One of the most important skills a student must have when practicing is to be able to listen. Have you ever had a student that can play through a piece and it sounds completely off? They might be playing in the wrong key, or wrong position or just missing all the accidentals. You sit back in amazement waiting for them to hear how awful it sounds as they continue to plunk away without a care in the world.

Just as it is important to teach our students to practice, it is equally important to teach our students to listen when they practice. Without this key ingredient, students can easily miss recognizing their mistakes at home. When they can’t hear their mistakes, it becomes a habit that becomes harder to break as the days go by before their next lesson.

So how can we teach our students to listen?

First, listening needs to be included as a step to take when they are practicing. Because technology makes that easy to accomplish, this is the basic steps I like students to do…

Listening steps- (Download free checklist below)

  • Record piece or section
  • Listen to recording
  • Mark spots that need improvement
  • Practice those spots only
  • Run through the whole piece or section again
  • Record again…
  • Repeat steps until spots are improved

When students take the time to go through these steps, I see a marked improvement. The end goal is for students to be able to recognize those areas that need improvement by listening right away.

I recently had the opportunity to hear Dr. Robert Duke present to us on practicing. One of the things he shared goes along with the importance and art of listening very well.

Before you start to play, can you just be quiet/still for a moment and think… and then play.” Dr. Robert Duke

Thoughtful Intentionality

He goes on to say that the music needs to be encoded in order to be stored in our brain and in order to retrieve.

I think part of this process of being encoded and stored in our brain in order to retrieve is making sure we are really listening. Those inner listening skills are just as important as the outer listening. When students take a quiet moment to think before playing, they are using those inner listening skills that are sometimes forgotten about.

Next time a student seems to be playing without listening, have them stop and take a moment to be quiet and still and really think before they play. Training students to use both their inner and outer listening skills is one of the greatest gifts we can give them. This is a goal that I personally want to improve on. To work with students to be more thoughtful and intentional during our lessons together, improving those important listening skills each week.