Music is a listening-based artfom. It is through direct aural experiences with sound that humans interact with music at its most basic level. Listening to music is the most personal and focused level of engagement with music that most people have. It is an intimate interaction with sound in which, as Reimer (2003) states, “[l]isteners are called on to make sense of the music, to ‘put it together’ with mind, body, and feelings” (p. 117). Regarding listening’s creative core, Kerchner (1996) explains that listening is not merely a passive activity, but instead that “[l]isteners create and recreate their own musical experiences by perceiving certain musical elements” (p. 28). When listening, people take the sonic elements of a musical work and pair them with their own experiences and history to derive personal meaning. Also, music listening is an essential component to all other kinds of musical activity. Accordingly, listening must have a central place within any music curriculum. Yet, listening does not often receive such focused attention in music classrooms with regard to skill development and/or creative processing.
Music is pervasive in our society and students regularly hear music in stores, on television, and on their own music players. However, one may ask if they are listening. Mills (2009) notes that the persistent sonic environment may “reinforce the habit of not noticing sound” (p. 75) and, therefore, students may not be fully developing their active listening skills to their fullest potential on their own. This is not to say that children come to music class without any sense of critical, creative, or meaningful listening abilities. Indeed, the musical genres and styles they choose to engage with on their own and with their families shape their understanding of listening and develops a different set of skills. In music class, listening instruction should seek to build upon and supplement a student’s personal listening skills.
The following listening curriculum is rooted upon the philosophical grounding of Reimer’s (2003) conception that listening is an act in which “[e]ach individual listener must bring to that task his of her technical capacities to hear the complexities of the music” (p.117) in order to draw meaning from musical works. However, in order for students to be creative listeners and meaning makers, the “technical capacities” require specific and guided instruction. This is the crux of my project; to plan a sequential, meaningful, and relevant curriculum for the development of music listening skills. Specifically, students should be able to differentiate and discuss the musical elements of pitch/melody, rhythm/meter, dynamics, tempo, articulation, and timbre as they relate to the expressive and structural components of a musical work with a firm understanding of how these elements interact to create a musical whole.