Updated: Jul 15
As a parent to an 8-year-old and a 5-year old, I'm constantly finding ways to include activities at home that keep them engaged in crafts and music. Over the years, I have found the best way to introduce new music and a listening activity to children, is to include a craft activity as well, especially when it is a classical or instrumental music (not pop).
If you're a teacher like me, this is the most wonderful time of the year to be doing Christmas crafts and teaching music to young children. Most children are excited to learn and play Christmas pieces, even if it's something that they've learnt before. Perhaps, they are now tackling a more challenging arrangement or performing a duet/ensemble piece. However, most children are not familiar with Winter/Christmas themed instrumental music from other cultures or even history.
Christmas Music Listening Activity
This year, I planned a Christmas-themed music listening activity during lesson for all students. If you haven't checked out Jennifer Boster's, Shades of Sounds - Coloring Book for Pianists" , I highly recommend it! It comes with a great selection of suggested listening repertoires and a short music history reading (piano and orchestral), as well as coloring sheets to enjoy while you listen.
I have been searching for a resource like this for a few years as I come to realize students do need our help in finding classical works to listen to. I enjoy coloring in the book and listening to these music myself. Some listening activities can be as short as 1-minute, which are perfect for elementary students during lessons. Some can be longer (15 minutes), which will be more suitable for intermediate/advanced students or assigned as homework.
I will usually pick one piece from her books, and find the video on Youtube to listen and watch. The author has curated the playlist and created QR codes for easy access to all the music in the books, which is awesome! Such a great way to incorporate a little music history into the lesson as well.
This Christmas season, I have chosen the piece, "Sleigh Bells in the Snow" by William Gillock (1913-1993) for students to explore. Just two-minutes in length, it is a great piece for teaching students to listen for how the composer represented sleigh ride movement and bells through the articulation of the sounds (staccatos, accents, scale passages, hand balancing, roles of each hand, etc..).
Depending on the child's age and level of understanding, I typically structure the discussion ahead of time to suit the lesson. I believe in the importance of helping the child develop confidence in speaking their thoughts and observations (i.e. viva voce).
It is very helpful to tell the student what to listen for before they watch the video. After listening, they always have to tell me whether they like the music or not, and then I will ask the details of their choice. For intermediate/advanced students, I will encourage them to listen to the structure, identify repeating elements, harmonic and texture changes, all by ear.
Remember, there are no right or wrong answers as the goal is to get them to focus on actively listening to parts, and as a whole. It is of utmost importance to give the child room to express, validate their opinions and guide them in reaching a confident answer if necessary. After all, music is a fine form of art!
DIY Craft Ornament
I had wanted to include a part of our listening activity into this craft and these DIY snowflake wooden ornaments I found at Michaels were perfect. There were ten snowflakes in one pack for $3.99, and so it is only $0.40 for each snowflake.
One Sunday morning, my own children had painted snowflake ornaments with sparkly-white acrylic paint while they listened to this music. They enjoyed sprinkling colorful craft glitter on the painted ornament while it was still wet. I had shrunken a picture of this sheet music, which I found on the Internet, and printed it mini-size to have it "stuck" to the snowflake. Then, I sprayed a clear coat of sealant over the ornaments, and waited for it to dry prior to attaching the mini sheet music.
I hang 20 of these on my Christmas tree so that each student can go to the tree to pick out their snowflake ornament after the listening lesson activity.
Summary & Learnings
When we open our minds to listen to new music, we add more to our "library" of sounds. It doesn't mean we have to like the music. Although, if we don't try ... we are not giving ourselves a chance or others to experience it.
In a world where pop/rock/country genres of music is dominant in today's youth, our goal as classical music educators is to continue to instill a curious exploration for the sounds that are typically not heard in everyday public places and events. We can teach anyone to excel at reading music notation and where to press to play, but we also have a responsibility as educators to inspire growth, understand where music came from, and create.
By incorporating listening activities into our lessons, we are encouraging the young to be attentive to what they like or not like about a particular piece of music. Now that I think about it, including an improvisation activity would have been fun to get students to try and create their own version of sleigh bells in the snow. Perhaps, a thought for next time!
Wishing you a wonderful Christmas time with family and friends!