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  • Olivia Ellis

If a Student Shares a Piece of Music...Listen

I once remember telling someone I wanted to share a piece that was important to me. They made a positive comment during the first 10 seconds of the piece, so I decided to let the music play for a few minutes. I closed my eyes as I was listening, feeling the music deeply. When I opened my eyes, the person wasn’t listening at all and had moved on to surfing the internet. Needless to say, I was a little deflated. An opportunity to share music was lost.

If someone wants to share a piece of music, it’s important to be present and listen attentively. While it may seem like an insignificant passing comment, the chances are likely that this person is sharing the music for a reason. The piece or song has struck them on some level, and they are choosing to start a conversation about it. They are sharing part of who they are with you.

During music instruction, it is easy to brush aside student discussion on various pieces or songs, especially if the music doesn’t relate to what they are learning at the moment or if the lesson is short on time (which happens most every lesson). However, being flexible with our lesson plans may yield surprising results. When we take the time to listen, we may learn what kinds of pieces they enjoy or even uncover more about our students’ lives, experiences, and feelings.

Taking this a step further, how much could we learn from our students if we really observe their reactions to music? One great way to achieve this is to incorporate listening assignments into lessons. Not only do students get to hear various artists’ interpretations and many different music styles, but they also find new connections to pieces that perhaps they’ve never heard before. For best results, I suggest a mix of both teacher-led and student-led listening.

1. Teacher-led listening assignments

For this style of listening, the teacher suggests pieces to the student with a particular learning objective in mind. Maybe the student is working on Classical music for the first time, so an appropriate assignment might be listening to a sonatina by Clementi. Teacher-led assignments can be open-ended, allowing the student to reflect freely on the music, or they can include questions and other prompts. For example, you could direct the student to a particular section and ask about the form, style, or melodic patterns. You could also have students listen to two contrasting performances of the same piece to notice the differences in ornamentation or use of rubato. Listening that is led by the teacher has endless possibilities to enhance the curriculum already being taught.

2. Student-led music discoveries

This type of listening assignment originates with the student. They are allowed to listen to anything they wish and reflect on the music. Then, the lesson could include a short conversation about their choices. You might ask questions like:

  • What made you pick this piece?

  • What did you like best?

  • How did it make you feel?

  • What did you like about the artist’s performance style?

  • Is there anything you would change about the piece?

Student-led music discoveries can help us assign future repertoire or simply understand what students enjoy about music. Music touches each of our lives in unique ways. A single piece may be meaningful to someone for numerous and unexpected reasons. Perhaps it brings back a memory or stirs a particular emotion. Maybe it brings positivity to the day’s activities. As you encourage listening as part of your curriculum, make sure you have a dedicated place for students to notate the piece, artist, and (most importantly) their reactions. You can use a practice journal like this one, a notebook of their choice, or even an app on their phone. And remember… this is their experience with the music. Listen to what they have to say with excitement and an open mind.