NPR logo The Good Listener: How Can Parents Make Time For Music?

The Good Listener

The Good Listener: How Can Parents Make Time For Music?

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside a new Wii U game that cost more than our gas bill is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives. This time around: thoughts for parents who seek the mental energy to love music the way they used to.

Musically Mangled Mommy Brain writes via email: "When I was a teenager, I would buy albums and listen over and over again (these were the pre-MP3 days), learning all the words and following concert tours. Now, after my first kid — and living in the world of easy-access music services — I just find things I like, listen when working out or cleaning, and shuffle through, never really getting into the artists and their catalogs. It used to be so easy to spend time with an album, but now it feels like a chore to find things and listen through. I feel like I have a shortened musical attention span. How can I retrain my brain into wanting to immerse myself in a full music experience now that my little one is almost 2 and I can get sleep and a babysitter?

When you've got young kids, you've got to take every opportunity to listen. iStockphoto.com hide caption

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iStockphoto.com

When you've got young kids, you've got to take every opportunity to listen.

iStockphoto.com

[Before we get started, a quick note: If you have questions you'd love to see answered in The Good Listener, email Stephen Thompson at goodlistener@npr.org! We're always looking for column ideas.]

First of all, try not to get discouraged or beat yourself up: You've had a lot going on these last few years! And you're not alone, not by a long shot. When I think of the audience I'm hoping to reach, I imagine people just like you, who used to be obsessed with music and no longer have the time to scratch that itch. Kids get in the way, jobs get in the way, responsibilities tend to mount over time, and you don't go out as often as you used to. There's not even a little shame in it.

Besides, you're already doing one thing well: You're setting aside dedicated listening time and using music to enliven your obligations. Bringing music into workouts and chores — not to mention any and all commuting you might do — makes all the sense in the world, because your mind is right there, waiting to be occupied with something other than to-do lists and anxieties. Your next step is to remind yourself to listen closely; to follow rabbit holes from a song you love to the album that contains it, and then to render your brain a captive audience. Every time you fall in love with a song, queue up that album for your next workout, or commute, or sink full of dishes — and then make yourself listen.

Now, you did mention that "it feels like a chore to find things and listen through." But retraining your brain is a workout like any other: It's going to be rough going in the beginning, and you might get discouraged, and you'll need willpower to keep you from giving up. If you truly decide that your brain needs retraining, then it will feel like a chore at first. The muscles that control enthusiasm are easily atrophied, in part because life gets in the way and in part because we've lost some of the methods that kept them taut. The "easy-access music services" that let you stream songs online require little of the investment that can force engagement. You didn't have to go to a record store, in many cases you didn't have to spend money, and you don't have to store or even come into contact with a tangible object.

But I'd also argue that your tastes may well have changed, and that's OK, too. You might listen to full album after full album and come to the conclusion that grazing is what works best for you nowadays — you certainly wouldn't be the first, especially in light of the impossible glut that's out there waiting for you. Listening deeply is a pleasure and a privilege, and I understand wanting to get to a place where it's easy for you. But if you find, after practice, that intense music fandom has become just another one of life's grim responsibilities, then there's nothing wrong with opting for whatever makes a song enjoyable for you in the moment.

Got a music-related question you want answered? Leave it in the comments, drop us an email at goodlistener@npr.org, or tweet @idislikestephen.