Centre for Continuing Education

Music Appreciation Course: How Do We Listen to Music?

Music. Learn, enjoy, appreciate.

COVID-19 update: arrangement of our courses

We are now delivering courses both online and in-person. Please check the delivery format for each class before you enrol.

Please note that course materials for all classes (excluding prescribed textbooks) are shared electronically within 48 hours of a course starting. Printing is not available.

In order to develop our listening skills to their fullest potential, it is necessary to think deeply about listening and our past experiences of music. A full understanding of the range of listening modes requires assessment of a wide variety of musical genres, and an understanding of ‘purpose’ that underlies every composition.


This course aims to provide a thorough survey of how we listen to music, supported by numerous examples from the repertory. It will address the broader question of what constitutes ‘music’ through an assessment of musical content, the role of performance, and the dynamic modes of listening. Additionally, it will explore the effect of external factors, such as status perceptions and cultural diversity, in the ways music is listened to, while identifying the roles that interpretation and contextual awareness play in presumptions of ‘significance’ and ‘meaning’ in music.


By the end of this course, you shoud be able to:

  • critically evaluate your own listening skills, and the listening abilities of others
  • define music in terms of melody, harmony and rhythm
  • critically identify modes of both passive and active listening
  • identify the role of interpretation in both performing and listening situations
  • exhibit a familiarity of ways that music acts as a status symbol
  • assess the existence of bias in different music cultures
  • define the notion of ‘meaning’ as applied to the content of music.


Part 1

  • The place of music in societies
  • The content of music – melody, harmony and rhythm
  • The performance of music – interpretation, artistry
  • The ability of the listener to listen – active vs. passive listening
  • The effect of fame on our perception of musical 'greatness'

Part 2

  • Assessing ‘purpose’ behind compositions
  • Examples (ranging from ‘muzak’, tribal music, modern dance music, ancient liturgical music, minimalist music, ‘program’ and ‘absolute’ music, atonal music, film and television, etc.)
  • Music as status symbol
  • Cultural biases
  • ‘Meaning’ in music

Intended audience

Suitable for those who have an interest in music, and who wish to further develop their listening skills.

Delivery style

Delivered as a series of lectures where active participation is encouraged.

You will learn through a variety of methods including:

  • listening to musical excerpts
  • group discussion about listening and musical choices
  • various readings.

Recommended reading

Hegel, G. W. F. Aesthetics.

Kant, I. 2000, Critique on the Power of Judgement, Trans. P. Guyer & E. Matthews, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Ross, A. 2007, The Rest is Noise: Listening to The Twentieth Century, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York.


  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Course materials – yours to keep
  • CCE Statement of Completion

What others say.

  • The presenter was very knowledgeable and delightful. He pitched the level of musicianship in the class quickly and taylored the seminar on a real time basis to the enjoyment and the benefits of his audience.
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