by Jennene Estes, Catoctin School of Music
Almost all of my most successful motivational ideas are borrowed, stolen, or are a modified version of another teacher’s idea. “Listen Like a Maniac” is no exception.
Michelle Horner and her daughter were practicing daily. Together, they were carefully following the advice of her daughter’s violin teacher. But even though Michelle is an accomplished guitar teacher, her daughter’s progress on the violin was slow and fraught with extended plateaus.
In an effort to expedite the learning process, Michelle tried an idea. She made “Super CDs” that contained her daughter’s current piece, the next piece, and the piece after that. Each song was copied onto the CD 10 times. After about 2 weeks of listening to the Super CDs on a daily basis, Michelle’s daughter began to progress through her repertoire sequence at a steady pace. As she continued to progress, the music seemed easier to learn and her enthusiasm for lessons returned.
As a Suzuki Guitar teacher, this idea makes complete sense to me. Adequate aural exposure to the repertoire is often the missing link to substantive weekly progress. I have a few brave students (and even braver parents) who have agreed to give “Listen Like a Maniac” a shot. With portable MP3 players and playlists, creating a collection of repeated repertoire to play in the car, at breakfast, or during Lego time, is easier than ever, but it takes dedication and encouragement on the part of the parent as well as the student to do this type of listening on a daily basis.
For each of these brave students, the results begin to speak for themselves in about two weeks. Student progress through the repertoire becomes consistent, and they are able to process and absorb their music more quickly and thoroughly. The simple explanation is that they know what the piece is supposed to sound like. The piece moves beyond being an exercise in mechanics and following directions, to becoming second nature.
Sure, this works great for students working in a Suzuki paradigm, but my experience is that listening is just as critical for my non-Suzuki students. Each year in my studio I meet a handful of aspiring guitar players who come to me for coaching as they prepare for their college auditions. I am mildly shocked (although, no longer surprised) when I meet these “more experienced” students who don’t listen to the music they are spending hours and hours trying to master.
They play for me and as I read over their shoulder I can hear that they are often missing the musical point of phrases, articulations, and entire sections – if not the entire piece. Aspects of the score that are musically apparent are completely lost on them. Some follow the directions explicitly and the notes are right, the rhythms are spot-on, and the fingerings are correct, but describing the subtleties of phrasing, timbre, and nuance to a student with no reference is like describing the color Blue. Music is a language and an aural art, and they don’t know what this language is supposed to sound like. This presupposes any discussion about what they want the piece to sound like. How can they craft an interpretation if they don’t know what tools are available to them?
“Listen Like a Maniac” reminds me (AGAIN) how important a heavy dose of listening is for students of all ages and skill levels. Whether they are listening deeply or listening casually, Listen Like a Maniac is about listening daily and in good quantity. Consistent listening produces tangible results in achievement, understanding, and motivation. With some support from parents at home, I find that good listening habits make my job a lot easier and more fun. And most importantly, good listening habits make the learning process more enjoyable and rewarding for my students.