasons why the notion of thoughtless listening is untenable. First, although the information available to listeners at any given moment is infinite, we do not take in everything there is to hear. Human attention is highly selective. Recall from Chapter 3 that information arises in consciousness by means of attention. Attention is required to select, sort, retrieve, organize, and evaluate all covert and overt actions. 3 Even "instant" decision making requires attention.