Why does my child have piano listening assignments?

Colourful Keys is primarily a blog for music teachers. However, this article is part of a series for PARENTS of music students. If you’re a piano parent, read on to learn about why following through with listening assignments is important. If you’re a teacher, feel free to pass the link to this article on to parents in your studio.

“Oh great…my little Johnny’s piano teacher gave him a listening assignment again. What a pain! Maybe we’ll just skip that…” If you’ve ever had this same thought after reading your child’s piano assignment sheet, you’re not alone. It can seem trivial to spend important practice time just listening, and children usually need your help to find the track or playlist in question.

But stay with me – the listening assignments are just as important as the scales, piano technique and pieces you’re used to seeing on their practice list every week.

Every teacher is different, with different ways of helping your child develop into a solid musician. Some teachers might assign specific listening tasks every single week, while others may prefer to do all of it during piano lessons – and of course there is a wide range between those two ends.

Regardless of where your teacher falls on the spectrum, listening to music – any music – plays an important role in a child’s musical development. But specific listening assignments from piano lessons usually have a goal beyond those general benefits.

Chief among these benefits are developing a sense of “pulse” and exposure to expression and style (e.g. loud/soft, bouncy/smooth, fast/slow).

Common Types of Listening Assignments

If you see a listening task on your child’s piano assignment sheet, chances are good it falls into one of three categories – each with it’s own unique benefits and rationale behind the assignment.

Listening Assignment Type 1: Rote Pieces

If you took any sort of music lessons as a child, you might’ve been taught that you have to “read” every single piece or else the learning isn’t valuable. But with all the advances in educational psychology, we now know that in many cases, it’s just as useful and educational to hear the piece first.

Listening assignments are especially important with rote piano pieces – i.e., music that’s taught by pattern rather than written music. When learning a rote piece, regularly listening to that piece can serve as:

  • A memory-jogger for what they learnt in the lesson
  • A preview of what they’ll learn next (if they haven’t learnt the whole piece yet)
  • An example of what “good” sounds like (volume, speed, mood)
  • An aid for developing a sense of steady beat/pulse

If your child is using a book that includes rote music, it’s often accompanied by a physical CD or a code for downloading audio tracks. We recommend that you take advantage of these listening opportunities whenever possible, even if they aren’t explicitly assigned.

Gone are the days when you have to read everything without hearing a single note first! 🥳

In the video below – tailored for parents whose children are using the Piano Safari method – expert teacher Nicola Cantan provides suggestions for how to incorporate rote listening tracks into your routine. These suggestions can easily translate to other books, too.

I especially love the idea of adding the whole album to your regular rotation of car-ride music. Why not knock out the listening assignments on the way to school?

Listening Assignment Type 2: Choosing Repertoire

In some approaches to teaching, students may have an opportunity to choose their own music to learn once in awhile. This is especially common with piano exam pieces and sometimes “supplement” books (to go along with their core book).

Imagine your child goes to their piano lesson, listens to their teacher play through all the exam piece options and is then put on the spot to choose one immediately. That’s a lot of pressure for a kid, and doesn’t leave much time to get a lot else accomplished during the lesson.

If their piano teacher sends you a list of options to listen to and choose from, though, your child can take the time at home to listen as much as they want and mull over the options. They’re more likely to be confident in their decision, too, which is an important motivational step when it comes time to actually practise that music.

After all, you don’t want to spend the next 3 to 9 months listening to “I hate this. I don’t want to practise this.” 🥴

Listening Assignment Type 3: Learning About Composers & Musical Eras/Styles

Many piano teachers like to use listening assignments to expose students to different composers and eras or styles of music. This can include CDs borrowed from the teacher, an online music playlist or even a short podcast tailor-made for kids.

Right about now you might be asking yourself, “Who cares when a piece was written? Just teach my kid to play the right notes; they don’t need a years-long history lesson.”

I hear you! It’s true that unless your child is going to be a professional musician or music teacher, they don’t need to know every single nuanced detail that influenced music in, say, the year 1632. But the fact remains that music from specific historical eras features specific sounds and techniques unique to that period, and listening assignments are oftentimes the most efficient and effective ways for your piano child to tap into that sound. For example:

  • Listening to the music from the Baroque period before learning an easier arrangement of a Bach prelude will help any music student grasp the spirit of the piece better.
  • Understanding the “why” behind that spirit can help students learn how to perform the piece more accurately and, therefore, more confidently.

Surely that’s a goal we can embrace together: Guiding your children to become confident musicians.

Does your child have listening assignments?

Feel free to leave your thoughts or questions in the comments below, and we’ll do our best to help.

For more like this, check out other articles from our “music parent” series:

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