The Listening and responding strand of the music curriculum aims to give children opportunities to experience a wide range of musical styles, traditions and cultures. Through enjoyable and varied listening experiences the children are encouraged to listen actively and to focus on what happens in the music. This active approach to listening is central to the music curriculum at each class level and is important for the children's musical development as performers, as composers and as members of an audience.
A theme that is closely related to this active focus is a strong emphasis on the variety of ways in which children can respond to the music they listen to -- by moving, talking, writing, dancing, drawing, singing or composing. This concern with responding in several ways is based on the belief that the child's listening is enhanced and more purposeful when different ways of responding are encouraged.
Listening to music repeatedly is an important aspect in the development of imagination, insight and problemsolving. In this way, music can be used not only as a basis for learning in music, but also for learning and activities in other areas of the curriculum.
The teacher's role is therefore to provide a wide variety of listening experiences for the children, to stimulate active listening through questioning, prompting and suggestion, to play examples several times and to present children with opportunities to respond in a variety of ways.
Listening to live performance is a special musical experience. For children, the distinctive quality of live music and the immedicacy of participating as active listeners is exciting and uplifting. Communication between performer and audience becomes more real for the children as they experience listening in a direct and personal way. Opportunities should be sought to present live music to children whenever possible.
An important theme in this strand of the curriculum is the emphasis on a broad range of listening materials and resources, which will serve as starting points for musical exploration. When reviewing the music resources needed for the music programme, all schools should endeavour to include the following:
- recorded music on video, audio tape, CD or music technology
- tuned and untuned percussion instruments
- environmental objects, such as assortments of metals, wood or fibres
- a child in the class who may be studying an instrument privately
- other school instruments, which may include a recorder, tin whistle, piano or guitar
- a musician on the staff, among the parent body or in the locality
- a group, ensemble, band, choir or orchestra visiting the school or at another venue.
Selecting listening materials
Short, simple listening activities and games will enhance the listening programme in a way that is enjoyable yet accessible for children. These may include listening to and discriminating between environmental sounds and describing them in terms of their source, pitch, dynamics, duration and tempo. These activities should be modified to suit the age and experience of the children.
Selecting recorded music
When choosing music for a particular class level, the teacher should bear in mind the previous listening experiences of the children and should aim to build on these. The teacher should also select short pieces of music that the children can listen to several times over so that they have opportunities to become familiar with the music through a process of gradual, interested discovery, sometimes in collaboration with other pupils. A spiral approach to listening and responding is recommended so that the listening excerpts and sound explorations experienced during the earlier years can be returned to in senior classes. The growing maturity in musical experience of these older children will help them to acquire fresh insight into the music. The following points need to be considered also:
- The selected piece should be short (twenty seconds initially) or a relevant extract from a longer recording. This allows for flexibility in planning enjoyable and varied listening experiences.
- The piece selected should be notable for its quality within the style that it represents.
- Children should have opportunities to hear a recording several times during a lesson so that they can become very familiar with what is happening in the music.
- When the children listen, move, or create while the music is playing, they must be able to compare or justify their work in relation to the music afterwards.
- The teacher should seek to balance responses that encourage imaginitive associations with those that focus on structural elements in the music.
- The quality of the audio equipment and the quality of the recording will affect the children's enjoyment of and response to the music.
Over the course of the child's primary school career, the school listening programme should offer music from a wide variety of sources, to include music from written and unwritten traditions, classical and folk, music from Ireland and other countries, choral and instrumental, solo and ensemble, and music for different occasions and purposes. The children will enjoy revisiting excerpts heard earlier in the school year and in previous classes. This approach helps to foster the continuity and progression that are essential parts of the curriculum.
Rather than providing children in junior classes with a lot of theory regarding orchestral families of instruments, they should be introduced to the instruments one at a time as they occur naturally in the listening programme.
On most occasions the teacher will play a recording of the music and ask the children for their responses before drawing attention to the title of the piece, some background information and the composer's intentions. However, there should also be occasions when music for listening is presented without discussion, so that the children are able to hear a piece holistically and make their own interpretations. Generally speaking, the teacher should try to avoid situations where background music is played while the class is involved in another activity.
Part of the musical experiences for the children will include sacred music. Hymns or carols can be incorporated in the music programme along with the standard listening or performing repertoire and explored in a variety of ways. Children can listen to recordings of sacred music to explore the musical features or to identify simple techniques the composer may have used. Musical elements may also be explored: for example, a sense of structure may be experienced in the contrast between the solo and chorus of a hymn tune. The children can also discover how the tempo of a hymn tune can affect the mood and style of a performance.
