As a musician, it is all too easy to fall into the habit of listening mostly to the same kind of music that you play. That could be like a trumpet player only listening to trumpet music, a violinist listening only to other violinists, a vocalist only paying attention to other singers, a classical musician only listening to classical music, or a jazz performer only giving attention to jazz.
Listening to a narrow range of music can result in a rut of sameness that is the opposite of the exploration that generates excitement on one's lifelong musical journey. In the end, we may even get the feeling as we play that we're just going over the same exercises or the same pieces again and again. In other words: we're no longer growing in our musicianship.
In life, we stretch and grow and add zest by going outside of our comfort zone. So too can we restore our interest, trigger creativity, enhance enjoyment, and restore fulfillment by listening to music that lies outside of the styles and genres that over time we have come to prefer.
Ways to accomplish this are almost embarrassingly available to contemporary musicians. For example, do a random search on YouTube specifically for types of music to which you would not normally listen. Sample some folk music, world music, rock music, grunge, or atonal—especially if you don't normally find yourself drawn to these genres.
To help you get into unfamiliar territory, try listening with your eyes open and then with your eyes closed. Imagine conducting the music you are listening to. Now actually move your arms and conduct it. Think about what dancing to this music would be like. Get up and dance! I guarantee you'll experience the music differently!
Another way to listen outside your comfort zone is to take a lesson from someone who has mastered an instrument unlike the one you normally play. Your instructor will hear things in your playing that you may be unaware of and vice versa. A trumpet player preparing for an audition once took a lesson from a violinist during which he emphasized a particular note. The violinist wondered why he chose that phrasing and was told that because the note was so difficult to play, he wanted to be sure the audition committee was aware that he could play it.
Getting out of the musician's rut opens us to being touched by new influences, and every new influence can affect our playing. Expanding your comfort zone can also expand your success zone. Every note heard attentively changes the context and alters our perspective on the music to which we listen. If the new music is disconcerting or difficult, attempt to determine why. What choices were the artists making to create their music? With which choices do you agree or disagree?
Live music and the bands that play it are living, breathing entities. To listen outside your comfort zone can breathe new life into your performances. Few techniques work better for creating new listening opportunities than playing with other musicians, especially musicians who play different instruments than you. Find musicians from whom you know you can learn, and listen for what they do in their performances that you can assimilate or that surprise or inspire you.
A large part of what music is about is about listening. Listen for the spaces between the notes. Being able to listen to the playing of others, as well as your own, will help you become a better musician. The broader the range of music you can appreciate, the broader become your choices of music to learn. If you are serious about a career in music, broad musical tastes and capabilities will open many doors for you.
Listening to and playing the same things all the time practically grants you an invitation to learn something new. After listening to some new kinds of music, try performing them yourself. If you don't know where to begin, start with a rhythm, a melody or a harmony. The good news is that the world is full of music that you don't already know. Learning new music helps to spark your inner creativity, break you out of your rut, and expand your musical and life horizons.