Category Archives: Orientations to Teaching

Reflection on Aural Skills Development

Your initial ideas: What are your ideas on this topic? What do you already think about it? What have you learned from your own experience as a student? What have you learned from other sources, such as teachers, parents, friends, or research? Explain your reasoning.

I was never encouraged to learn how to play by ear; all of my instruction when I first began was all by reading off of a page, so at first I was mostly against playing by ear and developing aural skills as an instrumentalist.  I did not enjoy music theory at first because I had to rely on my ears and I had to sing, but I started to have more respect for the practice once I started to apply what I was learning to how I played and learned pieces.  I was always afraid of doing things by ear because I couldn’t be completely correct right from the start, but once I started developing the skills I needed I began to be more comfortable with it and now I do a lot of practice with playing by ear and trying to listen more.  Looking back, I definitely wish that I could have started aural instruction at the beginning because I now feel like I was missing something that could have helped me a lot.

I did not like the idea of teaching by ear when we were first introduced to it, because I have seen some musicians that won’t really learn how to read a staff or their note names because they can just get by through looking at those around them and just matching their pitch.  I have a lot of respect for those that can develop those skills so quickly, because it is still something that I struggle with, but I think that these skills should be learned at roughly the same time.  I would personally not like to just have students learn how rhythms and notes “feel” because once it comes time to reading a piece, they need to be able to know how things look.  I think that the skills can complement each other, and it is important to be comfortable with both because they help with being a good musician.  From taking this class and paying attention to students in my internship, I have learned that it is okay to start with learning by ear, because once the ear is trained, it is much easier to look at a page of music and already know what it sounds like.

The voice of authority: This will help you clarify what so-called “experts” have to say on this topic. You do not have to agree with their viewpoints, but you need to be sure that you understand them clearly. What do you know from classes or from research about this topic? In the last section, “Your voice,” you are encouraged to disagree with any of these “authorities;” in this section, try to simply report what they say.

From the time we have spent on this in class, I know that there are a lot of arguments for developing aural skills.  The time that we spent with the “Feels Like, Sounds Like, Looks Like” unit taught us that there are different ways of teaching aural skills, and that it is important to start off with getting students involved in their learning.  Having the ability to audiate is extremely helpful when sight reading, and being able to sing helps with listening and being more musical.  Being able to sing something and being confident in knowing what it sounds like helps with performance and having more control over musical decisions.  Feeling a piece of music helps with being able to connect more with the instrument, like playing a familiar piece and not having to focus on what the rhythms are and being able to audiate the pitches helps with being able to focus on the mechanics of the instrument.  It also helps when knowing if what you are doing is right or wrong, because you can feel it more, and you can listen to other sections and instruments to know how everything is supposed to fit.

Some of the readings we have had in class stress that being familiar with what music sounds like should precede what music looks like because the experience of music will help with understanding and being able to master and use musical concepts more.  When teaching aural skills, it is important to have a structure, and basing that structure off of a theory of learning and teaching styles, like the Gordon sequence, which starts with aural learning, following a series of steps that lead to being able to play and understand what is written on a page.

Learning to play an instrument is like learning a language: you start but listening, then imitating, then gradually go on to being able to read it.  Using this way of thinking, it is more beneficial to learn how to play the instrument and focus on that and gradually introduce reading rather than trying to learn how to play and read at the same time, because you have a strong foundation to build on and do not have to learn multiple things at the same time.  This approach also allows for more musical freedom because students will have the chance to express themselves and MBA aware of what they are playing rather than restricting themselves to trying to reproduce what is on a page.

Your initial observations: What do you notice in your field experience classroom that gives you hints about your mentor teacher’s ideas on this topic? Make your best guess about your mentor teacher’s ideas before you discuss the topic with him or her. Do you notice anything surprising or anything you didn’t expect?

My mentor teacher does not seem to put a lot of emphasis on aural skills, other than asking students to listen to each other for tuning. He seems to focus more in the mechanics of learning the instruments before anything, and uses written songs to help the students learn. His classes are so large and there are so many of them that he has to focus more on getting everyone to play, and I think that is why he structures his class this way. From what I’ve seen, he tries his best to incorporate aural skills, but there aren’t many opportunities to work on it. He also has somewhat of a discipline problem with some of his courses, not through any fault of his own. I think that his emphasis on literacy and learning the mechanics of the instruments is his way of dealing with this issue, and it seems to be effective. I wasn’t expecting him to work on aural skills starting out, because it is not something that I ever worked on.  I always thought that it is important to focus on instrument mechanics when first starting out rather than trying to teach aural skills and the mechanics at the same time, because that has been my experience with learning instruments.

Students’ voice: What does the behavior of students in the class suggest to you about this topic? How do the teacher’s words or behavior seem to affect the students? Or, if you are teaching, how do your words or behavior seem to affect the students? If you have time, ask one or two students their opinions on the topic, and record their responses. Does anything you observe fit with your own experience as a student, or are there differences? Is anything surprising to you?

