Whether you are staying at home or going away over the summer, here are some ideas for musical activities to help develop your listening skills. These activities can be done alone or with family or friends and are suitable for all ages and abilities. 
 
Listening is a key skill in music but is also important in a wider context - listening to a friend who wants to talk, listening to instructions from a teacher, listening to the sounds around us. Sometimes we just listen with no response, sometimes a response is automatic or is needed. 
 
Listening is also used in Mindfulness, a popular therapeutic practice derived from elements of Buddhism. Mindfulness can be used to reduce depression, stress and anxiety. Listening activities can help to relax you and bring about a sense of calm. 
 
 
Image: Jackson Simmer, Unsplash 
Listening to music means different things to different people. Some listen to music while doing other activities, others like to just listen, others mix both approaches. Music can console us or make us happy. 
 
Listening can be a good starting point for many musical activities, so learning how to actively listen is important. Active listening is about focusing on what is being said or on background sounds. 

Really Listening 

For this activity, listen to the sounds around you. Start with just 30 - 60 seconds of listening. 
 
You might hear sounds you hear regularly but do not usually really notice - the background sounds of the home, the hum of traffic, a bird singing. Write down or discuss what you can hear. 

Just Listen 

Alternatively listen to a piece of music – sit, stand or lie in a comfortable position and just listen. This could be a piece you know well, or something new. 
 
As you listen think about the melody, the speed, what instruments are playing, does the mood stay consistent throughout or does it change? 
 
Here is our playlist of pieces to just listen to MWC's Just Listen Playlist. If you are with others, choose a piece together and listen at the same time. Discuss what the music makes you think of and how it makes you feel. If you are on your own, why not arrange a listening party with friends online? If you want some ideas of music to lift your mood - visit our Get Happy blog
Image: Ilias Chebbi, Unsplash 

Musical Language 

Listening can be developed by thinking about musical language and applying it to what you heard. 
 
This could include: 
Dynamics (loud, quiet, suddenly loud, gradually quiet) 
High pitch, low pitch or changing pitch 
Long sounds, short sounds or a combination 
Repeated rhythm or melody - ostinato 

Imitating / Copying 

You could then imitate the sounds you heard - this could be using your voices, using body percussion or using musical instruments. 
 
These sounds could be used as the basis of a composition - identifying repeated sounds and intermittent sounds. The sounds could be adapted to link together, or be exaggerated - louder and quieter, longer and shorter. The piece could be narrated, linking the sounds together, or an accompaniment to a play - creating a soundtrack. 
Image: Brett Jordan, Unsplash 

Listen and Create 

Music can be a great stimulus for creativity. Again choose a piece of music - something you know or something new - and use it to kick start your creativity. 
 
You could ‘draw what you hear’ and let the music guide you - start with the pencil on the paper and let the music guide you - smooth wavy lines or zigzags? Slow strokes of the pencil or frantic scribbling? 
 
Or you could use the theme of the music to inspire your image - explore our Listening and Imagining playlist MWC's Listening & Imagining Playlist or our Fireworks Playlist for ideas. 

Replicating Visually 

You could then record the sounds you hear or your composition by creating a graphic score - representing the sounds using shapes and colours. 
 
What colour would bird song be? Would it be different for different birds? 
What shape would vehicle engine sounds be? Would it be different for different types of vehicles? 
Image: Dragos Gontariu, Unsplash 

Join In! 

One of our favourite activities - body percussion. Join in with the music by clapping, tapping your foot or nodding your head. Our Clap along playlist and Spoons playlist both have lots of ideas of tracks to start you off. 

Movement 

Use the music to inspire you to move. This could be swaying in your chair, moving about the room waving your arms (space permitting!) or walking outdoors. Whatever your environment, explore our Nature playlist to enhance what you see or help you imagine the great outdoors. 

Developing Your Listening 

Perhaps one of the most famous music compositions that really encourages us to listen is John Cage's 4'33'' (Four minutes and 33 seconds). This piece is in three movements and each is marked "tacet" - be silent / do not play. The aim is for the audience to just listen to the sounds around them without the performers playing a note. One performance of this piece is below. John Cage’s interest in Zen Buddhism heavily influenced his work and this is certainly true of 4'33''. If you can find a quiet place or a place in nature - perhaps a park, wood, river, stream or meadow - to listen to the piece, you might be able to bring about a meditative feeling just from listening. 
Here are some playlists to give you ideas of pieces to listen to: 
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