Hear, Listen ,Play: How to free your students aural improvisation, and performance skills by Lucy Green,Oxford.
Hear Listen Play is an accessible handbook for teachers who are positioned to introduce their music students to “ear-playing”.  It also expands on her research in informal music education, which grew out of her interests in how popular musicians learned music.

The Introduction

Lucy Green tackles the important questions first:“How could formal learning practices relate to informal music education?”  Green introduces the reader to her exciting and groundbreaking research into popular musicians’ learning habits and what they can do for students who are just starting out.  She describes informal learning by first breaking down formal learning. Formal is when the education is tied to a system, an institution, assessment mechanism, a specific body of literature, includes the Western classical music notation system and often involves a master or specialist.  Green reminds us that in every society there is a transmission of music that happens outside of a predetermined curriculum or sequence. It is rooted in aural tradition, learned in friendship or community groups, not practiced in an particular setting and involves both amateurs or masters.  At the same time, most professional musicians live in both worlds and speak the formal language yet play by ear and improvise with the same fluency. Hear, Listen, Play is the music teacher’s guide to introducing their students to “ear-playing” in the private lesson, the ensemble setting and the band or orchestra class. In this method students quickly gain confidence in this skill.   

The Body

Green separates her handbook into three Parts – (1) HeLP (Hear, Listen, Play) in Instrumental settings [ie private lessons or specialists group lessons with a singular instrument family or instrument] (2)HeLP in ensemble settings: Bands Orchestras and other groups and (3) HeLP in Classroom Settings.

Each Part includes an introduction with aims and outcomes for the students, followed by preliminary practicalities, basics steps, how students are likely to respond, teachers strategies or the role of the teachers and what were the overall views of participants.  There are only three stages: Student choice, teacher choice or classical and then deepened student choice again. The book offers teachers detailed examples of how to introduce each stage, suggestions on extensions or alternate approaches and even addresses how students may respond  to a specific directive or task. I can not see how a teacher would feel left in the dark. The handbook even reminds teachers that although they are not required to be experts on all the different instruments that are present in their music class, they should take time to practice the different riffs or hooks or melodies that they plan to share with their students.  

What is really refreshing is the more informal, less academic terms used to describe specific ideas or practices.  For example when describing different learning styles Green uses the terms, “impulsive”, “practical”, “shot-in-the-dark”, and “theoretical”.  An academician would probably opt terms like tactile, analytical, visual, verbal or solitary.

She also gives guidance to  teachers on how to respond to their own notions of “correctness” and “incorrectness”.  Instead of simply correcting students, they can be guided through modeling and questioning toward a sound that more closely resembles what they are hearing. Following this there are explanations on how and why student’s motivational levels may change at each stage and the importance of trust in each setting.   Overall this approach is focused on increasing students confidence in music making, and giving practical examples of different ways music is learned.

What I Loved

There are a few things. The book includes pages of great anecdotes and stats from over fifteen years of research. One of my favorite stats: Prior to the experience, 55% of Instrumental students thought the ear playing would be difficult or very difficult. After the experience only 12% of students thought the ear playing was difficult or very difficult.  

I also really like that layout and the fact that it is spiral bound makes it easy to read and use i during a class.  The flexibility of the approach, even down to the suggestions on how to rotate between traditional lesson plans that focus on technique or musicianship and the ear-playing sessions.  And this is for any type of music instruction. Finally, there is a track list which refers to music on the website, and a list of other resources and research that educators can refer to.

What I Wondered

With all the focus on popular music I wondered why the stage 2 of the instrumental setting specifically asked the teacher to select a classical piece of music.  This is a reminder that even with the progress in informal education, formal practices are still seen as the standard. Also if a teacher wants to prepare a piece for aural playing in the group setting, the attention to detail when it comes to keys and skill level of students on different instruments seems a bit daunting.  The issues of skill level can be a concern for the steelband as well but not when it comes to key signatures. Playing in one key over another does not require a notably different amount of physical or technical effort. Although the book discusses students increased confidence in performance, it does not specifically state activities to develop improvisational skills.  It mainly refers to teaching strategies that refer to mistakes as embellishments and as a bridge towards, composing or improvisation. I wonder if an addendum is needed.

This Book and PanGEA

The extensive research that inspired this handbook creates a foundation for new approaches like PanGEA. Where we seek to prioritize aural practices, improvising and composition Lucy Green encourages free choice, ear-play (playing the music that you hear) and teaching strategies that guide more than dictate. Another fundamental difference is that PanGEA seeks to increase the level of musicianship among pannists (using musical language, understanding musical patterns, developing technique), and this is not a focus for the method, although it encourages teachers to continue with lessons that do develop musicianship.   HeLP allows students who play conventional instruments the freedom to play songs, that they like even if is technically beyond what they know. Reason being that students stretch themselves in unexpected ways to reach a goal they have set.

Also several of the principles of the PanGEA approach are present in many steelband rehearsals, although not in a structured all encompassing way.  Lucy Green does state that her method is for classically trained educators or those who are not experienced in the area of ear-play, so this method may be something new for them.  Many steelband educators may have been introduced to either ear-play, or rote learning so the idea of informal training is not new. I do think the idea of creating tracks that students can learn off of during class, together with their peers is something to consider even for the steelband. The physical positioning of instruments may cause an issue as students are encouraged to learn with their friends.  But this can always be organized well with enough planning or motivated students. For example when I have asked students to compose in groups, those with more mobile pans move to be closer to the lower pans. There may also be groups that do not have all the voices or are just all the same pan voice, which is absolutely fine. As with Hear Listen Play the goal is not to create a band, or even to perform. In fact Green states that performance should be optional.   The goal is to develop confidence in your own musical intuition, and increase your ability to make music. The next big step for PanGEA is to create similar modules and collect research.

Would I recommend

I would highly recommend this book. Check out our other post featuring an interview of Lucy Green or visit the website Music Futures.