"After you read and sing The Little Birch Tree to the children, don't forget to play to them Tchaikovsky 4, where this Russian folksong makes an appearance."

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By Susan Searle

Maybe if you are of the same generation as me (at school in the 70’s) you remember the ABC Sing program being played over the radio through speakers in each classroom.  We all had the song books and learnt some fabulous songs that way. I can still remember lots of them from beginning to end!  The Sing Books are still going strong, although the radio program disappeared a while ago.

These days it’s hard to imagine children listening intently without a video or Youtube clip of some kind and educators are always being told that children must have visuals to accompany all learning.

Listening with focus and without anything to see is an incredibly important skill.  When we listen, really listen and think, we hear music at great depth.

In my classroom music program I include some focused listening every week; maybe by singing to the class and maybe by playing recorded music.

To help students to listen without distraction, I have the Three S rule.

They must be:

  • Still
  • Silent
  • Solitary

Being still means that there is no chance that the child’s movements can distract himself or others.  Children often want to move automatically when they hear music, especially if it has a dancing or marching beat.  But movement has no place in a listening focus session.  They need to practice stillness to become masters at this.

Silence is obvious.  When I ask students why it is important not to make any noise, they usually say that it is because others won’t be able to hear the music and this is true, but more importantly, they themselves, once they start to make sounds, have switched their brain from reception to production.

Solitary is a tricky word for young students, but…it starts with S! And means that they are to find a place where they are not interacting with others, including making eye contact.  That way everybody can have an individual response to the music and not be distracted by the reactions and feelings of others. Some children choose to close their eyes, others find a place away from everybody else.

To make sure this happens as planned, I listen with great focus too and would never interrupt the music to speak to someone who wasn’t keeping to the Three S rule.  If there is an interruption I stop the music and we start again!  

Generally I have found that most Preps can listen for 1 and a half minutes at least and older students can mostly manage 3 and a half.  

Students respond to listening with great appreciation and often develop a personal connection with the pieces they hear.  Hopefully, they will become wonderful audience members throughout their musical lives.