An Expert Shares How to Really Listen to Music and Change Your Life

life lessons from video games video game soundtracks

As I continue to explore the intersection of life, leadership, and video games, I would be terribly remiss if I did not speak about a key component and source of joy in my life: music.

Now at first, those not familiar with video games might find this to be a strange thought. In fact, if you are thinking about early games like pong and Space Invaders, there is very little music to speak about.

Even the arcade and home games of the 80’s and early 90’s did not offer much in the way of a quality musical experience that general public might enjoy (I will make the point, that Mega Man 2 still has one of my favorite soundtracks on the original NES).

Enter the Epic Video Game Soundtrack

But much has changed since the “blips” and “bloops” for the early days, with high quality soundtracks to match the advancing visuals and story telling found in many modern games.

Consider the Halo 4 soundtrack that debuted on the U.S. Billboard at number 50! It’s hard to imagine the Mario or Sonic of the early 90’s doing the same.

The first video game soundtrack that really stood out to me as being something that was completely amazing, was the Original Sound Track (OST) for Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (SOTN). In fact, this was the first video game OST I purchased on CD.

The OST for SOTN was the work of Japanese composer Michiru Yamane, also known for her work on the Suikoden series, as well as two of my favorite Konami games on the Sega Genesis – Castlevania: Bloodlines, and Contra: Hard Corps.

This game includes an incredible soundtrack of variety of different styles mixing rock, symphonic, acoustic, orchestral, and many other styles. The CDROM format on the Sony Playstation and the Sega Saturn allowed for more complex music in video games, now using traditional instrumentation rather than programmed sounds alone.

One of my favorite pieces from the SOTN OST is “Wood Carving Partita”

I enjoyed the music from SOTN, and this piece in particular, so much that many nights while I was attending college, I would leave the game playing with the TV turned off, using my stereo to continue to listen to this music as it looped throughout the night.

I guess that means I listened to this track subliminally for a couple hundred hours (that’s actually kind of weird). Then again, my son has been listening to video game soundtrack since birth, and his favorite lullaby is “Kids Run Through the City Corner” from Final Fantasy VI.


Video Game Soundtracks and Productivity

A recent article spoke to the use of video game soundtracks as the ideal music for workplace productivity, and I even mention this idea in an article I wrote for FastCompany on video game inspired workplace productivity.

I want to offer you a masterful and life changing approach that you can use to unlock the joy of music, even beyond video game OSTs. The following is a life changing application of music appreciation by a gentlemen whom I admire greatly and has opened my ears further to the appreciation of excellent music of all kinds.

How Music Can Change Your Life

george marriner maull

George Marriner Maull is a passionate advocate of classical music listener education and Artistic Director of The Discovery Orchestra®. He is known nationwide for his televised Discovery Concerts® and internationally for his weekly Discovery Orchestra Chats on YouTube  He has conducted orchestras at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and in Europe. His Telly Award winning shows Discover Beethoven’s 5th  and Bach to the Future have been seen by millions across the US.  His latest show Discover Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is not be missed, and is how I first learned of him.

When I asked him “what is a life changing idea or habit for you?” he answered with the following:

“Learning to listen attentively is a behavior I developed as a child.  My earliest memory of being very emotionally moved as the result of music listening occurred pre-kindergarten. The occasion was the first time I encountered the sound of a symphony orchestra, albeit on an ancient sound reproduction device quite inferior by today’s standards, a monophonic record player!

How it was that I was primed for this moment I cannot say for certain. Having a highly trained classical pianist for a mother undoubtedly played a significant role.  As I continued to intentionally listen to all the music I encountered from that day forward, I came to be fascinated by the process of listening.  I also began to notice that some people listened…and some people did not, and this intrigued me.  Why did some people give music their complete, undivided attention while others read, talked or did other things while musical sounds were present?

Some answers would eventually come through my association with Saul Feinberg who taught music listening at my local high school.  I’m going to repeat that – who taught music listening at my local high school.  Dr. Feinberg was an unusual music teacher.  There were other music teachers who taught choral or instrumental music, that is to say, they taught the performance of music.  Saul taught music listening.  And he did it very well.

Over the thirty years he taught at Abraham Lincoln High School in Philadelphia he influenced the lives of thousands and thousands of students – including me.  I learned everything I know about teaching music listening from Saul.  He called his course Perceptive Music Listening.  And what did he mean by that?  He frequently said that the more musical detail we perceive, the more pleasure we can receive from the experience of listening.  And of course, right from the get-go, he made certain that his students perceived first-hand the difference between merely physically hearing music and actually giving music your undivided attention – or listening. 

Learning to listen and having this behavior reinforced when Saul Feinberg said: “The more we perceive, the more we receive…” set the course for the rest of my life.  Listening to music daily – and not just to classical music – has and continues to be perhaps the greatest source of pleasure and meaning in my life.”

Ready for the next level? Here is how you can put this idea to work immediately.

Level 1

Today set aside 10 minutes, giving your undivided attention to some music – no texting, no tweeting, no eating, no taking of cell phone calls or reading. Just listen.  See what happens.

Level 2

Each day this week, make the choice to be open-minded. Expand the kinds of music you are willing to try to listen to. Experiment with listening to some wordless, abstract music.  Rather than notice what you do not like about a particular style, identify what you do like about it. Take 5 or 10 minutes to learn about some new aspect of music that you can notice from Discovery Orchestra Chats on YouTube or some other source.

Level 3

Intentionally listen to (not just hear) some music every day.  As you begin to notice more and more detail in music, become attuned to how the quality of your life is changing – hopefully for the better.  Are you feeling more fulfilled?   Are you feeling that your innermost self is somehow more fully expressed?

Most of us will not be musical performers…but we all can become perceptive music listeners, the result of a conscious decision on our part that will change our lives forever.


  • Jonathan – Wow! Thank you so much! The power of music is truly overwhelming. George

    • Your work and passion continues to inspire. I’ll look forward to planning a visit to the Discovery Orchestra on that trip to New York that I have promised to my wife.

  • This is awesome. I have always loved to work and listen to music (tracks or classical, no words). I feel I am much more focused and engaged in my work with less distractions when I do.

    I used to do this more often but haven’t as much lately but yes just stopping to listen to the each musical note is a magical experience.

    • I know that I can find myself thinking about the music as a specific song, rather than each part – if you check out the Discovery Orchestra channel on YouTube, you will find some bite sized lessons in music appreciation – I highly recommend it!

      Do you have a particular musician that you enjoy, that you would recommend to others?