Understanding is the key to learning; this is an axiom that many pedagogical and academic researchers across many disciplines believe in. When it comes to musical education, listening comes before understanding, and this is reflected in some of the world’s finest musicians.
The legendary American drummer Bernard Purdie has often talked about his experiences as a child in Maryland, where he would often pay very close attention to the sounds of woodpeckers, cars, trains, and construction crews. Beethoven was an avid and obsessive listener until the day he lost his hearing. Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons of the Chemical Brothers spend months listening to all kinds of recordings before they start thinking about their next project. Guitar master Bonnie Raitt actively listens to the blues catalog compiled by Alan Lomax.
Musicians are not the only ones practicing the art of detailed listening; professionals in the following disciplines also engage in this practice:
- Sound engineering
- Performing arts
- Film direction
- Music production
The Yale Center for Teaching and Learning defines active listening as the art of making sharp observations with our ears. When we listen to something that we find really interesting, our minds switch into a critical and analytical mode so that we can approach the level of understanding. If you are someone who enjoys listening to podcasts, you are likely more attuned to the process of active listening.
By virtue of human development, children are naturally active listeners. You probably remember the hypnotic-like state that your children went into when reading to them; this fascination is a clear sign of active listening, and it is in the best interest of both parents and children to continue fostering this intellectual endeavor. When children are very young, they should listen to their parents reading aloud; once they continue growing and developing, it is a good idea to expose them to a diversity of voices and literature. If you have homeschooling students in your family, a good way to stimulate more active listening is with audiobooks.
Introducing audiobooks to the homeschooling curriculum of your children will have the following benefits:
- Teaching children about diction and cadence. With the right narrator and reading voice, an audiobook can feel like a musical composition-
- Providing entertainment value. We know that children appreciate a bit of familiar theater when we read allowed. The cackling laugh of an evil but clumsy witch, for example, is something that audiobook producers will likely add to fairy tale readings.
- Stimulating love for language. Similar to poetry, an audiobook with high production values is an exercise in beautifying language. When something sounds good, we develop an intellectual relationship, and your children will likely come to appreciate phrasing, timing, and vocabulary when they listen to their favorite audiobooks.
- Encouraging concentration. Audiobooks for children are filled with verbal cues designed to make listeners pay greater attention to certain segments. Some audiobooks actually deliver an entire lesson plan complete with reading comprehension questions.
At Prodigies Music, our educators are fully supportive of stimulating active listening through audiobooks. If you would like your homeschooling students to develop active listening as a lifelong habit, here are some suggestions on the resources you can add to their curriculum:
Jazz Fly – Matthew Gollub
This is a personal favorite among some Prodigies Music staff members for various reasons, and the foremost is because the author is an accomplished drummer who simply loves jazz, one of the most delightful, dynamic, and 100% American musical genres. Gollub is more than just a musician, he is a dedicated music fan who believes children have a right to fall in love with music, and he narrates his own audiobooks with an inflectional tone that is reminiscent of the essence of jazz. It is not surprising to learn that Jazz Fly, the main character of his book series for series, is a drummer, and he always gets into funny adventures featuring whimsical characters who deliver their lines in rhythmic patterns. In the first Jazz Fly book, the drummer gets lost on his way to a gig. The second and third books are more complex because members of the Jazz Fly combo travel to Latin America and the Caribbean to play concerts; they invariably get humorously lost, but they are helped by friendly locals who speak Spanish and French. The Latin and Afro-Caribbean jazz beats that play on this series are irresistible for children who are into keyboards and percussion instruments.
Peter and the Wolf by Serguéi Serguéievich Prokófiev
This is not an audiobook per se; it is a classic fairy tale that happens to have been turned into a masterful orchestration. You can easily find various versions of Peter and the Wolf on YouTube and other streaming video-sharing platforms; be sure to read the notes so that you play the version with the ending that is more suitable to younger children. If you can find the version narrated by none other than rock legend David Bowie in 1978, you will get a bonus reading of The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra by Benjamin Britten, also narrated by the late Bowie. These two works are unique in the sense that the characters in both stories are played by different instruments, thus adding a nice supporting element to children whose homeschooling curriculum centers on music.
LibriVox for Children
This neat online audiobook project is managed on a volunteer basis, and it features quite a few works recorded specifically for children. This is a free platform that you will come to love because you have a choice of downloading the audiobooks so that you can build a library for your students. Here are some titles to get you started, but you should really visit the website and browse the ever-growing collection:
- A Little Bush Maid – Mary Grant Bruce: Excellent for girls who would like to learn about what life was like for their counterparts in Australia about a century ago.
- Mighty Animals – Jennie Irene Mix: This book is basically a simple paleontology lesson that tells a clear timeline of how mammals came to rule the Earth long after the dinosaurs became extinct. The chapters are narrated in a linear fashion that is very easy to understand and makes perfect sense.
- The Enchanted Castle – Edith Nesbit: This classic novel was written in a way that makes it highly ideal for narration, and the length of each chapter is adequate for a single lesson. There are quite a few audiobook versions of this fantastic novel, but the LibriVox narration by Peter Eastman is probably one of the best.
- Story of Mankind – Hendrik Van Loon: The John Newbery Medal has been awarded for excellence in children’s literature since 1922, and The Story of Mankind was the first book to receive this honor. Each chapter is short and sweet; the longest is on the English Revolution, and it only lasts 33 minutes. The LibriVox version of this classic is narrated by two enchanting female voices, and the prose covers a period of history that starts with prehistoric humans and ends with the Age of Science. This entire audiobook could be a history curriculum of its own because it explains everything from the development of tools to hunting and from farming to religion to political upheavals.
Black Swan Green – David Mitchell
This roman a clef by an award-winning British novelist is not for children; it is for young adults, particularly for mature teenagers who appreciate homeschooling and are preparing to face the strange world of adults. There are a couple of audiobook versions of Black Swan Green; the one narrated by Kirby Heyborne is highly recommended, and it is more effective if you introduce the first couple of chapters as a lesson and encourage your student to listen to the rest on his or her own because the book becomes personal and intimate. The narrative of this novel focuses on the life of a British boy coming of age in the 1980s, a time when the United Kingdom was ruled by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the shadow of the Falklands War. Music is also discussed in this book; it is mostly New Wave rock by the likes of Duran Duran.