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!