Wider Listening

Wider Listening.

These two words either get you excited or nervous.

They are possibly the two words that I have used most in my teaching this past year.

But in fact we need not be afraid. WL is something I have encouraged since I started teaching. When I first started teaching I used to say that I wanted Year 9 to leave the year with a new “Appreciation” for music. I regularly played them music from different genres and encouraged them to listen. And lets face it, it wasn’t as easy back then. I am not that old, but this was before i-Pods, MP3s and streaming. If they wanted to listen to more music it wasn’t as easy as it is now. So in many ways, we have no excuses. Music is there to be consumed like never before. Most of the students I teach has Spotify, Apple Music or Amazon Music, and if not one of these then they have YouTube. I encourage GCSE & A-Level students to not only get a good pair of headphones, but also get a subscription to one of these services.

So why is it that we are so worried about Wider Listening?

Well I guess for those of us who are teaching GCSE & A-Level, WL is now something that is specifically referred to in the specifications and something that students need to include in their essays. Without reference to WL they are not able to to access the higher marks.

My message in this blog however is that we need not fear this aspect so much and I think there may be some traps we are falling into.

  1. WL needs to be a positive thing and we need to present it positively. When we make WL sounds like a task or an undertaking, then students will not enjoy it.
  2. We as teachers need to listen to music more. How can we encourage our students if we are also not listening to stuff? For me it is simple. If I am teaching say Film Music, then I will go away and listen to current or recent film scores. This isn’t hard for me as I love film music. Then when I go in to the next lesson I can speak with excitement and passion about what I have listened to. Students like to see passion and they will then go and listen to such music.
  3. When it comes to an essay, I believe that WL is something that needs to be referenced and mentioned, but it does not need to be unpacked as much as the set-work. We must not fall into the trap of making notes and worksheets on WL. Students need to be encouraged to do it and enjoy it and be able to mention similar pieces they have listened to. I am getting students to listen to another piece by the composer we are studying, and then two other pieces from the period/genre. This way they are gaining knowledge and developing their ears. I have not given extensive notes or done anything massive. I am just making them aware of other pieces that they can then refer to. But that is just my approach, I might be wrong!
  4. iTunes Jumping – I really can’t think of a better name for this process, so I will stick with this. It is simple. Search for an artist or album in iTunes. Once that album comes up you can then click on the name of the artist or composer and bring up their entire back catalogue. Scroll down from an album and you get suggestions of similar artists/composers. I guess it is simple, but what it does is get you jumping around pieces developing knowledge in the process.
  5. WL needs some direction. Students aren’t simply going to do it. So in the early stages of the year you need to ask them to go and listen to pieces and maybe do a presentation to the class. If this goes well then they will continue to the process.
  6. I would encourage students to keep a listening diary so that they can remember what they listened to and why they listened to it – if they are going to use a piece in an essay then it is good for them to remember why they listened to it.
  7. Aim to also watch music being performed so that they can see instruments being played. Obviously going to see live performances is essential for students, but YouTube is amazing and we are so lucky to have it as a resource. But again, use it effectively and if you are studying a Mozart Opera then get them watching other bits of Mozart and also other bits of opera.
  8. When students write an essay they need to make a point and not just state a fact. This Musical Point is then backed up by reference to the set work and then it is qualified and backed up by reference to another piece – that is where WL comes in. I won’t give a full example now as this blog is already too long. But please just avoid panicking students by making them think that they need to know as much detail about a WL piece as they do the set work.

When they go in to the exam students need to understand the genre that they are going to be discussing in their essay. They need to be able to explain what is happening in the music and why. They need to show what makes it Baroque or Cinematic music. Mentioning another piece of music, even in passing, will show the examiner that they have listened to music and that they can identify similar features. Lets make the process of WL fun and engaging and most of natural and not a burden. As teachers lets do it ourselves and inspire students to do it and share what they find. So go stick on Classic FM or watch highlights of Glasto and tell students what you listened to and enjoyed the most!

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