Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Building Listening Skills

I find so often that my community college students (many who are grown-up products of "no child left behind") have a great deal of trouble listening. There is not that much of a problem during class, when the visual help of a study guide (and a study guide guide, like a teacher) can help them keep on track while listening to a piece of music, but left to their own devices, many of them are at sea.

The problem affects every subject.

It is difficult for many people to keep "stuff" you hear in a class in the foreground, and it is easy to let constant internal chatter drown out what a teacher might be saying. It is also easy, in a world where music is mostly thought of as "background" to simply tune it out.

Thanks to the popularity of video games, children are quite visually sophisticated these days. When they play video games, they respond to visual stimulation immediately and physically by moving a mouse or pressing buttons on a touch screen. They make strategic decisions based on what they see, and have a great deal of fun doing it.

I wish there were some compelling and sophisticated games that all children, regardless of musical aptitude, could use to learn to practice listening to patterns attentively without the aid of visual stimulation. There seem to be so many children and young adults who can identify visual patterns with ease, and, it seems, there are relatively few young adults who can follow arguments, or write a compelling ones themselves. Very small children love language. They love rhythm, they love rhymes, and many love singing. Why should they lose this when they become old enough to go to school?

Following a piece of music is not that difficult when you know what to listen for. There are repetition schemes that help you keep your place, if you pay attention to where you are. Following an argument (in any discipline) takes similar skills. When you write an argument of your own, you need to know where you've been, where you are, and where you are going in order to express your point successfully.

I think that the skills developed by listening attentively (and with guidance) to music that is written using dance forms, song forms, and the basic classical instrumental forms might enhance these skills.

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