Encouraging Active Listening in Piano Lessons – Part 3

Did you teach Double, double using the active listening strategies outlined in the last blog? In this final post in our short series, the focus is on how to use active listening to pre-frame a new piece of music.

taking time for active listening

PRE-FRAMING NEW PIECES

You’ll have noticed that children like to play something that they have listened to previously. Think about the popularity of Chopsticks or Christmas songs or the fact that students often want to play pieces they have heard friends, family or other people play.

As piano teachers, we can turn this to our advantage far more than we currently do by pre-framing a piece to be learnt. In other words, using listening activities to introduce a potential piece of future repertoire.

TAKING TIME TO FIGURE OUT THE MUSIC

Listening to “figure out” music takes time, but it is time wisely spent. [1]

The four steps outlined below do take time to deliver and develop. The result however is a student who is primed and ready to tackle the technical difficulties, because they have “figured out” parts of the music aurally.

Before any of this can happen though teachers do need to have “figured out” the music for themselves. This can be the lightest of analysis; time signature, tonality, character and mood are useful starting places.

Do the following 4 listening activities at least ONE week before introducing it as a piece to learn.

STEP 1 – THE BIG PICTURE

Get the student to stand away from the piano so that they can’t see either the keyboard or the music. Introduce the piece with a smile, telling the student:

‘I am going to play you a piece of music – all I want you to do to start with is just listen to it’.

Resist the urge to ask for a comment at the end!

STEP 2 – LISTENING CARDS

Still away from the piano lay out a selection of listening cards.

‘So I am going to play it again, one or two times, you can decide. As I play I want you to look at these cards and choose which best describe the music you hear’.

Go through each of the choices with them asking them to explain the meaning (this can tell you a lot about their understanding!).

Listening cards are easy to create yourself or members of The Community can find a whole selection in the January 2022 Curiosity Box.

STEP 3 – ONE MORE TIME

Having played it once again, ask if they would like to hear it for the third time – if the answer is yes, then remind them:

‘and at the end of this time you should have made all your choices’!

STEP 4 – WHAT DID YOU HEAR?

Finally, encourage the pupil to explain their choices. A useful question to ask is:

‘What did you hear?’

Both of the teaching strategies I have outlined can be used in many situations but of course, these are only two possible ways that we can help our students to become more active listeners.

As teachers we have to develop a range of questions that will help pupils to deepen their understanding; also, we have to have the confidence to ask a question and then wait………for much longer than you usually do.

THE BENEFITS OF ACTIVE LISTENING

So, to end the series here is a summary of the benefits of active listening

  • Active listening helps students to build up their internal representation of music
  • Active listening aids their ability to think in sound
  • Active listening focuses their attention
  • Active listening heightens their musical sensitivity and awareness.

TIME TO REFLECT

  1. Typically, how do you introduce a new piece to a student?
  2. How could you change this, maybe using some of the ideas outlined in this blog?

[1] Patricia Shehan-Campbell (2010 2nd edition). Songs in their heads, p. 259, OUP

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

One thought on “Encouraging Active Listening in Piano Lessons – Part 3

  1. Cristy Coates

    This has been such a wonderful series of blogs! I will be printing them out to remind myself to keep bringing it back to demonstrating, communicating through music, and active listening reflections.

    I use finger/ body warm ups to introduce & frame certain pieces. Greig’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” is a great example.

    As it plays, we start squeezing large pegs with each finger & thumb, moving onto finger crunches & flexes, spider push-ups, wrist movements, elbow bends, shoulder shrugs and rolls, building up to arm reaches overhead in different directions with the music. It inspires lots of laughter! Many students will mention they’ve heard it in the Trolls movie.

    Depending on age, we might reflect on dynamics, staccato/ legato, tempo, instrument choices & pitches, key changes, chords. We might do one aspect per week and really listen for these things as we have fun warming up our fingers & arms to play. The children often come up with really interesting observations!

    For older students, we might relate it to the key features of the Romantic period & how to incorporate these features into the piece one at a time within the lesson. We might experiment with chords, switching melody hands, or playing across the piano after focussing on an aspect through active attention as we warm up.

    For younger students, we might focus on one aspect per week- D minor pentascale, staccato playing, memorising passages, marking up the score with colour-coded skips, steps, jumps once they know how to play it.

    We experiment with high and low renditions for creative purposes, but might then actively listen to the piece to see how the composer formulated the pitches for different purposes. We wonder what it might sound like if it were structured differently in terms of dynamics, pitch and tempo. The students might create a story to match the original, we might research the story of Peer Gynt, they might create a different story to tell through the music, or we might have a series of story starters to choose from to arrange their own version.

    It’s an endless gift for active listening, engaging history, creativity, and developing musicality!

    Reply

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