Passive versus Active listening


When I ask my students if they are listening to their CD I get a fairly entertaining array of answers! Most of them are great – listening in the car, during breakfast, before bed, during homework etc. All great passive listening opportunities. Active listening is often overlooked and I think especially when students are learning to read music they should do more active listening, for example: listening while following the notes in the book. There are benefits to both kinds of listening and we should aim to tick both boxes to optimize the students learning potential.

Passive listening is when the music is on in the background and being absorbed subconsciously. Active listening is when you concentrate solely on listening. Children do not tend to be inclined to ‘sit and listen’ to their CD so it is always the parents responsibility to make sure that at least one kind of listening is done every day.

Passive Listening:

Passive listening is probably the best for younger children. Have the CD on at breakfast time, in the car going to school, during homework or play time etc. The CD should become part of the daily routine, and will become less of a chore. I advise parents to have a couple of spare copies of the CD so that it’s ready and available to them. The CDs get broken or scratched so easily and I think most parents now just pop the music onto their computer/ipod/tablet and listen from there.

Children usually have some down time before going to bed where they read a story or listen to music. This is a great time to have the CD playing while the brain is winding down, absorbing, and making sense of everything from throughout the day.

Active Listening:

Active listening is better for slightly older children, maybe 6 or 7 years and up. Once they can recognise some of the music symbols in their book they are good to go. They can listen to the CD and follow the notes in their book. This helps build the relationship between what you read on the page and what you play. Pieces with repeats are great for this, and it helps the child map out the piece. Even if they are not reading music yet they will begin to make a connection between what they are hearing and what they are seeing. It helps hugely with the memorisation of pieces and also hugely benefits their concept of patterns, sequences and melodic shape without them even knowing and without us even having to talk about it.

I recommend more active listening to those students who seem to have difficulty in memorising music. Dyslexic students often make significant improvement once they start doing active listening.

Learning Differences

We must recognise that we all learn in different ways and so we compute music in different ways too. Active listening appeals to visual learners and kinesthetic learners while passive listening would appeal more to an aural learner. Parents beware – your child may not learn in the same way as you do!



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