Using Listening Examples to Teach Expressive Playing

This was a topic that was presented by Denny Coiro at a recent music teachers meeting that I attended.

This excellent presentation was totally interactive.  Denny had teachers actively participate, give feedback and even dictate throughout this presentation.  I really appreciated that as it allowed me to really get an idea of how I could apply what I was learning directly with my students.

There were 5 different things Denny shared with us to listen for in music.  I should preface and mention that we listened to all different styles of music.  From Pop to Jazz to Country to Rock to Classical to 20th Century and so on…

1)  Listen for the Meter in different musical styles and figure out the time signature.  Denny would play several musical examples.  Because we were teachers he challenged us a little bit more than he might of with a student.  I was surprised how well I did with this.

2) Listen for the Articulation.  One thing that I struggled with at first is I was confused as to what to listen to when it was a piece that had singing.  I wasn’t sure if I should be listening to the voice or to the instrument(s).  Turns out you can do both!  ha! ha!  Side note:  Most of the music people listen to IS vocal music.  Be sure to use listening examples that people are used to listening to.

3)  Listen for Melody Shape and Phrasing.  This one can really get discussions going into why they shaped the melody the way they did, etc…

4) Rhythmic Dictation.  When was the last time you did rhythmic dictation.  College?  I was surprised how challenging this was for me.  This is something we can do with our students right at the beginning when they are learning their rhythms.

5) Melody Dictation.  Denny had us go to the piano and listen to the music first.  He would then let us know the starting note and then we figured out the basic melody.  After we figured out the basic melody, he showed us how we could expand on that.  First, by having him add in some simple octave or chord accompaniments and then teaching us how to combine those two together and then building from there.  This is a great way for a student to learn a piece they want to play that’s on the radio.  Usually learning just the main chorus of that piece is all it takes for them to get excited and want to show their friends what they learned.

Denny mentioned a study that showed that those who listen first perform more accurately.  This makes a lot of sense because playing is much more than just the notes.  Sometimes I am a little nervous playing a piece for a student especially if they have a good ear, because after all I don’t want them to depend only on their ear.  I want them to become good note readers as well.  But I think there is a happy medium to this and is important for our students to listen to the music they are learning.  Not just to the notes, but to all the other elements in the music as we learned in this presentation.  Nowadays there are so many listening tools for students.  A lot of method books now include or at least offer CD’s or Midi accompaniment.  There is iTunes, YouTube, the Radio, etc…  Listening examples are at our fingertips.

Denny gave me permission to share his Listening Examples To Help Encourage Expressive Playing that he used for our presentation (including notes).  Feel free to download.

Listening is a skill that most of us could improve on.  I came across a few articles that I thought were interesting and wanted to share…

Listening to Music Can Help Students be More Productive in the Classroom.  This short article is from a classroom teacher who advocates students to listen to music while they study.  She has found they are more productive when they do and will include it to a students IEP and share with their teachers if she feels that it will help.  I love this!

Can Listening to Music Help Us Work Better?  This article claims similar findings that workers can be more productive in the work field when listening to music.

Active Listening  “We listen to obtain information. We listen to understand. We listen for enjoyment. We listen to learn. Given all this listening we do, you would think we’d be good at it!”  I’m sure we can all relate to this article.  It is a helpful article with steps to help on becoming better active listeners.


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