Encouraging Active Listening in Piano Lessons – part 2

Did you play the honesty game after reading the previous blog post on active listening? In this second part we are continuing to think about the benefits of active listening and I share a practical activity that you can use.

active listening in piano lessons


Imagine a funnel – the top is broad and wide but as it gets smaller it becomes narrower and more focussed. The Listening Funnel can be a really useful picture to have in your head when considering how to encourage active listening in pupils. At the bottom of the funnel, the listening and learning are very focused on a single idea. This is in contrast to the top of the funnel where the listening is so broad that opportunities for learning are limited.

Listening to certain musical features such as rests or pitch movement or even conducting helps to increase attention. Dr Anita Collins provides a straightforward definition of attention as being:

the ability to choose what to focus on and what to ignore. [1]

As teachers, we can help our students towards this focussed type of attention by asking the right questions and giving the right stimulus. The alternative is for musical sensitivity and awareness to stay at the top of the funnel: broad and unspecific.


Here’s a practical activity to give you a sense of getting started. I am going to guide you through the five steps I go through whenever I teach a new song or chant.

Double, double is an easy chant to teach and learn. It can be used in a piano lesson as a warm-up activity or a brain break. Either way, it certainly gets the brain fired up and the ears firmly switched on! Challenge yourself to keep talking to an absolute minimum (see last week’s blog for more on this)


Model the whole chant with the actions to the student asking them just to listen. If they attempt to join in make a gesture to them to STOP and make it clear this is just YOU. At the end ask them:

‘what actions did I use on Double, double?’


Explain that they have to copy you. Model the chant phrase by phrase. Use gestures as much as possible; put both hands on your chest to show ‘my turn’ and both hands open in front of you is a gesture of invitation to the student to join in.


Ask the student to listen to you again giving them a specific focus:

‘how many times do you hear the word THIS?’

This is an example of active listening and will help them to engage in listening to the chant differently and in a deeper way.

Once you have said the chant all the way through ask:

‘how many times did you hear the word THAT?’


Now do the chant together a few times, playing the clapping game as you do it. As the student becomes comfortable with the words start to have fun with changing the words ‘this’ and ‘that’. For example, ‘this’ is replaced by ‘tooth’ and ‘that’ becomes ‘paste’! As the student becomes more confident pass the responsibility over to them.


Finally, do the whole chant using the Thinking Voice, just saying one word in the speaking voice, e.g. ‘that’.


  • Do the questions you ask in lessons encourage active listening from your students?
  • What questions could you ask to engage their listening skills more actively?

Here’s a short video I made to give you a taste of active listening. You are the student as I teach the chant Double, Double using the strategies outlined above.

Join me again in two weeks time when I’ll be sharing another set of active listening strategies.

Anita Collins (2020). p.126. The Music Advantage. Allen and Unwin. CLICK HERE

This blog post was written by Dr Sally Cathcart | co-Director and founder of The Curious Piano Teachers

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