Sunday, December 23, 2012

Active Listening

Today's post is more of a questionnaire than an opinion piece.

I want to include a structured listening component into the syllabus of the university jazz ensemble I direct.  In rehearsals I often play recordings of the pieces we are preparing, so that we can discuss musical details we notice, but have not yet mastered.  The students are also issued recordings of the pieces related to our current repertoire project.  Over and above listening to the music we are preparing, I want my students to listen to a broad variety of big band music --- both historic and modern, so that they learn the expected stylistic nuances which aren't always fully notated.  So here are my questions for fellow jazz educators:

  • Do you assign listening homework?
  • Do you play recordings during rehearsal time? If so, how frequently?
    • What discussions ensue?
  • How do you assess listening?
  • How do you determine that the assigned listening has been completed?

UConn Jazz Studies director, Earl MacDonald ironing out some musical details with his students.

Some years I have assigned written reports (or blogging) where I have asked students to address aspects of specific recordings.  Although I continue to do this with my arranging students, I would prefer to encourage personal instrumental practice, rather than writing for this class.

I'm leaning towards implementing monthly "drop the needle" listening tests.  What do you think?  How else might I be successful in encouraging my students to engage in active listening.

For those who might be interested, here is a list of noteworthy big band albums, posted on my web site.


  1. I did drop the needle tests, but I included ensemble players, like identifying Cat Anderson. I was sure to tailor my class listening to include ensembles.

  2. Have them create spotify or YouTube playlists with prompts like "most typical Freddie green moments". Or "highest Cat Andrson notes". Or "solos were Duke quotes Count Basie"


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