Listening Guide for Class Discussions

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Guided Listening

Jim Matthews


Students must be taught how to listen to music.  If not, then they might simply say “That sounds good.” Or, “I like/don’t like that.” The deeper we want them to understand exactly what to listen to for meaning and understanding, the deeper the questioning must be.  It is the same for all of us.  Let us help them discover music!  Below is a palette of several questions – choose a couple that best apply to the music you are going to feature as a guided listening session – nothing else going on – everyone concentrating on listening only. Begin with a short piece in order to get them acclimated to this process. Consider scheduling a list of pieces in your calendar so you get to music from Renaissance through present day music. Expose them to as many styles of music as possible.  If you don’t purposefully plan for listening, you will allow this very important activity to be pushed aside.  Print this guide out and tape it to the podium and interject questions during listening and rehearsing. Happy listening!




  • What does the music make you feel like?
  • What movie is going on in your head as you listen?
  • What mood does this piece create?
  • How do you think music changes, or manipulates your feelings and thoughts?


What are you hearing?


  • What type of ensemble do you hear playing?
  • What are some unique instruments you are hearing?
  • Do you hear conflict and resolution?
  • What is another way of describing conflict and resolution in music?
  • Can you hear blending within sections, or between instruments?
  • What would it sound like if they didn’t blend?


Compositional Content


  • Is there a conversation going on between two different families/sections/instruments?
  • What style is this piece in?
  • What time signature/s is this piece in? Is it single meter or multiple meters?
  • Can you tell what form the composer is using for this piece?
  • What rhythmic figure is being employed predominantly in this piece?
  • Can you tell where the melodic phrase begins and where it ends? Show by raising your hand when you hear it start and when you hear it end.
  • What is unique/noticeable as they pass the conversation back and forth?
  • What time period do you think this piece was written during?
  • How does the accompaniment serve to support the melodic and moving lines?
  • How does the composer change color for the melody in this piece?
  • What styles of articulation do the performers have to know in order to perform this piece?
  • Are they employing stagger breathing anywhere?
  • How are accents employed to bring out certain rhythmic, or melodic passages in this piece?
  • How do the performers employ dynamics to keep the music flowing and the listener engaged?
  • What ranges of the instruments are being employed?
  • How many key changes do you hear in this selection? Can you guess the keys?
  • What tempo markings, or what tempo indicators do you think are on the music to help the performers and the conductor know how fast to take the piece?
  • How does the counter-melody add to the overall feeling of the piece?




  • What nuances are being used mostly in this piece?
  • How did the conductor add nuances at cadence points?
  • How did the conductor interpret transitional points?
  • What type of exercises can we do in class to simulate/practice those types of nuances?
  • Is this piece on line where I could go home and listen to it myself and maybe even find a different interpretation of it?
  • What might you do differently to create your own interpretation of this section?
  • What do you think the composer was trying to portray during this particular section?
  • How did the composer change the melodic line, or the harmonic structure in order to change the mood/feeling of the piece during this section?


Applications to Your Own Playing


  • What type of exercises could we do as a class/group in order to be able to play those styles of articulations?
  • What do you think the performers of your instrument in this recording are doing to make their instruments sound like that? (could be use of air, equipment, reed strength, relaxed embouchure, open oral cavity etc.)
  • What type of communication must the performers have with their sections in order to sound like that?
  • What type of communication must the performers and conductor have to have in order to interpret and execute the music to this level?
  • What responsibilities do the musicians have to employ in order to make this music?
  • What other music have I/we heard that sound like this piece?


Deeper Thinking


  • Can you guess who the composer/performer is?
  • How do I know what tempo to take if there are no metronome markings?
  • What country do you think this piece came from?
  • Is this piece musical? What makes it musical?
  • Can you guess what is not consistent with the intonation in this section?
  • What instruments are playing out of tune?
  • Are they sharp, or flat?
  • Is this piece something that we might consider performing and why?
  • What would/could we/you learn from rehearsing/performing this selection?
  • What setting could we perform this selection for?
  • What could we teach the audience about before we perform this selection? What should they listen for?
  • How does active listening differ from passive listening?
  • What skills can you learn from active listening?
  • What can you learn about people/music and feelings from discussions after active listening?

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Jim Matthews

About Jim Matthews

Jim Matthews is a veteran band director of 30 years at Jackson Middle School in Titusville, FL. He received his Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree from Florida State University. His bands continuously received superior ratings at band festivals. The bands have received the Florida Bandmaster’s Association Five, Ten, Fifteen, Twenty and Twenty-five Year Superior Awards for continuous Superior ratings. He is presently the Brevard County Music Instructional Coach for all secondary band directors. Jim co-founded the FLBandWorkshop for band directors held each summer in Titusville. It is a hands-on, in-depth workshop. For more information see FLBandWorkshop on FaceBook. He is a member of Florida Bandmaster’s Association, Music Educator’s National Conference and Phi Beta Mu – an International Honorary Band Director’s Fraternity. He is also a National Board Certified Teacher in music. For more information, see the About section.


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