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Teach Active Listening with These Performance Thermometers

You know the problem.

You carefully carve out a time for performance class for your students.

You give them a great pep talk about bowing, taking time to relax before they play, and especially paying attention while their classmates are playing.

Student #1 gets up to play and all goes fairly well.

But by the time student #3 is playing, the rest of the students are getting fidgety. Avery is playing with a pencil. Piper is staring out the window. Latecia is trying to get Beck to laugh.

Your Students are Bored with Piano Performance Class!

But let’s not blame them. What have they really been told to do? Listen? Isn’t that one of the most difficult thing any child has to do?

  • Listening is pretty abstract and kids like things that are concrete.
  • Listening is completely relative. How do you know if you’ve really “listened” to a piece of music anyway
  • Listening is auditory. You can’t see what you are listening to. You can’t touch what you are listening to. Once again, it’s not very concrete or immediate.
  • Listening is passive. We as teachers know the difference between active and passive listening, but listening to music is all pretty passive to a child. On the other hand, the kid sitting next to your Beck is interactive…now that’s going to be much more interesting to Beck!

How do we engage students in a more active form of listening?

thermometer for performance classI’ve tried a number of forms to help my students during performance class. I still use these periodically and you are welcome to as well. There’s the elementary and intermediate Performance Class Worksheet or you can even try the “shortened version,” all of which can be found on the Ear Training Teacher Resources Page. thermometer for performance class But lately, especially for young students, I’ve found this Performance Thermometer Worksheet to be fun! It’s a set of 4 thermometers and you can write in any specific skill you want your students to listen for. Then, during the performance, the students will color in the thermometers to display how well they think the performer did. If you laminate these, you can ask them to erase their markings and change the things they listen for easily.

What listening categories should I use?

Here are just a few of the many possibilities:

  • Tempo
  • Dynamics
  • Artistry
  • Memory
  • Artistry
  • Bowing
  • Poise (taking a few moments to think through the piece first. Continuing if a mistake is made, etc.)
  • Pedaling
  • Articulation

By using this worksheet, you are making the abstract art of listening into something much more specific and measurable. Of course you want to remind students that they need to be kind and honest when evaluating other students, because they will be the same toward you.

I’d like to try to teach active listening. Any more tips?

It is sometimes helpful if students have an additional copy of the music in front of them so that they can see the details in the music. Other times, it is helpful to not have the score so that they can listen better (such as when listening for clear or muddy pedaling).

Want some holiday charts?

Scroll up and click on the big green button so that you can get a Thanksgiving and Christmas chart as well as more ideas on how to hold a successful and fun performance class! I hope this is helpful to you! Leave a comment and let me know what you use in your own performance classes!


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  1. Barbara October 20, 2014 at 6:41 am

    What a great idea, Wendy. I love the thermometers and the kids will love coloring them and getting to “do” something during the performance. Here’s my tip for listening: I will give the listeners a copy of the music being played and ask the performer to stop somewhere during the piece (usually the performers choice of where) and then ask the listeners to point to where we are on the score. It’s very interesting to see all the different places the fingers end up! As always, thanks for sharing all your fabulous ideas!

  2. Joy Morin October 22, 2014 at 10:53 am

    I love this sheet, Wendy! Thanks!

  3. Karen October 22, 2014 at 11:52 am

    Your description of the typical class was spot on! Looking forward to using these next week. Thank you Wendy!

  4. Glenda Alley October 22, 2014 at 1:11 pm

    So how do I get the free printable of the thermometer?

  5. Wendy Stevens October 22, 2014 at 2:11 pm

    Hi Glenda,

    Just click on the little picture or on the text that says “Performance Class Thermometer.”

  6. Drema October 30, 2014 at 1:42 pm

    Love the thermometers, Wendy!

  7. Drema October 30, 2014 at 1:47 pm

    Wendy, where’s the big blue button?

  8. Wendy Stevens October 30, 2014 at 8:22 pm

    Hi Drema,

    It’s right underneath the little story I tell at the top. Right before the big letters. The long blue box that says: DOWNLOAD EVEN MORE HOLIDAY PERFORMANCE WORKSHEETS HERE! Do you see it? Let me know if you don’t. (Sorry for the all caps…I just cut and pasted.)

  9. Tammy November 12, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    Thanks for the fun holiday listening sheets, Wendy!! I love to use these as focus tools for younger kids when listening. They really act as a springboard for thoughtful comments and productive sharing after the listening.

  10. Leigh Stringfield November 14, 2014 at 3:57 pm

    I used Wendy’s Performance thermometers in my last Group Lesson and the students loved it! They were so excited to be able to “judge” each other and were very complimentary in their critiques.

  11. amber chiang June 15, 2018 at 6:47 pm

    VERY CUTE! Please explain, each student gets one card, evaluates the performer, then you discuss it; then, they redo for next performer? Thanks!

  12. Wendy Stevens June 20, 2018 at 8:27 am

    I usually laminate the chart and then have all the students evaluate the student that is playing. At the end, I ask, “What did you guys think about dynamics?” Then we discuss that briefly and go through the other subjects. It doesn’t take very long but gives each student an idea of what they need to work on. I hope that helps!

  13. Heidi Lueck December 14, 2018 at 10:09 am

    Wendy, the links are no longer working. I know this post is 6 months old. Can you please refresh the links? Thanks much!

  14. Heidi Lueck December 14, 2018 at 10:11 am

    Wendy, the link appears to be broken. I know this post is six months old. Could you please refresh the link?

  15. Wendy Stevens December 14, 2018 at 11:09 am

    Hi Heidi,

    Thanks for alerting me so I can check! The buttons and the images appear to be working just fine for me. When the box pops up, you’ll need to type in your first name, your email and then click the button under that is under your email that says “Click here. Then check your email.” Then after you click that button, you’ll go to a thank you page. After that, allow 0-5 minutes for your email to come with your resource in it.

    If that still doesn’t work for you, please let me know. Send me an email (or leave another comment) with:
    1. Your email that you entered so I can check to see if it went through
    2. The browser you are using (firefox, chrome, internet explorer, safari, etc.)
    3. Also, be sure to add wendy@composecreate.com to your email contacts in your email program to make sure it gets to you.

    And I’ll check on it for you!

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