As busy parents and teachers we can sometimes forget that learning and loving music does not begin with playing an instrument. That playing music is not the first step in a musical education. We must remember that music is an audible art and thus music begins with listening.
Learning to Listen
The first step toward growing in a love of music is building an awareness of the tones, melodies, and harmonies found in the world around us. Nature is our first and best teacher here. If we take a moment to pause and listen to our surroundings we may be surprised at what nature brings to our ears. First we notice countless sounds and rhythms. Over time we begin to recognise the sounds of certain animals, plants, landscapes, and seasons. With recognition comes memory and connection - we begin building a relationship not only with our natural world but with the music of nature.
With young children, rambles in local parklands can turn into listening games. Rainstorms on the roof can create a sense of adventure. And playing with different sounds on a drum, tambourine, or piano to copy or express what is heard in nature is a fun musical game itself which allows children to respond to the natural music they are noticing.
Listening is not just for young children. Teens need to take moments to pause and listen as well. Teens, like adults, can allow worry and work to invade their thoughts. Taking nature walks and listening while they walk, or enjoying an afternoon picnic lying in the sun shadows listening, is a great way to unwind and to cultivate an ear for natural surround sound. To open their imagination to a new way of thinking about sound, and music.
Simple things like meals outside during different seasons and times of the day, reading outside instead of inside, taking study books and a picnic rug out under a tree are valuable additions to any day that allow us to pause and listen. To gain a small moment of refreshment and a simple opportunity to hear.
Consider a rainforest walk.
Do you recognise any of these sounds?
Listening to this music, can you imagine yourself on a rainforest ramble?
Enjoying sound in this fashion will eventually open the door to close listening of music pieces, a bit like enjoying good stories together as a family opens the door to close reading later on. And none of us are ever to old to begin our journey of learning to listen.
Have you ever been in the fields on a spring day, and heard nothing at all but your own voice and the voices of your companions, and then, perhaps, suddenly you have become silent, and you find a concert going on of which you had not heard a note? At first you hear the voices of the birds; then, by degrees, you perceive high voices, low voices, and middle voices, small notes and great notes, and you begin to wish you knew who sang each of the songs you can distinguish.
Then, as you listen more, you hear more. The chirp of the grasshoppers becomes so noisy that you wonder you can hear yourself speak for it; then the bees have it all to themselves in your hearing; then you hear the hum or the trumpet of smaller insects, and perhaps the tinkle and gurlgle of a stream. The quiet place is full of many sounds, and you ask yourself how could have been there without hearing them.
page 30, Ourselves, by Charlotte Mason