Imagination as an Instrument


Tonescape Exercises

A Tonescape Alone

Inside a Tonescape (Simulation)

Active: Anchor, Higher, Lower


You’ve started to recognize some notes that are part of the tonescape, so you’re beginning to get inside of this wash of sound.

But now, let’s try listening to the tonescape by itself.

[tonescape starts]

Nothing in the sound of the tonescape itself is changing, and yet, if you close your eyes and let your mind wander, you’ll start to hear things moving inside the sound.

At first, you might hear a low, throbbing sound, or maybe a high, sparkling sound. Or you might hear a single note poke out of the tonescape, or maybe you’ll hear several different notes.

Let’s try this, just for 30 seconds or so—close your eyes, and pay attention to what you hear. If you start to hear something changing in the tonescape, just notice it, or try to focus on what you hear and hold on to it. If you hear a couple different things, you can try moving your attention between them.

You can also try moving your head from side to side, or moving a book between your ear and the speaker, or cupping your hands in front of your ears. This creates a different kind of change—a change in how the physical sound hits your ears—but it can give you a way in to hearing some different sounds inside the tonescape.

So let’s give it a try.

[30 seconds]

Now, nothing inside the sound itself is changing, so any changes you hear are in how you perceive the sound. This shows us that we can each hear something different in the same sound, which means our experiences of the same music can be different, too.

And when you hear things moving inside the tonescape, you’re also listening to your own mind beginning to parse this very complex sound. If you don’t hear all that much changing at first, just relax, let your mind wander, and the more you listen, the more the sound will start to open up.

[tonescape stops]

Now, you can passively hear all kinds of sounds inside the tonescape. But you can also start to actively control what you hear.

By focusing your attention on individual notes that are part of the tonescape, you can start to hear those notes inside the sound, almost as though the volume was turned up on the note you’re focused on, and turned down on the other notes.

Here’s a simulation of what it might sound like when you shift your focus between two different notes in the tonescape. You’ll hear two alternating notes, first the anchor and one note higher, then a pause, then the anchor and one note lower. During the pause, see if you can keep the alternating notes going in your imagination, by moving your attention between the two notes.


When you focus your attention on a note, you draw that note out of the tonescape. This is exactly the same thing you do to imagine a note without the tonescape. It’s like developing a muscle that lets you focus on a particular note, to pull it out of thin air and hear it clearly in your mind’s ear. This is similar to the way you can imagine the sounds of words without having to say them out loud.

So give it a try. Start by experimenting with the tonescape alone, and also with the simulation of what it sounds like to shift your attention between two notes.

Then, your listening exercise is the same as before, except now the little voice will name each note first, and then play it, like this:


So rather than recognizing the anchor, higher, and lower, now you have to draw those notes out of the tonescape yourself, to create them and hear them in your mind’s ear. Then, the note will play so you can check if you were right.

You can start by humming the different notes, and that can be helpful at first. But, the sound of your voice also adds something extra to listen to, so eventually, the goal is to be able to imagine each note without having to hum it out loud.

Now, it doesn’t matter if you listen in headphones or on regular speakers, as long as you can make out all the notes in the recording. Even if the sound quality isn’t great, or if you listen at a pretty low volume, you can rely on your imagination to fill in what matters.

So experiment, play around with how you listen, and let yourself be creative about finding ways into the tonescape. It takes thoughtfulness and introspection to start paying attention to how you perceive sounds, to listen to how your mind works, and to figure out ways to build these perceptions within yourself.

Once you’ve done this a bit, you can try listening a familar song, one that you know really well, and you might start to hear some new things inside of it—a subtle detail or maybe an instrument that you hadn’t noticed before.

Remember to listen regularly, every day, but not for too long. When you feel yourself getting tired, take a break.

And when you feel like you’ve started to get the hang of drawing these three notes out of the tonescape, that’s when you’re ready to come back for more.