I just finished a wonderful article in the Sunday Review section of the NY Times: The Science and Art Of Listening. Seth Horowitz makes the simple yet profound point, “listening is a skill that we’re in danger of losing in a world of digital distraction and information overload.” He goes on to better define that listening is something that is truly challenging (and a real skill that we humans develop – or not – over our lifetime) while hearing happens automatically and acts as our first line of defense in our environment, in other words we have a ten times greater chance of hearing a warning before we see it. Another way to say this is that when our children seem to ignore us as we advise them to put on a warmer jacket, we ought to be saying ‘did you listen to me’ rather than ‘did you hear me.’
Private lessons at Brooklyn Music Factory spend a large piece of our time with students developing listening skills. And while it may seem like listening is a given, it being a music lesson and all, listening, in fact, often turns out to be quite a challenge for most students. We, as distracted, busy, over stimulated humans, just are not very skilled listeners and BMF student’s are no excepetion. And so, like every other key musical concept we teach, we have created a host of games to improve on listening. I view our listening games as achieving two essential musical skills: 1. teaching the art if listening (to one musical line at first and eventually to multiple simultaneously) & 2. Teaching the intensity of focusing (at first, a student’s focus time measures around 10-20 seconds but by the end of year one we strive to get them to reach one minute of total focus and ultimately we aim for 3-4 minutes (the length of a pop song) of absolute focus).
So what are these games we play? Here are a couple of my favorites, the rules, and how to ‘win’
1. African Drum Jam
African Drum Jam is a simple ‘call and response’ game where the student and teacher listen to a pre-recorded track of short hand drum rhythms. The student first listens then plays with the drum track an then finally plays solo with a metronome track. There are 10 rhythms per level, each level challenges a new degree of musical fluency (quarter notes, half notes, and whole notes in level 1 with eight notes added in level 2 and on and on). On the surface it appears a breeze…the catch is that we rewind to the beginning of the 10 rhythms after each new rhythm, so the student has to successfully do all 10 rhythms in a row to ‘win’ and move on to the next level. Tuff but super fun.
2. Nate sings ‘Crack Boom Boom’
This is essentially a Simon Says game but played on the drum set. I sing ‘crack’ to represent the snare drum, a high ‘boom’ to represent the tom tom, and a low ‘boom’ to represent the floor tom. We put on a funky song in the background with a strong pulse. I start by singing just one note (‘crack’ or ‘boom’) and then add a second and third to our groove and keep building longer and longer grooves until the student cannot remember the groove. They can get as long as 4 measures before a student’s memory breaks down. A student ‘wins’ when they can out last me!! And it happens (though not often!). Kids and adults LOVE this game though it can be humbling….just like Simon.
There are tons of ways to work on your listening skills which have the added benefit of stretching your focus. How do you practice at home?
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