Academic journal article Contributions to Music Education

Listening to Learn: The Status of Listening Activities in Secondary Instrumental Ensemble Classes

Academic journal article Contributions to Music Education

Listening to Learn: The Status of Listening Activities in Secondary Instrumental Ensemble Classes

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study was to determine the status of listening activities as part of middle and high school instrumental music instruction. Research questions addressed teachers' beliefs in the importance of listening, outcomes associated with listening, type and frequency of listening activities, presence of guided listening, and challenges associated with implementing listening activities. Participants, who included secondary band and orchestra (n=92) teachers in four Colorado Front Range school districts, indicated a strong belief in the importance of listening for the development of student musicianship. Several types of listening activities were cited as frequently employed, however, few teachers reported the incorporation of guided listening through the use of listening maps, logs, or rubrics. Over one-half of teachers cited a lack of technology or resources as a significant difficulty in planning listening activities, while slightly less than half attributed a lack of listening to the time taken away from performance practice.

Music listening is a vital component of musicianship. The National Standards for Music Education (CNAEA, 1994) emphasize the combination of listening and analyzing as one of the most important skills for all students to develop. Reimer (2003) suggests, "a major obligation of the music education profession is to foster [the improvement of listening skills] in all students" (p. 225). Discerning listening skills, in combination with the ability to evaluate and self-correct, are some of the key components in achieving an advanced level of musicianship and musical independence. In spite of this, activities explicitly devoted to listening may be absent from rehearsals, as music educators report lacking rehearsal time for teaching anything other than the "notes for the concert" (Zerull, 2006, p. 44).

O'Toole (2003) and Cavener (2006) advocate the development of student-centered music classroom, providing a diverse palette of learning experiences, and inspiring students to take charge of their musical development. There are a variety of ways in which listening can be included in large ensemble rehearsals. Students may be asked to listen for the purpose of comparing musical performances, identifying specific elements aurally, or using their musical judgment to reflect upon a specific piece of music (Zerull, 2006). The use of recorded models in ensemble rehearsals may benefit students' listening and performance skills (Morrison, Montemayor, & Wiltshire, 2004). Haston (2007) also points out that teacher modeling facilitates student practice of musical imitation and evaluation skills. Listening, Cavener (2006) intimates, is a natural part of the learning process, and should always be integrated within the context of "making music" (p. 20).

Just as language learning begins with sounds and speech, Gordon (2007) contends that all musical learning begins with listening. "Music literacy involves more than being able to read and write music notation" (p. 38). Therefore, if the goal is for students to develop musical understanding and musical independence within the performance ensemble setting, ample time must be allotted for listening. Students who are taught to listen learn more about the possibilities of what music "can be," rather than simply learning performance skills as they apply to the immediate present or known repertoire (Gordon, 2007, p. 40). Zerull (2006) purports that the act of music listening requires a "musical imagination" in which the listener exercises skills of reflection, anticipation, and synthesis in order to make artistic decisions (p. 42), suggesting that students who spend more time listening become more critical listeners, and possess more of the necessary skills to propel their own performance to a higher level.

The body of research relevant to listening in large ensembles can be divided into three areas: (a) teachers' use of class time, (b) the nature of students' ability to listen, and (c) use of a recorded model. …

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