How to Keep Your Listener Listening

By: Gregg Gascon

Two months ago we featured a guest blog centered around the question, “Why does the listener care?”  Now a look from a different angle is presented, focusing specifically on the musical aspect of holding your listener’s attention, as opposed to the lyrics.  The contributor this time is singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist Gregg Gascon, who also teaches several different instruments.

How to Keep Your Listener Listening memeThe word for today is “variety”!

Whether you are playing someone else’s song or want to pep up your own song, knowing how to change things up is a great way to create a unique and distinct sound.  This also can be the difference between a listener tuning you out or gaining a fan for the long haul.  If you are working on your music, getting ready to go into the studio, or playing live, I’ve put together a few things for you to consider trying on your next song to hold your audience's attention.  Let’s get started!

Having a unique or “signature sound” is ideal for listeners knowing and remembering you.  Think of one of your all-time favorite artists or bands.  When their song comes on, you definitely know it’s them!  It has taken them years to figure out, chip away at, and perfect this signature sound.  One of the main problems is trying to find this “signature sound.”

One thing to try is using different instrumentation.  This is all about keeping in mind the soundscape that you are creating for your song.  An analogy that I like to think of is being in different rooms of your home.  Each room has certain pieces of furniture that make that particular room work.  For example, switching out a small couch for a larger one (or the other way around) in your living room will make a big difference.  For better or for worse, I’m sure you would be able to tell the difference.  It’s pretty much the same way with music! Let’s take a simple melody line in a song you are playing.  Instead of having it be on, let’s say, the piano, how about trying that same melody line on an acoustic guitar, or electric guitar, or even a violin?  Just listening to it played back with a different instrument completely changes how the whole song feels.  Try it out.  You will hear the difference in the possibilities.

One of my favorite things to do with music is to be different!  Something you can do to create a unique sound is to try sounds that are out of left field - sounds that you did not even think would work.  For example, I’m sure a lot of you have heard/remember Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough.”  I’m also sure that you don’t remember or didn’t even notice that someone is playing glass bottles in the background!  Check it out for yourself.

The bottles just seem to blend into the background of the funky beat.  If the bottles were not there, you would probably think “this song is missing something.”  It definitely is a great addition to the song that seems to give it that unique sound and really stand out from any other song you have heard.  Something to try out on your next song!


I like to think of a song and its chords like building a house.  Once you have the walls up (i.e. chords), now it’s time to decorate.  Do you want the room to have a somber feel?  How about a room that has a hopeful feeling to it?  Or a room that is just plain fun to be in?  Another layer of taking your music to a unique place would be HOW you play the chords to the song you are playing.

Using any of the following possible changes to how you play the chords of the song will add a ton of variety to your song.  I’ll be talking about them in terms of playing guitar but this will translate also to other instruments like the piano where you can play a chord.

1.) Change Your Strumming Pattern - get a nice groove going with your pattern and every now and then do something unexpected to make it memorable.
2.) Change How You Strumming - instead of strumming the entire chord, maybe create a whole new sound by making a strumming pattern among the bottom and top part of the chord
3.) Create A Repeating Single Note Pattern - take your chord and create a repeatable picking pattern, but don’t forget to change it up once in a while to keep it interesting
4.) Combine Strumming And Single Notes - pretty self-explanatory, just do a combination of all of the above

This is really where you get to style your music.  For example, you can take the same four chords to a song and, depending on how you play them, have that one song sound like a song from a different genre: rock, country, reggae, etc.  Each genre has its own “requirements” of how you play the chord to make it sound like that particular genre.  On the other hand, you can be totally different and create your own style.  It’s all in how you play the chord!


So far, we talked about adding different instrumentation and different styling of your music.  One other thing that you could do is try a different version of the chord you are playing.  For example, if a song that you are playing has a long stretch of the same chord, you can try to use a different version of that chord to add a little bit of interest in how it sounds.

There are a couple of guidelines to go by though.  A lot of this can get really complicated with all of the music theory that goes into it, but we will keep it extremely simple here.  Basically, if you are playing a major or minor chord, all you need to do is switch briefly to a sus or sus2 chord.

major       --->   sus, sus2
minor       --->   sus, sus2

This will add variety to the underlying chord that is being played.  If you want a deeper explanation of what these chords are, how they work, and much more, check out my website.  Using this method in a subtle and effective way will take your music to the next level!  Adding other guitar playing techniques like hammer-ons and pull-offs to get to these variety chords will take your music to the next level!!

•    Changing Up Your Sound: create the soundscape of your song by using different instruments or adding unexpected sounds
•    Changing What You Got: add variety to how you play the chords of your song by using ideas from a specific genre or creating your own style of music
•    Changing Up The Chords: create listener interest by changing a major or minor chord into a sus and/or sus2 chords in an artful way

With all this being said, the main thing is you want to create a signature sound that is solely and unmistakably you.  At the same time you want to add variety to your music to keep your listeners interested and hanging on the edge of their seats not knowing what to expect from you next.

If this post was helpful for you in anyway, let me know on Facebook how it was helpful for you or just say hi.  It’ll be great to hear what you come up with and it will be great to hear from you!

Also check out Gregg's website and other guest blogs that we have posted here on our site, including one complementary to the above, entitled, "The Key Choice is Key!"