“Music is the movement of sound to reach the soul for the education of its virtue.”- Plato

Our students hear and are exposed to music all the time, but rarely are they actually listening to the music. One of our jobs as music educators is to get our students to not just hear music, but to begin to actively listen music. As I found during my student teaching experience it can be a challenge to get students to actively listen to music, but including listening journals into your curriculum can be one way to start. While at PMEA I attended a very informative session entitled Incorporating Listening Journals into the Middle School General Music Classroom. The session was presented by Rosemary Buetikofer and Sean Kennedy. Their presentation included different types of listening journals, what to include in a listening journal, and how to successfully incorporate them into the classroom.  Below are some of the highlights from the presentation that I found were very helpful.

What to Include in a Listening Journal:

Below are some of the categories that are important to include in a listening journal. With each section are questions you could have the students answer while listening.

  1. Timbre: Refers to the “what” or “who” in music making
    1. What kind of instruments do you hear?
    2. What types of voices are there?
    3. What other sounds are in the music?
    4. What type of group or ensemble is playing?
  2. Dynamics: The intensity of the volume
    1. What is the intensity of the volume?
    2. Does the intensity ever change?
    3. Does it change often or infrequently?
  3. Meter: How many beats per measure. For this category you may have to come up with creative movement activities to get students to feel the beat.
    1. How is the beat divided throughout the piece?
    2. Is it duple or compound? (Divided by 2’s or 4’s or 3’s, 6’s, 9’s etc.)
    3. Does it stay the same for the entire piece?
  4. Tempo: The pace of the music
    1. How fast is the music moving?
    2. Give students choices that have the musical term and then a simple explanation of the term.
  5. Style: Make the students be as specific as possible
    1. What category does this piece best fit into? (Give the students a list with possible options).
  6. Time Period: This category is not for younger students.
    1. When do you think it was composed?
    2. What in the music makes you think this? (for more advanced students)
  7. Intertextuality: Have the students make personal connections with the music. Don’t allow the students to say nothing for this category!!
    1. What does the music make you feel?
    2. What does the music remind you of?

How to Successfully Incorporate Listening Journals:

  1. Start with what the students are familiar with and can connect with easily. Don’t start your first listening journal or activity with Bach or Mozart.
  2. For instrumental students or vocalists play examples of famous musicians who play the instrument that they do.
  3. Start with the basics. Start by introducing musical terms at a basic level and then move to the details once the students are ready.
  4. Relate musical concepts and terms to terms and subjects that the students are familiar with and interested in. For example when discussing dynamics relate them to sports announcing.
  5. Allow students to draw pictures when doing listening journals. Don’t require them to only use words or full sentences. This will help to reach your visual learners.
  6. Put the music that you are having them listen to into context for them. It is our job as music educators to try and help tie everything together.
  7. Play songs that the students may have heard before, but probably never listened to the whole thing or listened to it with a different context in mind.
  8. Make it clear from the beginning that we have to be open to all music and be willing to listening to all styles. Also make it clear that doesn’t mean that everyone has to like every style and piece that they listen to.
  9. As the teacher we have to find ways to get students to buy into having an open mind about all styles of music. One way to do this may be through movies, commercials, television shows etc. that the students are familiar with.
  10. Have 2 rules for listening: Be Still and Be Quiet!

Why Use Listening Journals:

  1. Listening journals help to tie music into all aspects of school. Students need to be shown how music is related to other subjects.
  2. Shows student that music can and will affect many aspects of their lives.
  3. Listening journals get everyone involved in music no matter what their musical background is.
  4. Listening journals can help lead to discussion on other important musical topics.
  5. Listening journals help to create better listeners all around. Show students that being a good listener is important no matter what path in life you take.
  6. Listening journals help students to create a better appreciation for music so they are not just hearing music anymore, but are actively listening!
Students to actively listen to music can be a challenge, I believe that most music educators would agree that it is extremely important. One important tip to remember when doing listening journals is: some listening examples will be failures, but you don’t know what will work until you try it. Please share other ideas and tips of how to incorporate listening and listening journals into the music classroom. Also feel free to visit the presenter’s website  for more information on listening journals and for sample listening journals to use in your classroom.