Developing listening

I love working with other music teachers on INSET courses, and I had a particularly enjoyable day leading a course for a group of passionate teachers on Monday. Much of my course looks at approaches to starting compositions and the afternoon focused on perception skills. I had such a thought-provoking time in Berlin while on an International Baccalaureate Music course that it made me think a great deal about my own approach to developing the listening skills of my pupils. Coupled with my memory of something I read in Mace’s ‘Psychology of Study’ that the best learning comes in the form of an answer to a question, I encouraged the teachers to consider strategies to develop listening that:

  • Start with what the pupils know already, and encourage them to share their musical experiences and appreciation of what they hear, rather than telling them what they should hear
  • Encourages to ask questions of the music they hear, in a desire to discover more about it and deepen their understanding
  • Focus on giving our pupils a framework within which they develop a succinct and accurate way of talking and writing about what they hear
  • Makes listening a focus of all activities.

I chose musical examples that deliberately defied placement in a recognisable genre, time-period or style. Such repertoire prevents our pupils from adopting preconceptions about what they are hearing. Show them that as teachers we are open to such a breadth of music that their own personal choices – which often they can feel very anxious about sharing – are legitimate and worthy of recognition. This included Metallica played by four cellos, Thomas Adés, and Aphex Twin. I didn’t neglect Western art so Telemann, Stravinsky and Bach featured.

It all starts with listening. Take into account their own interests, and make them question what they hear and hopefully it will encourage them to question how they create and how they perform music.

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