• katrinafox

Critical Listening

One area of my teaching that has improved through teaching online is that of teaching pupils to listen effectively to their own playing. I'm quite sure that as a young learner, I struggled to listen effectively to my own playing - in fact, I can remember being completely reliant on my teacher to tell me if my tone was too harsh or too thin. I was far too busy on doing everything she'd asked me to (notes, rhythms, pedalling, fingers!) to have any brain-space left for listening.

This presents a major problem, because if pupils cannot listen to themselves effectively, then practice is likely to be directionless and ineffective. At the end of April, I started teaching a student who had been working with another teacher on some Grade 4 pieces. As she played me William Gillock's "A Holiday in Paris", I was struck by how unconcerned she was that her left and right hands were not playing in time with each other and that the piece sounded rather frantic. We talked about what a holiday in Paris might be like, and what a soundtrack to a short film might sound like. When I played her a frantic version followed by a relaxed version, she preferred the latter. When she played again, she could recognise that her own playing was not as smooth, even and calm as she would like. Together, we formulated a series of small, achievable goals such as keeping a consistent tempo, keeping the phrases legato and the tone even. These were underpinned by technical aspects too - such as correct fingering and small, relaxed movements.

Throughout the last few weeks, I have been more alert to the lack of good critical listening in my pupils. Dealing with it hasn't been a picnic; there has been a lot of frustration when pupils can hear that something needs fixing during practice but they don't know how. Through this process I have devised the attached worksheet (free to download from the link below) to help pupils take a step back and observe what happens when they practice, with a view to finding solutions with the teacher. My pupils found this very empowering - a problem, once written down and clarified, feels far less threatening. It saves time in the next lesson too, and focuses time on key areas.

Whilst the sheet is entitle "Critical Listening" as this was my initial focus, it is intended that pupils might also use it to document their aims and experiences of what they feel when they play too, in order to encourage self-awareness. Feel free to print and share with your pupils and colleagues.

Download PDF • 99KB

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