Casual listeners are probably the most common type of listeners. So, what is a casual listener? This type of listener likes having music playing, filling the environment with sounds. Whether present as a background to drive, study, work, exercise, or hang out with friends, music is an accompaniment to the casual listener’s daily activities. Sometimes the music simply mask the sounds of a noisy street. The casual listener may be conscious of the sound or merely consider it part of the environment. In any case, this type of listener views music primarily as a mood enhancer or as pleasant part of the environment.
The Referential Listener
Sometimes music may remind people of past events, or it may bring to mind particular images, feelings, or situations. At times, these external references are so strong that the music is not really heard anymore; instead, the listener is caught up in the memories of the person, event, or feeling. Although it is undeniable that extra-musical connections or associations may be developed through listening, referential listeners tend to relate to music exclusively in that way.
Composers are aware of the associative power of music and sometimes intentionally title their compositions to bring certain connections to mind. Music of this type may follow an explicit story or program, and is therefore known as program music. By contrast, music that is not associated with a particular story, image, object, or event is called absolute music. Regardless of the composer’s intent, those whose main connection with music is through memories of some sort are known as referential listeners.
The Critical Listener
A critical listener's primary motivation is to identify what is wrong with a performance. For very scrupulous critical listeners, every detail of the performance must be perfect, including the accuracy of the notes. Such listeners may even demand perfection in live music, with anything short of perfection considered a poor performance.
Holding music to high artistic and technical standards is not unreasonable. However, listeners ought to consider the differences between live performances and synthetic, perfected recordings that have been edited to eliminate mistakes. In live performances, mistakes occur. Performers miss notes, instruments go out of tune, and there are noises and distractions from the audience. Concentrating on technical perfection while ignoring other aspects of a musical performance may detract from the music, and it often keeps the listener from wholly enjoying the music and what it has to offer.
Furthermore, the piece's purpose may not coincide with the critical listener's motivation. When a mother sings a lullaby to put a child to sleep, the quality of a performance must be judged not by musical standards, but on the basis of whether or not the song has put the child to sleep. It is not important if the mother does not sing every note perfectly so long as the other elements, such as hushed volume, steady speed (tempo), and a big dose of tenderness, are present.
The Perceptive Listener
The last listener type, the perceptive listener, combines the characteristics of the previous three types of listeners but is not limited by them. The perceptive listener:
Like the casual listener, enjoys sound for sound's sake, but asks: What is it in the music that makes me feel this way? Is it the way the performer is interpreting the music? Is it because of the volume or speed at which it is played? Is it because it is sung, played by instruments, or because it has a good balance of unity and variety? Is it a combination of all these elements?
If so, which combination is at work?
Like the referential listener, may have associations with the music being heard, but also tries to remember: When and where the music was...