I think that the students would like more emphasis on aural skills, especially the more advanced ones that catch on to actually playing the instrument fairly quickly. A lot of them struggle with reading the notes on the page and the music he has with the fingerings written out, and seem to get confused when they are having to focus on both playing the instrument and reading the notes. When I teach, I instruct them to think about the song that they are playing, and to sing it in their head before they play and while they are playing in order to make sure they are playing the right thing, and it seems to help most of the students. When I first started to say that, it looked like they had not ever heard that, and a lot of them began to improve. When I teach individuals, and I sing while they play and have them listen to what they are playing, they do a lot better, and whenever I ask them if they like it or if it helps, almost all of them say it does. As a beginner student, I did not have any sort of emphasis on aural training, and even now I don’t feel comfortable playing by ear because all of the skills that I have now are still being developed. The way that my mentor teacher runs his classroom is very similar to the way that my first band class was, so it seems very familiar to me and I don’t think that is it necessarily a wrong way to teach.

Mentor teacher’s voice: Ask your mentor teacher about his or her point of view on this topic. You do not have to agree with this viewpoint, you just have to respect his or her opinion. Is anything surprising to you? In your observations, do your mentor teacher’s practices seem to match his or her ideas? Why or why not? In the next section, “Your voice,” you are encouraged to disagree with your mentor teacher’s ideas; here, try to simply report his or her perspective.

My mentor teacher has a good opinion of aural skills, and sees the benefits of teaching them to beginner bands, but because of his class sizes and requirements, he doesn’t have a lot of opportunity to emphasize them. He tries to emphasize the mechanics of the instruments so that no one gets left behind on that, and wants to give the students a strong foundation.  Once he gets the students where he wants them in terms of technical ability, then he is comfortable moving on to echoing, starting with just rhythms then eventually multiple notes, but this takes a while.  With his second and third year band students he is more comfortable with exploring aural skills, like having the jazz band vocalizing rhythms mostly and incorporating different articulations.  Very few of his students feel comfortable singing anything while vocalizing rhythms, but with encouragement from teachers and peers they being experimenting with their singing voices and trying to have fun with what they are singing.  He tries to do a lot of “air playing” where he has them listen to him play a piece (either himself or a recording) and watches them finger along with rhythms so that they can hear what it is supposed to sound like before they play.

He does not have a lot of opportunity to work on aural skills with his very beginner students, and doesn’t introduce how rhythms feel before he puts them with notation.  Any echoing and instruction comes when they are looking at what they are playing.  He teaches them how to visualize, count, and play what is on the page right away, and does not explore feeling things until students have been playing for a while.  He used to focus more on “musical moments before teaching at his current school, and enjoyed it, but at this school he is more limited in what they can do and wants to focus more on getting down the mechanics of the instrument.  He tries to gradually incorporate listening and feeling (toe tapping) when he can to teach his students about internal and external beats.  My mentor teacher sees the value in teaching aural skills, but his teaching style does not reflect that because he is still trying to figure out a way to incorporate that and not fall behind his requirements for each class.

Your voice: Summarize what you think you know at this point about the topic, based on your observations and the different voices. When you are the teacher in the classroom, what will you do, and why will you do it that way? (It’s ok to choose to do something different than your mentor teachers or the course instructors, if you can explain your reasoning.)

I think that aural skills are very important to learn because of the benefits that they offer for musicians, especially beginners.  Teaching students how to listen, I think, prepares them more for when they are reading.  Since I have been working on training my ears, I have found that my sight reading skills are much improved, because now I can hear what something is supposed to sound like before I play it.  I also feel more comfortable with playing “musically” because I practice singing what I am trying to play, because it is really hard to sing something boring, and that transfers to playing.  From my internship, I can see that these things have helped my students, and because of all of these reasons, I have changed my opinion of teaching aural skills and playing by ear.  Before I got to ASU I did not give any thought to the value of learning these skills because they were never taught to me, and I was always resistant to singing because I am an instrumentalist, and I did not think that I had any reason to learn.  I was always afraid of trying to learn how to play by ear because I am a perfectionist and I do not like making any mistakes, especially when it comes to playing, so I always relied on what was concrete: the music in front of me.  I now play simple songs by ear and memory at least once a week and I have seen a lot of improvement in the way that I perform.

I am surprised that my mentor teacher doesn’t try to incorporate his ideas more into the classroom because I think that some of the things that he has talked with me about could actually help his students learn more quickly, and I think they would enjoy it more.  I think that once I am a teacher I would like to try incorporating aural skills right away, alongside literacy.  I think that it is important to work on these skills at the same time because I think that if just one is worked on, that students will begin to fall on one skill and rely on it to get them through the other.  I think that these skills should complement each other, so I think that I would use them mostly when sight reading like we have been in class.  I felt comfortable with organizing a lesson plan that started with aural skills, and when I applied some of that to students in my internship, they really caught on and felt more accomplished when they were able to successfully play something they might have been struggling with.  There are a lot of students that ask if we can sing through a piece before they play it because they like the way that they can get an idea of what it is supposed to sound like, and because it helps them with anything they might have been struggling with.