I play a little game with some of my younger students who are just learning to listen: in one of its simplest forms, I will play the Twinkle Theme and they have to raise their bow in the air whenever I play an A. Most of my students are experts at this game after the second try. They know what “A” sounds like – we sing it at every lesson. More importantly, they’ve been listening to their CDs at home, so they know when it’s coming. (Sometimes, I’ll fool them by stopping after a “pre-A” note. Their bow goes up, I reveal my trick, we all laugh and I see if I can trick them again.)
Students and parents who are just learning to listen are off to a great start by listening in the car, or having the recording on in the background at home. Just by being exposed to the music in this way every day, students are learning melody, rhythm, and beautiful tone. In his book Teaching From the Balance Point, Ed Kreitman refers to this type of listening as “passive listening”, which I would encourage everyone to do every day. In addition, I would also want my students to add “active listening” into their daily practice, where they are focusing more on singular aspects of the pieces to which they are listening.
How do you start actively listening?
I send my students on scavenger hunts, starting with small, attainable goals. For Twinklers and early Book 1 students, try counting how many “A”s are in a piece. Or, ask them if the notes are short or long.
Is the piece fast or slow? As students progress, make the scavenger hunt harder: are these notes staccato or slurred? Where are the tempo changes in this piece? What is happening in the piano part in that piece? The list goes on.
Eventually, you may be able to step away from the scavenger hunt and ask open-ended questions like “What do you think is interesting about this piece?” “What do you like about the way this is played?” “What do you not like about they way this is played?” Questions like these can help develop students’ own musical ideas.
Active listening is a great way to bring students’ attention to the finer details of a piece: bowings, articulations, dynamics, and changes in tempo, among others. I have found that when a student is aware that these things are happening in a piece, they start taking ownership of their own playing, and their musicality really blossoms.
Remember: when in doubt about listening or any other practice habit, talk to your child’s teacher about how to make the most of your home practice time. And if you haven’t read Teaching From the Balance Point, I would highly recommend it! Happy listening!
- Shannon Jansma, published in the November 2017 issue of the Ann Arbor Suzuki Institute newsletter