Five Strategies to Incorporate Music Listening Lessons

Need ideas for incorporating listening lessons into your music lessons? Check out these five strategies, including keeping the beat, choosing composer of the month, and more!

In today's music classroom, we are expected to do so much: have students match pitch, teach students rhythmic and melodic concepts, encourage artistry and expression, teach students how to read music on the treble clef staff, explain how to identify instrument families, show them how to play instruments, and among many, many more skills, expose students to great music and teach them about great composers.

This is not an easy task. In this blog post, I'm detailing five strategies for incorporating listening lessons into your music class.

Keep in mind that while some of these ideas are focused on classical music, most of them can be applied to any genre! Here goes!

#1: Keep the beat

In Kindergarten, I spend much of the year preparing steady beat. This is such an important concept, as it is the foundation of music, so I plan beat-keeping activities into many of my lessons. Why not listen to the music of the masters while keeping the beat? For example, you could listen to the Nutcracker Overture by Tchaikovsky, and students have to follow your beat motions (tap your head for 8 beats, tap your shoulders for 8 beats, etc.) When students are confident enough, they can create their own motions!

John Feierabend has a wonderful CD for this very purpose. It is called “Keeping the Beat” and can be bought at West Music here.

#2: Focus on specific concepts

In my Kodaly training, I learned about the idea of focusing on a specific concept with listening lessons. For example, instead of listening to a piece of music by Beethoven because it is his birthday, you can listen to “Symphony No. 7, mvmt. 2” because it is a great example to use for quarter rest. Some pieces I have learned about as great rhythmic or melodic concepts through my training, and some I figured out on my own (like using the main theme of Liszt's “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2” for tim-ka…so fun!)

If you're looking for a comprehensive list of pieces aligned with rhythmic and melodic concepts, check out From Folksongs to Masterworks by Ann Eisen and Lamar Robertson. It is a treasure trove of information and includes recordings!

Check out this freebie by Amy Abbott for a fun listening example for low sol!

#3: Listen for meaning

Some pieces lend themselves really well to listening for images or meaning. For example, you could have students listen to “Carnival of the Animals” and try to figure out which animal each piece is about, and then describe why (for more activities, check out this set. Also check out this free listening map from Cowgirl Compositions for “Personages with Long Ears”!) For pieces that clearly convey a mood, you could have students listen for which mood(s) they think the piece expresses.

This past summer, I took a course based on the book “Making Thinking Visible,” which is an amazing read. We explored several thinking routines in this course. Several of the routines could be adapted for music listening lessons, to delve into meaning. One was called “The Explanation Game,” and if using for a listening lesson, you could have students answer the following questions after listening to a piece that has a defined meaning or story background:

1. What do you notice?

2. What do you think the meaning might be?

3. What makes you say that?

4. What could another meaning be?

I could see this routine working well for many, many pieces!

Check out this freebie by Cori Bloom for listening for meaning in a few pieces about birds!

#4: Watch

Kids today watch You Tube ALL the time. Why not find a great You Tube video showcasing a great piece of music in a fun and engaging way? Here are a couple examples:

“O Fortuna” by Orff: You could use this to do a contrast and comparison with the original!

“Four Seasons” by Vivaldi…in a HP Touchsmart PC commercial! You could use this to discuss why this piece of music was chosen for the commercial, how the actor in the commercial acts as a conductor, etc.

#5: Composer of the month

It is a very popular idea to have a composer of the month, and use that premise to explore the composer with several different grade levels. I think, for me, the ideal situation would be to place each composer so that I can also focus on the rhythmic or melodic concepts the students happen to be practicing that month with listening lessons for that composer (like Beethoven in April, when my first graders are practicing quarter rest!) By really thinking thoughtfully about why and when to incorporate each composer, students could listen to a wide variety of music throughout the year and learn so much about music history! I have a composer of the month bundle for anyone who would like to do this throughout the entire year:

What strategies for listening lessons have worked for you? Please comment below, and happy listening!

2 Responses

  1. Hi Aileen! I loved your ideas on “Five strategies to incorporate music listening lessons.” I was wondering what you have your students do when they listen for the quarter rest in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, mvmt 2. I understand they’re listening for the rest but I guess my question is what are the steps and activities you use to do make this happen?

    1. Hi Hayley! I often have them clap the rhythm as they listen, and put the rest on their shoulders. For this particular lesson, I’ve had students walk the rhythm and freeze on the rest as well.

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