Listening to music is such an easy thing to do isn’t it?  Music has never been more readily available, with iTunes, Spotify and YouTube offering any style, genre, composer and artist direct to your preferred device.  And what’s more, it’s free.  But with so much choice, has it become too easy, to the point that we stick with what we know and hit the “recent tracks” button to save time?  With life being so busy and noisy, do we sometimes just want to switch off and not listen to anything at all?

Listening in the classroom

I’ve always encouraged students to widen their listening experience.  Among other reasons, the more we listen to, the more ideas and inspiration we can accumulate for composing.  Possibilities are opened up and self-imposed restrictions lifted.  Those who actively seek out new pieces and songs to listen to tend to have more ideas and engagement with the composing process.  In one of my GCSE music composition classes I asked students to keep a listening diary and they became far more engaged in seeking out their own pieces of inspiration and consequently trying out different ideas in their music.  However, as far as exam set works are concerned, students can sometimes become disengaged with listening due to the knowledge and level of detail required, and how much time we spend going over all the material.  Have we taken the fun out of listening?  Do we still encourage listening for the pure joy of it?  These ponderings got me thinking further – are we limiting what we listen to and missing out on some great music?  And if so, how can we widen our listening experience and bring more great music into our lives?

I’m a big fan of Spotify but I’m guilty of returning to the same few playlists and sticking with what I know and feel comfortable with.  And I’m sure I’m not alone!  We’re creatures of habit and time is precious – why spend time scrolling through 10 songs and pieces when we could pick something we know we’ll like first time?

Composer of the week

One of the most enjoyable resources I created for the Teachers’ Area is the ‘Composer of the week’ pack.  I selected 20 diverse composers to research and then had the ‘tough’ job of listening to their music and choosing 6 for inclusion in the pack.  I must have listened to close to 200 pieces.  These were either pieces I knew but had forgotten about; works I was vaguely familiar with and was glad to revisit, and then, perhaps most excitingly, some completely new discoveries (Concerto for 8 doubles basses by Elena Kats-Chernin – who knew?!)

The #7dayslistening challenge

I wanted to get more people engaged with listening to music in a fun and accessible way.  How would I do this?  I decided to harness the power of social media and launch a listening challenge on Twitter as part of the I can compose first birthday celebrations and #7dayslistening was born!  You’ve probably seen the 7-day book challenge (where you post a picture of one of your favourite books for 7 days, without any comments) and the 7 day black and white photo challenge doing the rounds.  The 7 day listening challenge follows the same kind of pattern: people doing the challenge posted one piece of music they were listening to that day (usually with Youtube link) and then challenged someone else.

How did it go?

It was really fun to find out what people were listening to and to get some ideas for new pieces to look up and listen to.  There were some positive comments including: “It was great to share what I was listening to without being judged” (remember it was ”no words, just music”) and “Thanks to the #7dayslistening challenge I found some pieces I’d never come across before.” Result!  I certainly discovered a few new pieces/arrangements including The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain’s Russian-style reworking of George Formby’s “Leaning on a lamp post”…(brilliant!) and 49th Parallel by Vaughan Williams and got plenty of ideas for our Inspiration Page and Composer of the Week – Pack 2.

But it’s not just about what I got out of it.  Going back to the original purpose of the challenge – to get people engaged in listening to music –  I wanted to know  how far the challenge had reached in the couple of weeks that the challenge ran for.  Well, according to Twitter, #7dayslistening had 92 users and a total reach of 20,244 – not bad!

What’s next?

After discovering some great new music, I decided to personally continue the challenge and listen to one new piece each day – that’s 365 new pieces a year.  Why not challenge yourself and/or your students?  Or if you discover a new piece and want to shout about it, let us know on Twitter using the hashtag #listeningdiscovery.  We’ll be updating the inspiration page over the next few months and you never know – your discovery might be featured!

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