Does Anybody Listen to Music on Real Speakers Anymore?

Do people listen to music on speakers bigger than the size of a nickel anymore?

It’s hard not to be nostalgic when I think about this question but I refuse to feel dated .  Because for me as a guitar instructor in the year 2012, it’s still a necessity to be able to hear ALL of the music one practices.  Especially the bass.  So that is why the answer to this question has surprised me for about as many years as i-devices have become so popularly widespread.

Can you hear the bass on your laptop?  I consistently struggle to hear the root note of chord progressions – some genres/artists are exceptions – on some of my students’ computer speakers. (I have the opportunity to travel to some of my lessons and can only wonder about the others.)  This not only makes it difficult to figure out chord progressions, but impossible to study bass vocab let alone drum beats (although removing the low end may actually prove beneficial in some cases when rehearsing).

When I ask my students how they listen to music – or where they practice for that matter – I realize that most, and especially the middle-school through high-school aged, practice in their bedroom in solitary confinement.  And when they play music, they’re okay with the following NOT-okay audio playback hardware:

  • built-in laptop speakers
  • iphone speaker
  • earbuds – okay but not for group situations, obviously
  • nothing at all

I was with a drum student the other day and listening to a Black Keys song and there was no representation of the kick drum whatsoever though his laptop speakers. That was weird and confusing.  Yet he has no “actual” speakers in his practice space.

A guitar student’s amp on the lowest setting easily overpowers their listening devices on it’s highest setting.  (Sometimes they realize this conflict and last week a guitar student of mine unplugged and played along un-amplified so as to hear both himself and the song equally.  Another never realized it until I stopped him halfway through the song.)

Acoustic instrumentalists may actually develop bad habits like strumming with their thumbs as opposed to using a pick out of convenience.  It’s simply easier to hear yourself when you use your thumb (ala Wes Montgommery, practicing quietly while his kids were sleeping at night).  But for a rock guitarist, picking technique may end up being crucial to proper development.

The solution is simple:  purchase a cheap set of break-away stereo speakers for your laptop or ipad, or find a docking station or ihome for your ipod or iphone.  For electric guitarists…

This cheap (under twenty bucks online), portable and somewhat versitile (clean and distortion settings) device plugs into your guitar with a built-in 1/4inch audio jack and allows for earbud/headphone output and mp3 player input via an aux in jack (cable not supplied). I’ve never owned these but some students have reported good things about them and it it makes sense.

A search for “mini headphone practice amp” or something like that yields the following results, offering products with various other features, including a superior set of products from VOX.

While still listening and practicing through earbuds is not my first choice, these devices are cheap and can create the right blend of an instrument and music source.  And cheers to those whose speakers are a bit hard to carry.  Go listen to whatever you’re in the mood for through a nice set of speakers.  Sounds great doesn’t it?

Author: aarondoerr

Owner of Fellow Musician LLC, a small music education business specializing in outreach and private study. I'm guitarist for musical theatre and production assistant at St. Louis Public Radio.

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