Active listening happens when a person is fully engaged in music (or sound), giving it all of their attention. It is a skill that can be learned and very important part of communication for a person's entire life. The opposite is passive listening – when the music (or sound) is in the background and our focus is elsewhere.
When we are actively listening to music we are stimulating more areas of our brain which then positively affects our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Active listening benefits us holistically; it helps calm down our nervous system, increases our energy, builds confidence, boosts our immune system and promotes empathy. (www.earthtones.org)
In our music classes, we explore active listening in many different ways. We “sing a rainbow” and “listen with our eyes” as we label the coloured ribbons, scarves and feathers.
We swing in towels and tubs and bounce babies on our knees and build up block towers higher and higher. We move rhythmically from a walk to a trot to a gallop as we sing horse songs. We differentiate between beat and rhythm.
We hear the sounds that different instruments make- tapping claves, ringing bells, clicking castanets, tinging triangles, all sorts of banging drums and the pitter patter rain stick. We learn to discriminate different timbres (quality of sound) when singing hello songs and using the echo microphones.
We sing story books, including the lovely music maps series in which the children are able to follow pictures from the story symbolising the notes on the musical stave as we sing the melody.
We change our pitch from low to high. We change the tempo from slow to fast. We change the dynamics from soft to loud. We “go” - moving our bodies and playing instruments in whichever way we choose - and we “stop”.
We pause to listen to the silence.
This silence is valuable. It allows the children time to process what's just happened, what they heard, what they saw, what they did. It also allows them to anticipate what's to come. Will it be predictable, or unexpected? How will they emotionally and physically respond?
Active listening helps to promote good chemical function in our bodies. It also increases your connection to the music. Often a particular or favourite song will invoke a feeling or a memory each time you hear it.
Practice actively listening to music at home. Let go and tune in. Pay attention to the details in the music. Can you and your child hear different instruments? High and low sounds? Fast and slow? Notice how the music makes you feel. Better still, come to our classes and experience active listening with your child. Your brain, body and heart will thank you for it.
by Lauren Nilsson
Sounds Like This Teacher and Early Childhood Specialist