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Listening and Discussion as a Class Activity

15 January, 2016 - 09:13
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Lesson Plan Information

  • Purpose- To give students a framework for, and practice in, understanding and discussing unfamiliar styles of music, using their listening skills and their knowledge of the basic elements of music.
  • Objectives - Presented with aural examples, students will identify similarities and differences between a familiar and an unfamiliar musical style, using appropriate music terms.
  • Grade Level - Recommended for students of any age who have the appropriate prerequisites.
  • Student Prerequisites - Students should have some familiarity and facility with the music and cultural terminology that you want them to use during the discussion. Prior practice in discussing what they hear in a more-familiar style of music is strongly recommended. (See the materials and preparation section below for details.)
  • Teacher Expertise - The teacher should have sufficient listening skills and knowledge of the terminology to guide the discussion when students are not certain what to listen for or how to describe it. If you are not trained as a musician and are doing this lesson as part of a group inquiry with the instructor acting as co-learner, you may wish to either invite a musician or music teacher to assist with this activity, or study some useful music concepts, as part of your inquiry, before doing this activity. (See the materials and preparation section below for ideas.)
  • Time Requirements - One class period of 45-60 minutes that includes at least two cycles of listening-and-discussion, or two or three 20-minute sessions of one listening-and-discussion cycle each.
  • Evaluation - May be based on any combination of: active participation in the discussion; written essay summarizing the discussion; listening "quiz" (oral or written) in which the student listens to a new example in the unfamiliar style and discusses it.
  • Music Standards Addressed - National Standards for Music Education standards 6 (listening to and describing music) and 9 (understanding music in relation to history and culture).
  • Other Subjects Addressed - This inter-disciplinary activity also addresses social studies goals concerning the understanding of geography, culture, and perception, for example U. S. National Geography Standard 10 (The Characteristics, Distribution, and Complexity of Earth’s Cultural Mosaics).
  • Extensions- Present another unfamiliar tradition and have the students discuss its similarities and differences both with their own music and the tradition just studied. Students in a music class may also want to try to learn a piece or two from the unfamiliar tradition, performing it in an appropriate style; or borrow phrases, ornaments or ideas for improvisations; or include stylistic elements in their compositions.

Materials and Preparation

  • If students are not already practiced in discussing what they hear in a piece of music, it is strongly recommended that you precede this activity with several opportunities to practice discussing more-familiar musics. If appropriate, ask the students for suggestions. This will engage their interest and help them develop as a discussion group before introducing more challenging listening.
  • If introducing correct terminology is part of the lesson goal, decide beforehand which terms you will introduce. Terms from the local musical culture? From the culture that produced the music? Students do not need to be familiar with terms for all of the elements of music; you may choose to focus on just a few. See ***What do you hear?*** for a list of elements that should be useful in this discussion. If the terminology is unfamiliar to the students, you may want to introduce it as a separate lesson before attempting listening discussions. (See, for example, lesson plans on Meter Activities, Timbre Activities, and Rhythm Activities.)
  • Particularly if this lesson is part of a social studies or interdisciplinary unit on a country or culture, you may want to introduce some of the concepts and terms that are used within that culture to describe the music. Again, it may be best to do this in a separate lesson before this listening lesson (See, for example, Caribbean music: Calypso and Found Percussion, gamelan dance activity, and Story and Place: Lessons from Australian Aboriginal Storytelling.) You and the students may also be able to make connections between other things you have learned about a culture (for example, religion, language, festivals, history, politics, philosophy, or geography) and what you are learning about its music.
  • If the students have not seen any information about the culture that produced the music, you may want to prepare a short introduction, and gather materials such as maps, pictures, or story books to accompany your introduction.
  • You will need the equipment to play the audio or video recordings for the class.
  • Choose the pieces you will play, and be prepared to locate and start each recording quickly.

Activity Procedure

  1. Play one of the recordings
  2. Ask the students to describe what they heard.
  3. If they don't know what to say, ask them to describe specific elements. What is the rhythm like? The vocal timbre? Other timbres and texture? The melody? (See notes on materials and preparation, above)
  4. Gently discourage observations that are simply about preference (such as "I don't like it" or "it's pretty") by reminding the students that this discussion is about hearing what is in the music, not about preferences. (If it seems appropriate, you may want to discuss musical preferences at another time as part of a social-studies unit on culture and identity.)
  5. Students who are having trouble articulating what they hear may find it easier to describe how the piece is different from a familiar music.
  6. If their descriptions are understandable but do not use the proper music terms, you may want to introduce or remind them of the correct vocabulary, but try to avoid telling them what they should have heard.
  7. When students make good observations, you may want to list them where all can see, such as on a classroom board, to serve as a record of what the class has heard and also as examples of what good listening-observations look like.
  8. After an initial attempt at discussing the piece, have the students listen to the same piece again. If there is a particular element that you feel has not been discussed adequately (such as rhythm), remind them to listen closely to that element this time.
  9. Continue the discussion, and add a new question: What did they notice this time that they did not notice the first time?
  10. If you feel the students have discussed the piece to the extent that they are capable, you can introduce another piece, following the same procedure.
  11. When appropriate, remind the students not to make generalizations about a music genre or tradition from just one or two examples. Familiarity with many pieces is necessary to develop a more general picture. This exercise is about developing the skills to listen so that they can develop that familiarity (with this genre, or any other) if they wish.