Between repertoire, technique, sight reading, and theory, there is so much to squeeze into each and every piano lesson.
It’s so hard to find the right balance and feel like you are covering everything your students need.
One area that I neglected for far too long is listening: focused, purposeful listening, listening to pieces together and talking about what we hear, listening with specific objectives in mind that will enhance a concept we’ve just learned.
We sometimes get so focused in lessons about the multitude of details that go into polishing each piece: dissecting, analyzing, and drilling.
It’s easy to become disconnected from our main goal, which is to make music, right?
And music needs to be listened to. So why don’t we listen more?
There are many reasons to make listening to music a priority in lessons just as you would prioritize proper hand position and scale fingerings.
The most basic benefit of listening is that students actually learn how to listen to music. They learn what to listen for.
And becoming better listeners teaches them to become better practicers. And, of course, better players!
Have you ever had a student that was thoroughly convinced she was playing a crescendo when she actually wasn’t?
I find myself telling students to listen carefully to the sound that is coming from the piano, not the sound they hear in their mind. A good listener will have a more discerning ear.
Another benefit of listening is exposure to and appreciation of great music.
I had a scary thought one day after sending a new beginner home with his assignment –
Those simple three-note pieces from his lesson book, and that slightly more interesting piece I taught him by rote? That was probably going to be the only piano music he heard all week!!
Did he even know the amazing possibilities that were beyond the pages of his primer book?
Did he think that the rousing version of Pop Goes the Weasel that his friend played in the school talent show was the pinnacle of piano success?
Did he possibly not know the beauty that exists in a Chopin Nocturne?
In Mozart’s melodies?
Ack! The horror!
We want our students to love music for their whole life, even if they don’t play the piano forever. We hope that they will be appreciative concertgoers, that they will be able to find beauty in music, and solace and joy.
But first, they have to hear the music!
One enormous benefit to more music listening is the easy reinforcement of lesson concepts.
Music is an aural experience that I think we sometimes try to learn non-aurally.
We teach the concept and not the sound. We teach things out of context of the music and sometimes fail to put it back in context. But how many things would come easier to students if they simply listened more?
For example, I want my students to be great at rhythm (as I’m sure you also do), so I teach them to count rhythms and learn to confidently figure them out on their own.
And sometimes I’m afraid that when I demonstrate too much it turns into a crutch for them.
But time and time again, I find that the more I play and demonstrate, the better they become at reading rhythms independently.
Besides rhythm, imagine all of the other things we teach that could be enhanced through listening: meter, articulation, phrasing, tone quality, and so much more!
The more a student hears something, the more it will become part of her aural vocabulary.
And then, what she sees on the page and what we speak about technically, will truly have meaning. Then she will really be able to make music!
One final benefit of listening is inspiration.
This one is sort of the same as exposure and appreciation, but I mention it separately because I think it’s so important.
It’s such an exciting moment when a student listens to a piece and really connects with it!
It’s so cool when a student hears a piece for the first time and cannot get over how beautiful and amazing it is.
Do you remember the first pieces you felt that way about?
Having pieces to look forward to is such an incredible motivator!
The benefits of listening are clear and many. I am excited about the possibilities as I plan out a listening curriculum for my studio to begin this Fall.
Do you already do this with your students? Please share your ideas!
In order to make beautiful music, a student must first hear beautiful music!
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