Listening to Irish music
Ireland's tradition as a nation of musicians may be traced from early myth and legend to the present-day multiplicity of traditional players, modern composers, arrangers and performers. On leaving primary school, children should have developed an awareness and appreciation of traditional Irish instruments -- tin whistle, Irish flute, uilleann pipes, bodhrán, fiddle, concertina, accordion, as well as Irish harp -- and should have listened to a variety of Irish music (dance, ballad, lullaby or suantraí, work song, etc.) and musicians.
Like all folk music, Irish music is amenable to a variety of arrangements. For instance, while Beethoven's string quartets will almost always be performed by stringed instruments, a traditional Irish air such as 'Róisín Dubh' is often sung solo or accompanied, played by different instruments or combinations of instruments, at the performers' discretion. Teachers might choose to focus on this richness and variation as one of the starting points for listening to Irish music. The children can explore this feature of Irish music by comparing different performances of the same tune. A number of suggestions are given in the Appendix.
Listening to music of other cultures
In developing an awareness and understanding of other cultures, and in extending the children's musical experiences, the listening programme should also aim to include some examples of music from other countries. Such music should be introduced as an expression of the life and culture of another country, having particular meaning or importance for the people whom it represents. The teacher should seek to reveal the breadth and depth of musical expression to the children as much as possible and create a sense of authenticity. Some suggestions for approaching music of other cultures include:
- learning songs of other countries
- learning dances of other countries
- learning about occasions when particular music is performed
- having performers from other countries visit the school
- modelling instruments and techniques on styles from elsewhere
- discussing technical or expressive qualities in the music; comparing similarities and differences, for example bongo drums and bodhrán.
Responding to music in a variety of ways
As well as listening to a range of sounds from a variety of sources, children are encouraged to respond to music in several ways. These include
- moving and dancing to music
- talking about the music, for example describing how it makes them feel or the images it creates
- listening for specific musical features
- listening for specific instruments
- illustrating aspects of the music through drawing or painting
- following a pictorial score of the music
- writing in response to the music
- composing new music using, for example, a similar theme, instrumentation or structure
- singing or playing along with the music.
A number of these approaches are outlined in the following pages, with accompanying exemplar lessons.
Responding through movement
Movement helps all learners interpret new experience. Movement to music is valuable because it provides a kinaesthetic experience of musical concepts. As the child moves to a given tempo, he/she focuses mentally and physically on the musical task, internalising the concept. Through observing these movements the teacher can see how well a new concept has been grasped and understood.
Movement can be used to develop many technical and expressive qualities. Muscular activity is closely linked to musical elements such as pulse, tempo, rhythm and dynamics. It can also facilitate creative responses through improvisation, interpretation and imagination. This aspect of the music curriculum links very successfully with the dance programme in providing the children with new learning experiences.
- be performed naturally by the children
- express a musical element or elements
- involve mainly gross-motor (wholebody) movement, but also finemotor movement
- aim to extend the children's coordination, balance and suppleness over time
- maintain a balance between vigorous and gentle activity
- be enjoyable.
EXEMPLAR 8 - Moving to music (infants to second classes)
Children need ample space for movement activity. Ideally movement sessions should be held in a generalpurpose hall or a large room with enough space for the children to move freely. Where this is not possible, the class may be divided into groups to take turns moving, and children can also move on the spot for some activities. Large spaces may present problems in controlling groups and cause difficulties in listening. If the space is too large, it may be helpful to create a boundary line and confine the activities within a portion of the room. Some basic rules may also be established in advance of the movement activity.
Many actions arise naturally from songs and go naturally with them. Singing games develop a sense of rhythm through body movements simply because the child is fully involved while enjoying the games and performing the rhythmical movements that the words of the songs suggest. (See Exemplar 9)
Songs that can be sung with accompanying movements provide another engaging and enjoyable introduction to rhythmic response to music. They are especially useful when space is limited, since many of them can be performed in the child's own space. After the songs are memorised, the children can omit words or phrases while the motions continue. Action songs are an ideal means of developing a sense of pulse as well as rhythm. (See Exemplar 10)
Some basic rules for movement
- Start to move only when the signal is given or when a sound begins.
- Listen carefully to the music or to the source of the sound as you move.
- Always stop when the sound stops or when a prearranged signal is given, such as a beat of a drum or a shake of a tambourine.
- Do not touch anyone as you move, unless it is a specific part of the movement activity.
EXEMPLAR 9 - Singing game (infants to second classes)
EXEMPLAR 10 - Action songs (infants to second classes)
EXEMPLAR 11 - Listening and responding to Irish music (all classes)
EXEMPLAR 12 - Listening and responding with pictures (third to sixth classes)
EXEMPLAR 13 - Listening, comparing and contrasting (third to sixth classes)