Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Encouraging Students to Listen to their Music

As I've written before, it's very important to me to help my music students develop their listening skills. One of the most important ways students can develop their aural skills is by listening to the pieces they are working on. However, I noticed that no matter how much I told students to listen to the CD's that came with their music, they'd come to lessons with their CD's still wrapped in plastic, untouched. Clearly, I needed to find different ways to inspire students to do their listening practice.

First, I realized I needed to set a better example. While I encouraged my students to use their CD's at home, in their lessons I demonstrated the pieces myself, instead of playing them the CD. Now, I certainly don't think there's anything wrong with teachers demonstrating pieces and playing for their students. In fact, I still think that's very important. But I realized I had to model the behavior I wanted them to do at home as well. Besides, while reading Make It Stick, I learned that students absorb more knowledge when it's presented in a variety of different ways, instead of the same way every time. Since listening to the CD is a different experience than listening to your teacher perform, that variation could help students learn as well. Now, I play the CD for students as they're taking out their violins or working on short note-reading or music theory exercises. I've noticed a dramatic impact on my students' playing since I started doing this--their rhythms are more accurate, and they seem to have a better understanding of the music. Even better, I've noticed that they are far more likely to actually listen to their CDs at home now.

Still, many students told me they didn't have a CD player. Often, they prefer listening to music on their cellphones via iTunes or spotify. I've encouraged parents and students to upload the CD music onto their computers and cellphones, but parents can be reluctant to do that. It takes some extra work for one, and some people are uncomfortable using technology. Other students tell me they've lost their CDs! In these cases, I use another great source of material: youtube. There are plenty of brilliant performances on youtube students can easily access from their cellphones or a computer. Just searching for "Suzuki Allegro" can bring up a huge variety of video performances, from teachers to student recitals. These performances can inspire students in addition to help them develop their listening skills. After all, it can be exciting to see kids your age performing the same pieces as you! What's more, with youtube students can listen to far more pieces than just the ones on their CD. I love showing them performances of great violinists like Jascha Heifetz or Isaac Stern.

While it's been a challenge to get all my students to regularly do their "listening practice," I've found the results to be extremely valuable. If anyone has any other recommendations for how to inspire kids to do their listening, let me know!


  1. The YouTube idea seems like a good one. I had my new computer a month and a half before I realized it didn't have a CD drive. You might also try getting a free SoundCloud account and uploading specific things you want them to listen to to that.

  2. That's a great idea! I'll have to try SoundCloud.