Music listening is perhaps the most frequent way that we engage with music. Individuals listen, connect with, and respond to various styles of music on a daily basis. In addition, the development of listening skills has been identified as one that school administrators and others outside of music see as valuable when examining the goals of a given music learning setting (Abril & Gault, 2008; Abril & Gault, 2006). As a result, developing strategies that allow students to participate in meaningful listening experiences is critical.

A Framework for Designing the Listening Experience

When designing music listening experiences for an active music classroom, it seems logical to utilize instructional strategies that link other active musical behaviors such as singing, moving, creating, and performing on instruments to the music listening process. Using these behaviors to highlight the specific conceptual ideas found within pieces of music helps ensure that students will have a heightened experience with each music excerpt. In addition, it emphasizes the point that listening, like other musical behaviors, is one in which students should be active rather than passive. This idea is similar to what Patricia Sheehan Campbell labels the engaged listening phase of World Music Pedagogy, which involves “the active participation of the listener in some extent of music making (by singing a melody, patting a rhythm, playing a percussion part, moving to a dance pattern)” (Campbell, 2016, p.129).

In the 2016 book Listen Up! Fostering Musicianship Through Active Listening, I had the opportunity to describe one possible framework that might be used when designing music listening experiences for the music classroom (p. 13). This framework begins with the musical material and asks the teacher to initially examine the unique artistic qualities of a given piece of music, along with its age-appropriateness. If teachers determine that a piece has the potential to be engaging and meaningful to students, the next step would be to listen multiple times as a way of determining specific prominent elements that might be highlighted in the music listening process. 

After considering and selecting a piece, teachers can next examine their students and the background information they will bring to the learning situation, When looking at this factor, it is important for teachers to consider not only students’ familiarity with the style of music, but also their ability to perform the skills they would be asked to perform as they listen. A final consideration when designing active listening experiences is the need for students to hear and engage with a given piece of music multiple times in order to develop a stronger attachment to it. As a result, teachers should work to give students multiple opportunities to hear and respond to selected pieces of music across several lessons and, possibly, several grade levels. 

Active listening is one of many capacities that students can develop in a vibrant music learning setting and apply to many areas of their lives in the future. By linking the listening experience to other active musical behaviors, students have the opportunity to hear a variety of music while developing and refining their ability to listen critically.

Applying the Framework

An example of applying the design process can be demonstrated with the piece, “Il Conte Orlando” from Ancient Airs and Dances by Ottorno Respighi. The first 1 minute and 21 seconds provides an opportunity to work on moving to 8-beat phrases in the context of a simple form (ABCDA). In addition, the piece is a moderate, legato tempo that would encourage students to develop skills related to moving in ways that represent a given musical style.

In “Il Conte Orlando,” the softer dynamic, unfamiliar genre, and slower tempo of the music could be potential issues for students as they participate in the lesson. Knowing this allows the teacher to consider ways to introduce the music that move from simple experiences (such as non-locomotor movement) to more complex ones (moving to phrases in locomotor ways), while also associating the style to images that students can relate to (moving as if they were “kings” or queens”). The resulting lesson might resemble the sample provided below, although there are many other ways to engage with musical excerpts such as this one.

Applying this to the sample lesson below, younger students could listen and participate in the nonlocomotor experiences described during one grade level, and the teacher could reintroduce the locomotor experiences later when students have had more opportunities to move through space in a variety of ways. 

A Lesson You Can Use!


  1. To reinforce steady beat through movement (LO3, LO5)
  2. To reinforce regular phrases in music (LO5)
  3. To practice creativity with movement (LO2)
  4. To combine moving in phrases with moving to formal sections of music (LO3, LO5)

Musical Material 

“Il Conte Orlando” from Ancient Airs and Dances, Suite #1 by Ottorno Respighi (This lesson uses the first 1:21 of the excerpt, which can be found on the linked Spotify playlist.) 

Possible Procedures


  • Students listen and follow the teacher’s beat pattern. The pattern will correspond to the phrases in the music.
  • The teacher will have students stand and step to the beat, moving according to the following pattern: “step, step, step, step, step, step, step, step, turn.” 
  • Students will pretend as if they are royalty, moving in the same pattern, but nodding their heads at another member of the “royal family” on beat 8 as they turn.

Awareness and Concept Presentation

  • Students divide into three royal groups: Hearts (B), Diamonds (C), Spades (D). Students listen and move with their shape (using non-locomotor movements first and then locomotor movements). Form: ABCDA
  • The teacher will describe the 8-beat groups as musical sentences or musical phrases.


Students create statues around the room. All statues move during the A sections of the piece. During the other sections, only one group moves for each: Hearts (B), Diamonds (C), Spades (D). Students not moving will freeze in a statue pose.


Abril, C. R. and Gault, B. (2008). The state of music in secondary schools: The principal’s perspective. Journal of Research in Music Education, 56 (1), 68-81.

Abril, C. R. and Gault, B. (2006). The state of music in the elementary school: The principal’s perspective. Journal of Research in Music Education, 54 (1), 6-20.

Campbell, P. S. (2016). World music pedagogy: Where music meets culture in classroom practice. In Abril, C.R. and Gault, B. (Editors) Teaching General Music: Approaches, Issues, and Viewpoints. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. 

Gault, B. (2016). Listen Up! Fostering Musicianship through Active Listening. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. 


Brent Gault is professor of music education at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.  He has taught elementary and early childhood music courses in Texas, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Indiana. He specializes in elementary general music education, early childhood music education, and Kodály-inspired methodology. He also has training in both the Orff and Dalcroze approaches to music education.

Dr. Gault has presented sessions and research at conferences of the American Orff-Schulwerk Association, Dalcroze Society of America, International Kodály Society, International Society for Music Education, Organization of American Kodály Educators, and National Association for Music Education. In addition, he has served as a presenter and guest lecturer for colleges and music education organizations in the United States, Canada, China, and Ireland.

Articles by Dr. Gault have been published in various music education periodicals, including the Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, Journal of Research in Music Education, Music Educators Journal, General Music Today, Kodály Envoy, Orff Echo, and American Dalcroze Journal. He is the co-editor (with Carlos Abril) of Teaching General Music (2016, Oxford University Press) and author of Listen Up! Fostering Musicianship Through Active Listening (2016, Oxford University Press).

In addition to his duties with the Music Education Department, Dr. Gault serves as the program director for the Indiana University Children’s Choir, where he conducts the Allegro Choir. He is a past president of the Organization of American Kodály Educators.


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