Take A Listening Walk and Learn To Listen
By Gary Ferrington
Have you ever noticed how much time you spend making noise each
day? There are friends and family to talk to. Music to play on the
stereo, television programs to entertain you, grass to mow, dishes
to wash and laundry to do. Your days are full of sound making.
Some of these sounds are important in that they provide useful information.
Other sounds entertain. And still others are the by-products of
human activity which form an ambient background for daily life.
It's interesting that even when we have a moment for reflective
quiet we try to fill it with sound. For many of us quiet seems empty
and void and because of that we seemingly become anxious without
Taking time to listen to the sounds around us is worth the effort.
We live in an acoustic environment full of subtle and not so subtle
sounds that both enrich and detract from our daily life. Giving
attention to these acoustical events not only enhances our appreciation
of natural and human soundscapes but also makes us aware of endangered
sounds and those sounds, which like weeds, may be destroying the
We all listen of course. But purposeful listening is learned. By
practicing purposeful listening we give attention to the soundscape
around us. Here is a simple example. Stop for a minute at the end
of this sentence and listen to the immediate sounds around you.
What did you hear? I heard a city bus pass by and a helicopter flying
overhead. I also heard birds, the wind, a hall clock, and children
What is important is that we both took a moment to stop and purposefully
listen. In doing so, we started the first step to opening our ears
and mind to the soundscape which surrounds us every day.
Some sounds may be disturbing to one's personal health. Those sounds
that irate like the thumping of a neighbors stereo, or city traffic,
can cause one to be anxious and disturb one's rest. In the long
run one's cardiovascular system may be effected.
Other sounds are relaxing and give one a sense of peacefulness.
Many believe the sound of the ocean surf or a flowing stream provide
restful acoustic experiences.
Purposeful listening can be made into an enjoyable experience when
combined with walking. A listening walk is something one can do
by oneself, or share with others.
A few simple rules apply. First, talking is not permitted. The purpose
is to listen and one's vocal and mental quite is important for a
walk to be effective. Second, plan a journey through a soundscape
which may initially provide a variety of sounds. Later seek out
more quiet soundscapes which require developed listening skills.
Third, after the walk reflect about what you've heard and what affect
it had on you.
Where to walk and the length of the walk should be determined by
personal or collective interests. Sometimes initial walks are interesting
if done in places where a variety of sounds can be heard. Then,
as noted above, choose increasingly difficult walks which include
more and more quiet.
I once took a walk in Vancouver, British Columbia which began on
a tree lined West End residential street filled with morning bird
song. Then I proceeded onto the promenade along the bay where the
subtle sound of waves washing over loose gravel could be distinctly
heard. Bicyclists and joggers passed by and I listened to their
sounds as well.
I turned from the bay and walked into the lobby of an old hotel
and out the back door. The hushed sounds of thick carpet and overstuffed
chairs created an aural sense of solitude and elegance.
I then went on to explore the acoustics of an apartment vestibule
with hard reflective surfaces echoing every body movement. An empty
band gazebo and the sound of a rain storm resonating on the roof
brought the walk to a close as I returned to the tree lined street
where large rain drops collected and fell from overhead branches
thumping onto my opened umbrella.
Allow 30 to 60 minutes for a listening walk. First walks may seem
a bit strange especially when participating with a group of people.
I recall that on a recent walk strangers passed our listening group
and noticed our quietness. One passer-by suggested that we must
be some type of religious order given our non-talkative demeanor.
Each listening walk you make will provide you with new experiences.
If you walk alone write down your reflections in a journal. If you
are with a group spend a bit of time debriefing your shared experiences.
Take the same walk at different times of the day or under varied
weather conditions. Notice the differences in the quality and quantity
of sounds you'll hear.
The more you walk and listen the more you'll discover. Listening
walks are not only informative they are entertaining. There's always
an ever changing concert of sound around you.
What is important is that you are taking time to listen and to give
yourself time to reflect. Such activity openness one to
About the Author:
Gary Ferrington is a Senior Instructor
in media literacy and technology at the University of Oregon's College
of Education. He is currently a member of the WFAE restructuring
committee and serves as the webmaster for the World Forum for Acoustic
The World Forum for Acoustic
Ecology originally posted this article, and has graciously
given us permission to repost it. Visit them for more great reading.
On a Clear Day I Can Hear
Forever. Another essay from this author. [WEBPAGE]
The Big Picture. Peruse
more writings on soundscapes. [WEBPAGE]