Active listening

For most of us most of the time, listening to music is fairly passive. The music washes over us while we drive, watch the film or make the tea. In an educational context, there is so much that can be gained by making listening more of a focused activity. Below are some suggestions for pupils at different levels. Here more than anywhere, the distinctions are blurred and children at different stages of development and experience will enjoy the full range of possibilities if they are appropriately framed. Of course, top of the list for all concerned is the question that is almost impossible to answer: how does the music make you feel?

Framing children’s responses

  • Use the music as the basis for a piece of art work: divide the music into sections, count how many musical themes appear in the music or how many times a specific idea occurs.
  • Say what you like and don’t like about the music, spot the changes of section in the music, see if the music tells a story, spot themes for specific characters or concepts (e.g. the wolf or the wind), draw a picture inspired by the music.
  • Splitting the music into quite small sections of a minute or so each may make concentration more manageable.
  • Do the really obvious thing and dance! Great.
  • Children with limited verbal skills.

It is down to you and your staff to monitor and record any responses that you may observe. Displeasure and tears are as likely and as important as laughter or movement. Vocalisation is quite a common response and may well give the key to some ongoing interactive work developing basic communication skills. Listening sessions might last for a long while and music that keeps the same mood over an extended period will be very helpful.

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