How Can A Musical Score Be Used As A Listening Map?

2011Symposium_1_2Many of us use listening maps to guide our students through musical works. When you think about it, listening maps are really music scores for non-music readers. They typically represent the main themes and sections of a piece with pictures or graphics. It is also possible to use an actual music score as a listening map. This has the advantage of familiarizing students with and giving them the opportunity to practice with an actual score. Today, I used a five-staff vocal score for this purpose. It had two voice parts, an instrument staff, and a grand staff for the piano part. After listening to the piece with score in hand, I asked students about what they heard. For example, I asked them if the two voice parts were singing in unison, or singing parts that were different. Several student responded that they were singing two parts that were the same. Then I directed their attention to the score. I had them look at the notes for each voice part, and asked them if the notes were the same or different. Same different is always a good place to start—it is the simplest form of comparative learning. Several said both parts were the same. In fact, only the rhythm was the same, not the pitches. I pointed out that the notes look the same because they are the same rhythm and line up perfectly, but that they should look carefully at where the note heads were placed on the staff. Were the pitches the same? After looking more closely, they discovered that the pitches were different. I then pointed out that this time when they listen to the song, they would hear that the parts were different because they were now aware of that difference. Although they would have had difficulty reading the music, they were able to discover differences by looking at the notation.

I then asked them where they thought the bass part was on the piano part. They couldn’t tell me at first, somusic and the brain asked them what kind of notes a bass plays, high or low. They knew a bass plays low notes, so then I asked them where they would expect of find low notes, toward the top or toward the bottom of the music? They knew it must be at the bottom. At that point they were able to locate the bass part. What about the guitar part? Does the guitar play lower or higher than the bass? Where would it be in the piano part? I then played them the two figures that were in the two voices of the treble staff of the piano part. I asked them which one sounded more like a guitar part. We couldn’t come to an agreement, so I played the song again, until they could decide which rhythm the guitar was playing. Now that they were aware of the guitar playing that rhythm, they could track the part, which they hadn’t noticed before.

What I was really doing with the score was using it like a listening map. I was using traditional music notation as a visual guide to what the students were hearing, and in the process of finding the various parts in the score, they became more aware of them, more tuned in to what these parts were and how they added up to the overall sound of the piece. I also got the students using a score, which for most of them can be intimidating, because they are not good music readers. By asking them about instrument parts, it got their attention off the lyrics, and onto musical symbols. The important thing about this was that they were able to connect what they heard to what they saw, if only at times in a general way. Next time I hand out this same score, they will be a little more comfortable with the idea of reading a score, and I will be able to hone in on more specific aspects of music reading.

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