François NICOLAS

[ Writings in english ]

The third listening is the good one

(concerning hearing considered as a process of integration)


Music listening is here defined as a process throughout which the ear tries to bring out the unity of the work over time, in the course of its perceptible unfolding.

The additional hypothesis is proposed that music listening has certain similarities to the mathematical operation of integration: in the course of "integrating" the work, the ear maps out its unity.

Thence, based on the mathematical theory of integration which distinguishes between three kinds of integrals described by Riemann, Lebesgue and Kurzweil-Henstock, three modes of musical listening are proposed : spontaneous listening, perceptible listening and reflexive listening. Musical listening may thus be pointed up as progressing in a cumulative and ordered fashion through theses different modes of listening.

From this suggestion it is inferred that it is advisable to listen to a work at least three times (during the second, having recourse to the score) in order to grasp its unity in accordance with its time-course.


Musicae Scientae, the journal of the European Society for the Cognitive Sciences of Music.

Centre de Recherches et de Formation Musicales de Wallonie

16, place du Vingt Août, B-4000 Liège (Belgique)